Maureen Madu was the former assistant coach of Super Falcons and a European side club. She was equally the first Nigerian player to make 100 appearances for the Nigeria women’s national football team including appearing at four FIFA Women’s World Cup. In this interview with OKECHUKWU ONUEGBU, she talks about her passion for the leather sport and why parents should encourage their girl-child to play football.
How was your journey into football?
I was born and bred at Number 3, Nnewi Street, Onitsha. That was also where I started my football career as a toddler in the 1990s. Then, I normally trained with boys. I used to be the only girl playing football with boys in my street. I wore shots like them and always in their midst. As a result, people nicknamed me ‘Maureen Nwoke’. Boys struggled to have me in their team. I later played for Ado Babes. The experience I had playing with boys gave me an edge while playing with fellow women. I have acquired masculine feat playing strategies and other experiences in the course of my daily training with boys.
At first, my mother persuaded me to drop football saying it was not meant for women. Sometimes, she would flog me to discourage my active participation in football, but I did not succumb. I would cry but still sneak out to play not minding the beating received or to be received thereafter. Whenever I returned from school every day, I threw my bag through the window to join my mates in the field without caring to take lunch. When she saw that I was unstoppable despite the punishment, she allowed me to enjoy my career, but warned me to always return home before 6pm. That made me always strive to be at home between 5.30pm to 5.45pm daily. Whenever we went for a competition that required me to return home late, my coach and other officials would accompany me home so that my family would be aware of lateness.
Also, my mother usually examines me to ensure there was no stain of blood or injury in any part of my body each time I returned from training or a match. If she notices any, she would ban me from playing for one week. In 1992, I joined Jegede Babes at Lagos. Jegede discovered me at a competition in Port Harcourt where I emerged the highest goal scorer. I played at Lagos side in a national league. I was pained because I never knew that Anambra was coming to the competition. I cried in the field when Anambra was defeated by former Warri Babes with a goal to zero. I cried because I used to be the top player for Anambra. So, I don’t think they would have lost the match if I had played for them. The next day, I played with Lagos and we defeated the Warri Babes. It was from that competition I was drafted to join the national team. Before then, there was a threat to my mother by some officers from Anambra state over my movement to Lagos. Then, they told me to come back that even my siblings had travelled to the village. When I requested to speak with my mother, they declined. They made me to believe that my mother was dead just to lure me home because they knew I was so close to my mother. Then, Jegede was abroad. He instructed the officials to accompany me to Onitsha and to ensure I return with them after inquiring why my presence was needed. On getting to Upper Iweka, I saw someone I knew and asked him if he saw my mother in her shop. He said he did not see her. I became more worried and sobbed till we arrived home. On entering the compound, I sighted my mother hale and hearty so I was embittered with those that lied to me that she was dead. But my mother calmed me and explained that those people were threatening to kill her with the police if I failed to rejoin the Anambra team. The following day, those men came with the police to threaten her as usual and she directed them to me. I told them I had decided to remain with the Lagos team. They insisted I must join them or they would kidnap me. The officials that came with me from Lagos had lodged in a hotel. They later joined us as the argument was on. It was in the meeting I categorically told them to leave my mother alone as I had pitched my interest with the Lagos team. My mother later told Lagos club officials to always dress me with mufti after I might have put on our jessy whenever I would play so that Anambra wouldn’t know I would play. She equally advised me against keeping my shoes and trainers carelessly to avoid been poisoned through them.
Kindly tell us some of the clubs you played for and your journey into coaching?
Some of the clubs I played for are Ado Babes in 1991, Jegede in 1993, Norway’s Toppserien, Avaldsness where I rose to coach team B and later coach senior team and Linkopings (Norway), QB Ik and Damallsvenskan of Sweden, Klep IL and Kolbotn in Oslo. I scored 22 goals in Sweden. In 2005, I was invited to play in the Nigeria National team at African Cup of Nations at Warri. I came back for the competition and was sacked by my club. They did that because they told me not to go. It was a very bad experience, but I had to play for my country. I later returned to another club. I had also coached Super Falcons as an assistant coach.
Do you have any regret for being sacked by your club coming to serve your fatherland?
Not at all! Nigeria is my country. I can’t afford to abandon them when they need me most. I am also happy that the country allowed me to serve her as a coach. It is a worthwhile experience; everyone desires that position and I did my best.
Can you recall some of your contemporaries in the journey to football stardom?
I was the youngest among them. Some of them were Theresa Okwugba, Adanna Nwaneri, Ifeyinwa Chukwura, Chinelo Enwera and a host of others.
With all these flourishing journeys into football, were you able to gain formal education?
Yes. I finished my secondary at Prince Memorial schools Onitsha and University of Lagos in flying colours.
What is Anambra Football kiddies camp?
It is my own little way of contributing to uplifting football in Anambra state. I had the dream as of 2016. Luckily for me, Dr Emeka Okeke-led Anambra State Football Association (ANSFA) some months back appointed me as a football ambassador. My target is to use the platform to discover, nurture, develop and lead over 300 girls in Anambra state to become national and international football champions. I have done that in Norway. The 300 girls would be coached, trained, nurtured and assisted to realise their dreams in football nationally and internationally. The focus is on girls aged 10 to 15. I am the one sponsoring it, but discussion is ongoing to partner the state FA or government in order to reach more persons. The form for enrolment into the camp is currently on sale at Awka, Nnewi and Onitsha at a non-refundable fee of N5,000 per participant. I have over 20 coaches willing to join me in coaching these girls. The numbers of enrollees would determine the numbers of coaches to be engaged. I will supervise and join in coaching them. The venue is Anglican Girls College Onitsha. This payment covers sporting wears (kits), feedings, medical, cleaning and others. The payment is just to make people become committed. It is a-five day programme commencing from 19 to 23 December 2020. I have plans to make it April and December, which are normally when students are on holidays.
At the end of every session, participants would be issued with Diploma certificates. But two days to the end of the programme, participants shall compete for trophies. Winners shall go home with medals. But all will receive certificates. I will also follow up on all the participants to ensure they achieved their goals in football nationally and internationally. So, it is not about certificates and trophies alone.
Why do you want parents or guardians to sponsor their girls-child in this camp?
Gone are the days when people say that football is not meant for women. Football made me what I am today. I started from streets across the world. Football promotes good health and longevity. It is very lucrative. You won’t lose anything as a woman for engaging or investing into it. It will not affect their education too. That is why I was able to further my education up to the university. So, footballers rather gain a lot. All they need is good training and mentorship by professionals and experienced people like us.