Falcons players ran for cover first time we saw snow – Mmadu

Former Super Falcons star, Maureen Mmadu, a member of the team’s Golden Generation of 1999, talks about her academy, her time with the Falcons, playing 100 games and funny memories with the women’s team, in this interview withTANA AIYEJINA

How would you describe your recent tour of Morocco with your girls’ academy?

First of all, I have to say a very big thank you to God. Our Morocco trip was good for the players’ exposure, so they can have more experience, because most of them had not travelled abroad before. And I will say it’s okay, but when we arrived there, it wasn’t exactly what we expected. But we must give thanks to God that we were able to play in Morocco.

How do you mean it wasn’t what you expected?

What we were told wasn’t what we saw. We were there to play 15-year-old girls. It’s only our captain that is 17, but to our surprise, the match they organised for us was with a team in their Premier League. So, because it would have been unprofessional for us not to play, I decided to allow them play the match. And the second match was the same.

The first we lost 4-1, and the second, we played 2-2. The third we lost 7-0 to another Premier League team. Even the first game, they had a player that was in the national team when I was there as coach, so we had to play against bigger teams.

Was it easy raising funds for the trip?

It wasn’t. I went through a lot to get sponsors and we didn’t get exactly what we were supposed to get. A lot of commitments I made, some of them I don’t want to mention, but I thank God that at least we were able to go and play the friendly matches in Morocco.

How would you describe the Nigeria Women’s League, compared to what you saw in Morocco?

Almost all the facilities we saw in Morocco are of good standards, it’s like European standards. Some of the clubs we played against have corporate sponsors. What I saw there is not one-man thing and it reflects on the facilities. They are world-class.

What is the next step for the academy?

I’m trying to go around and see other players. We are planning to go for a youth competition in Sweden and also in Denmark because we have a pending registration that will be carried over to next year. So, we will go back to prepare for the Gothia Cup and the Denmark Cup. So, now they see that our mission is genuine, maybe they thought the players would not come back. But I’m not that kind of person, I have a name to protect. It took me a lot of years to build the name, so, I can’t support something that is against the law because after living in Europe for so many years, I should know the law and follow it. So, we are back, we have to start planning for the programmes we have at hand.

What do you think we should do to make domestic football better for women?

I am satisfied with what Aisha Falode has done in women football because it wasn’t like this when we started. Falode has changed the face of Nigeria’s women football by bringing a lot of sponsors in. One thing I just feel right now is that the new NFF board should support her. I believe she will do more than what she did before.

You are the first Nigerian player male or female to hit 100 caps for the country. According to FIFA records, you have 101 caps for Nigeria. After this we have seen Vincent Enyeama, Joseph Yobo and Ahmed Musa reach that milestone and were celebrated. How do you feel not being celebrated for this milestone like the men?

You know in Nigeria everybody focuses on the men. As you said, we are not happy about it, but I can tell you that I was inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame and I think it’s part of the recognition. One thing that made them induct me is the fact that I am the first African woman to coach in Europe. It’s not a fight I’m going to fight alone.

If you come to Europe, they normally celebrate their own people. I don’t know maybe I don’t have a godfather who is going to do that for me, but I believe in God that one day he will touch the hearts of the people that are in authority, that since they celebrate men, they also have to do the same for women, because that is why we feel women are being marginalised in Nigeria. So, it’s left for them to see exactly what to do. But for me I’ll continue to do my best for the young kids, I’ll continue to give my best to the society, 101 caps is not child’s play. I thank God and the people that pushed me to that level.

Can you still remember your 100th and 101st games?

Yes, my 100th game was against Sweden at the World Cup in 2007. The game finished 1-1, our coach then was Ntiero Effiong, may his soul rest in peace.

How did you feel, knowing that you were coming out for your 100th game?

I was so excited. I looked at myself and told myself, ‘Maureen, your hard work and never give up attitude has really paid.’ So, it was a dream come true for me and I gave my best as usual.

Getting back to my room, I looked at myself again, knelt beside my bed and gave thanks to God again.

What was it like playing in four world Cups?

That is 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2007. It was fun because in life you have to give everything. And to last that long you need a lot of discipline, so I knew what to eat, when to relax and when to exercise. So, it was hard work and dedication. Interestingly, throughout my career, I didn’t sustain any injury that kept me out for one or two months, so I really thank God. Professionally, even when I come back home from my club in Europe, I don’t rest because I didn’t want my place to be taken. My colleagues knew me as someone who worked so hard. I didn’t joke with anything.

The 1999 Super Falcons are regarded as the golden generation of Nigeria Women’s football and you are a part of the set who got to the quarter-finals of the World Cup in the US. What was the secret behind the success of that team?

The secret was hard work, dedication and passion. And we normally pushed one another to the level that gave us the confidence of doing anything.

In recent times we’ve seen the Falcons go down. At the last WAFCON in Morocco, we couldn’t even pick a medal. What do you think is the problem with the team?

Every country is developing and don’t forget that Nigeria is a team everyone wants to beat, and to whom much is given, much is expected. And you know some of the countries have tasted victory and the World Cup, and they’ve tasted the national cake, they don’t want to drop. So, I think a lot of development has come to these countries and when you stand in a place you have to move forward. We have to develop, just like other African countries are developing. We can’t sit down in one place, fold our arms and claim we are the champions of Africa.

During your time, all the players were born in Nigeria and they played domestic football before travelling abroad. But today we see a lot of players in the team, born to Nigerian parents in other countries. How do you see this development?

I think it’s good and it’s up to the coaches. Even if you pick players from abroad, some of them must know what it takes to represent Nigeria, just like we have this philosophy that once you are playing for Nigeria, you are representing about 200 million people. So, they have to also have that mentality. Europe is different from Africa, over there you get everything you want, but here we normally find our ways around situations and we don’t give up even if we are going to die there, we have to give our best.

You were once an assistant coach of the Super Falcons. How would you describe your time with the team? Was it an experience you enjoyed?

Yes, it was a very good experience and my boss then, coach Thomas Dennerby, is very experienced about women’s football; a good coach and a workaholic. So, I really learnt a lot from him. Even though I had my license from Europe, when you assist someone like that, you have to stoop and learn. We had fun and it was a dream come true for me.

People are saying the local coaches should be given a chance to manage the national team, is it something you agree with as well?

I believe the NFF has the final say over this because whatever I say is just an opinion, they are the ones who make the decision.

Having played so many games for Nigeria, you sure would have had good and bad moments. Can you share them with us?

I had a lot of best moments with the Falcons, but the ones I will say were exceptional was when we qualified for the Olympics for the first time and when we got to the quarter-finals of the World Cup in 1999. And another moment was in 1998, when as a young girl, they gave me the opportunity to represent Nigeria in front of about 50,000 fans. My worst moment was the time we lost to Norway 8-0. I think that was 1995, even if I didn’t start that match, I was in the team and it was terrible.

Did you have any funny moments while with the team?

I had a lot with my friends. When we travelled to Holland in 1999, it was with coach Josy Lad, may his soul rest in peace. We saw snow for the first time, so the man (Lad) looked up and said in Yoruba ‘snow le leyi o’ (this is snow), and everybody started running. All of us packed our loads and ran into our rooms. We had to wait for the snow and it started falling very hard. After that we were able to go out and start packing it.

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