Former England and Wimbledon striker of Nigerian descent John Fashanu opens up on his relationship with Justin, his late brother, his best football moment and more, in this interview with EBENEZER BAJELA
Has it been easy living life off the pitch?
Life is different and I can say that I am very lucky because for 14 years I was a television presenter with one of the biggest television shows in London. So, my life wasn’t all about football. My life was half football and half television. Before I came to Nigeria, I had already adapted to the situation and I was ready for life off the pitch.
You won the FA Cup and scored over 100 goals for Wimbledon. Would you say this was the best time of your career?
I will say it was one of the happiest times of my life and I will say I feel satisfied with my career with Wimbledon. The FA Cup final (between Wimbledon and Liverpool) in 1988 was the biggest domestic football match in the world and we had 100,000 fans at Wembley watching and about 100,000,000 people around the world watching as well. That was the biggest and most exciting day of my life. And the fact that we were paid a bonus of $1m after the match was incredible because nobody thought that we would ever be able to contest, let alone beat the mighty Liverpool. So, when we negotiated with the club for our bonuses, even the club manager never thought that we were going to beat Liverpool, so they gave us all the bonus of $1m. Every player in the Wimbledon team was offered a bonus of $1m, if we beat Liverpool because nobody expected it, not even the media and the bookies. Nobody thought that we would beat Liverpool but there we were, 90 minutes later we beat them 1-0 and all the team became $1m richer. It was a wonderful moment and opportunity.
The FA Cup win is your only winners medal in football. How much do you cherish this medal?
Unfortunately, that was the only medal I received in my 35 years career and I cherished it so much because the FA was the biggest domestic cup in the world. I feel very satisfied.
Under manager Dave Bassett, Wimbledon climbed from the Fourth Division to the First Division in four seasons leading up to 1986. How did you guys achieve this?
It was very amazing and I am not going to say it was God, but somebody had a hand because for us to win so many games from division four right to the Premier League was amazing.
You, Dennis Wise and Vinnie Jones were members of the famed Wimbledon’s Crazy Gang. How did the nickname come?
Anytime one of our boys goes in for a tackle the fans will shout ‘ya’ll crazy’, they say all sorts of things and we got used to being called crazy and we were ordained the Crazy Gang. So, I will say it was because our style of football was crazy, we took a lot of risks. Our goalkeeper would play penalties, he would come to the opponents’ box to try and help score goals during corner-kicks. And all the players that played for Wimbledon then were all singles, none of us was married. We were young players and crazy and we didn’t care what people thought about us.
Your brother Justin was the first black player to earn £1m. What did that say about a black player?
My brother was the first black £1m player and he was one of the best strikers. He was an awesome striker who scored so many goals and for a black footballer to be the first £1m player in the whole world, that was breaking the ice and I commend him for doing that because he did fantastically well. And I would say we weren’t lucky, we worked very hard. He was very good and I was equally very good too.
You reportedly shunned Justin for claiming he was gay but after his death you said he was only seeking attention. If you knew this, why did you shun him?
I didn’t shun my brother. Being black was one thing which already I didn’t even understand because of the horrible things the crowd would say to us, and my brother being gay, I didn’t understand that toons this was about 30 years ago. There were two things I didn’t understand so much and that was my fault.
If you had the opportunity to make things up with him, what would you have said to him?
Everybody has to be able to live their lives, I am 60 years old now and I live my life the way I want to. Nobody can put shackles on me and that’s the way it should be as long as you respect and obey the laws and regulations of the country, you should be left alone. I am not saying what Justin did was right or wrong, but I am saying people should be allowed to live their lives the way they want to be happy. Even at my age, I may still not understand everything, but live your life the best way you can to be happy because life is too short.
Talking about being happy with life, do you ever regret not playing for Nigeria?
Not at all because I came three times to play for the Super Eagles and I remember vividly it was the late MKO Abiola that brought me to the country. The coach then wanted money from me but I was a young English boy just coming. Now, looking back, I thought if I had spoken to MKO Abiola, he could have given me the money and I would have played for Nigeria. Also, it was unfortunate because I noticed that most of the players didn’t want me in the team. When they asked me to go to the right, I would go there, but the ball would go to the left. And if they asked me to go to the left, the ball would go to the right. But out of the blues, the big opportunity came and I was selected to play for the English national team. I became the first Nigerian to play for England and it was a great opportunity for me to break boundaries.
Do you think you could have made an impact playing for Nigeria?
I can say without any embarrassment that if I had played for Nigeria I would have made a lot of changes. I was one of the number one strikers in the whole English Premier League and I don’t need to remind anybody the level of the English game because they invented football. I was very lucky to have played with a super and excellent team and one of the best teams in the country. I am sure I would have made a lot of changes and I am sure I would have learned new things from the Super Eagles as well.
What do you think the future holds for Nigerian football with a new NFF president in charge?
I think most people in the football sector have a different opinion of Ibrahim Gusau, but I know that he is a good man and an excellent leader. Right now we certainly need a leader and I think Gusau came in the right way with his selection, which shows that a lot of people want a change. I think he is the man to do the job and he certainly got my vote.
What do you make of his credentials attracting sponsorships?
A lot of people have got short memories and let’s not forget that when we first voted Amaju Pinnick in, there was war and people thought his reign as president of the Nigeria Football Federation was going to be a disaster, but look at what happened. Slowly he found his footsteps and he started introducing himself to people and now he is with FIFA doing very well and I hope this is the same way our new man is going to be. He shouldn’t worry about what people think because that’s normal with us Nigerians, we always doubt the first time.