It was not a problem at all to fish out Nigeria's foremost and famous goalkeeper from a crowd of players and coaches which gathered in the early hours of the day for their routine training at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium. His height gave him away and his slightly bony and ebony face is yet to lose its features but for a pair of heavily rimmed glasses in place.
Welcome to the world of Emmanuel Okala, former Rangers International and Green Eagles' goalkeeper. He is currently a goalkeeper trainer to the Enugu-based premier club side.
At 69, Okala is slightly bent, complementing his imposing six-feet plus height. It is to his credit that Rangers have continued to churn out good goalkeepers in the local league, many of them quickly moving out to other clubs, home and abroad.
Unknown to many of his ardent followers, Okala started out in his career as a striker and it was only providence that transformed him to the number one spot.
Hear him: “I started playing football from primary school but it was in secondary school that my career blossomed. I used to play as a striker from the wind. Because I was taller than most kids my age, it was easy for me to manipulate the ball because of my long legs. I attended Holy Cross High School, Awka, Anambra State.
“At some point during a crucial game, our games master, Mr. C.N. Ukpaka, just looked at me and said because of my height I should be able to stay in between the poles. He removed our goalkeeper who, in his judgement, was not doing well and gave me the goalkeeper's shirt to play in his position. I must have done brilliantly, because, from that day, the games master said I was the school's goalkeeper. It remained so until I left school in 1966.”
After secondary school education, Okala went back to Onitsha, his hometown, and joined the Onitsha Red Devils; a club that was later renamed 'Ikpeazu Redoubtables'. In 1970, he travelled to Enugu with the team to play against the 'Enugu Black Rocks' in a state soccer duel.