Bewarang: Basketball, my first love

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Coach Bitrus Bewarang is a household name in Nigerian football following his long active stay and work in the country’s soccer fraternity. At the moment, the Plateau-born Sports guru, a former Super Eagles assistant coach is the Technical Director of the Nigeria Football Federation. He finally spoke to Blueprint Weekend Sports earlier this week amidst his tight schedule ahead 2018 World Cup.

My Soccer passion

Honestly, I didn’t like football. When I went to secondary school, basketball was my first love and I started playing it from my house, right from Form one, you know those days it was like that. When I got to Form four, there was an inter-class competition and we went for practice for my class and found out that there was no goalkeeper. I volunteered to man the post for my class and that was the beginning of my involvement in football. I vividly remember that we were victorious in the match; I performed very well at the post. It got to a stage that I was detailed to the school team to become a goalkeeper. In 1970, I was in Form five when the school goalkeeper, an excellent goalkeeper, was passing out. It got to a stage that I got tired and started falling down at the slightest opportunity and the game Master was frustrated.

I was supposed to be a replacement for the outgoing school goalkeeper, but one day, I just decided to quit that position. There was a crucial training we were undergoing in preparation for playing against an opponent outside the school. The game master had planned for a two-a-side training match, so we were being tested to select the best representatives for the school. I was convinced that I was going to man the post that day. Halfway in the game, I went to the Game Master, who was a Yoruba man, and told him to his face that I was tired of playing the goalkeeping position. I will never forget the look of disappointment on his face as he said some words in Yoruba that I didn’t understand. He told me to get away from his face in frustration. Just few metres away from him, I heard him muttering that I have disorganized his team. Worse still, someone playing the Outside Right position was injured to compound the coach’s worries as he wondered about replacements. I turned back and told him that I can play the Outside Right position. He was still angry that I left the goalkeeping position, but he told me to go ahead because there was no other replacement for the injured player and he got another replacement for the goalkeeping position. After some few minutes in that position, he told me that I was a wizard because I impressed him in the position too and we played the game against the outside school opponent.

Injury woes

However, I got my first football injury in the match, because the defender of the opposition roughly cleared me from the back. I landed with a crack in my right wrist. We were close to writing our mock exams, but God helped me and the injury did not prevent me from writing my mock exams.

Delving into teaching

When I finished my school, I got a teaching job and was posted to a place that I had difficulty in locating. My father convinced me that one of my uncles was a reverend in the town and that I wouldn’t have a problem there. I got there and started coaching the primary school team. I also started playing in a divisional team, Plateau Eleven, which was one of the best teams after Mighty Jets. Then, we were Benue-Plateau. Later, they brought me from the place to the station at the local government capital to make things easier for me. I was eventually transferred to Jos where I had the opportunity of attending the pivotal teachers college. It was a two-year training to make those of us who were professional teachers to become full time professional teachers. I was also invited to take part in the Sports Festival to represent Benue-Plateau Under 18 players.

During our time, we had very skillful players who played just for the passion of the game. There was nothing like professional football, even though there were some few clubs like Mighty Jets of Jos, which was being ran professionally by the then Proprietor, Alhaji Isiaka Ibrahim, who brought a professional coach from Brazil. That was how Mighty Jets became an institution in the state and country. I refused to join them when I was brought from my local government, because I was a teacher. I didn’t want to leave my teaching job to become a full time footballer. I made a prophecy that became my Waterloo because I said I didn’t want to play professional football, as I wondered who will treat me if I broke my leg. Two years after saying that, I broke my leg. Then I was in the national team.

Pre-World Cup experience

As a National Player, I was part of the Men Squad that was knocked out of the World Cup in a match we needed only a draw to represent Nigeria in Argentina ’78. I will never forget the incident because we had every hope to win or draw. Tunisia beat us 1-0 and went ahead to represent Africa. Then it was only one African country that was participating in the World Cup. It was a painful experience because Nigeria would have made it to their first ever World Cup that year. We needed just a draw to scale through but the result turned out differently.

Among the players that were in camp, we were twelve players in camp that were training to become the next Green Eagles then. It was a yuletide period and we were given two weeks break. During that two weeks, we had the finals of the Governor’s Cup in Jos between Mighty Jets Vs Nigerian Standard. I was playing for Nigerian Standard and was injured 15 minutes into the game; as my opponent clattered into me. It was discovered that my ligaments and the knees were all damaged. I was operated upon in Germany.

My coaching career

I went through coaching courses, being a pioneer of the National Institute for Sports on Grade three in 1997. I was also Pioneer of the Institute for Grade one with nine months course. There was the first Grade one course, but it was just for six to seven months and we discovered that it wasn’t sufficient. So we formed the next grade one Coaches and my classmate was late Theophilus Tella. We were three football coaches: I, Theophilus Tella and a Calabar man we simply called Ukpong. There were also four athletics coaches so we were seven in the nine months diploma course. I owe a lot to the National Institute for Sports because it was at the end of the Grade three coaching course that two of us were the best students were sponsored to go to the diploma course in East Germany. I had many opportunities to undergo much training in Brazil, Ghana and other places because I believe in refreshing my memory as a teacher. I go for refreshing courses every two years and that has helped me in giving quality training to any team I handled.

Corruption in Nigerian football

I believe in building young footballers and teaching them the rudiments of football, unlike many coaches of nowadays who are after money without training players. Corruption has entered the system. I know how much I fought corruption in the game. Players are not taught the real job and coaches are getting favours from referees, which is the bane of Nigerian football. I played and coached football up to national level, so when I became an administrator, I decided not to soil my hands in the profession that gave me fame. Instead, I prefer to appreciate the referee after a game. In my 6 years of being the General Manager of Plateau United, I never visited match officials on the eve of my matches so that I won’t be accused of asking for favours to win matches.

When we coach players, we teach and motivate them because that is the in-thing. I was the one that started paying my players a minimum of N150,000, N250,000 for coaches and N350,000 for head coach. Coaches and players were earning good money and I threatened to sack them if they didn’t perform well, instead of spending money on the referee without getting the desired result. My threats paid off because the players and coaches sat up. I got angry when one of the coaches I was interacting with told me that I’m not playing along by working with the Referees to make their work easier. I stood my ground and continued.

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