Sustaining Grassroots Football Development: The Dan Shere’s Pragmatic Strides
By Amaechi Agbo
In every society, great men are born to effect and impact the people within the clime. Societies are judged most times by the calibre or personalities it has produced and how these great men and women left or are moulding the future of the people.
Sports are the key sectors in human interaction that creates and sustains the bond of unity, love and enduring peace. It is one of the major human endeavours through which great men and women have left footprints in sand of time. Some men and women of great repute have used and are still using sports to remould society, change perception, create affinity and sustain humanity.
In Opi, a town very popular in Enugu State, a certain pragmatic achiever and role model to many people in the town, Daniel Shere, (shortened Dan Shere) has transformed the people of the town with his philanthropic gestures through football.
He has sponsored Opi League – renamed after another great leader and philanthropist of the land, Late Patrick Eze Arinze who instituted the Opi League that was later renamed after him in 2000 after his demise in 1999 – for 20 years.
For the past 20 years of the existence of the Eze Arinze Unity Cup in Opi Town, Chief Dan Shere has singlehanded sponsored the league in memory of his mentor and uncle, Chief Patrick Eze Arinze.
The gesture, the former Secretary to Enugu State Government told our correspondent in an interview, was to immortalise Eze Arinze, create a sustained peace, bond of unity and love among the three communities that make up Opi town and leave a legacy for posterity.
The genesis of Eze Arinze Unity Cup/Opi League
Well, Opi League began immediately after the death of Chief Eze Arinze. Before then, there was a competition in place where teams played during the Christmas period but there was no strong arrangement.
That was initiated by Emmanuel Ogwu, popularly called Ochili and assisted by some of us. Immediately after Eze Arinze’s death and being someone who has been part of Ochili’s plans for the competition, I proposed to him to takeover the sponsorship of the league in memory of my mentor and big uncle Eze Arinze who died in the 1999. That is how we started the Eze Arinze Unity cup because he lived and died for the unity of Opi. We felt that the best way to remember such a man every year is for the youths to gather and play football and ask who is Patrick Obuefi Eze Arinze? So that is the spirit Opi League.
How would you describe Patrick Eze Arinze?
He is a saint in human form, a selfless leader, a philanthropist, kind, humane, austere in his needs as a human being but gives everything for his people. Opi has not been able to recover from the death of Eze Arinze and the shoe he left behind is yet to be filled by any man living or dead in Opi community.
How is the journey of shouldering the financial responsibilities of the league 19 years after?
So far so good, my two younger brothers for the past two years have made it lighter. Let me use this opportunity to thank in a special way, my two kid brothers in whom I am well pleased. One is my name sake and friend, Dan Ugwuishiwu and Chukwudi Ezugwu. I use this opportunity to thank them immensely for making the load lighter.
So far so wonderful, the head is bruised but unbowed, definitely.
Do you make out time to go and watch the league matches?
That is where I have failed because this period, (Christmas and New Year season) is always a time for too many social activities but I have confessed to the organisers that this time around, I have to make out time and be part of it. So, I have failed in that aspect but I am happy that our people watch the league and it is like a meeting point for our youths.
What purpose has this league served Opi Community?
The only thing that brings all the youths together and you see them running and cancelling other personal engagements to attend is football. This is not talking down other sports but football, they say, is the king of all sports.
When you have children that are raised outside and the ones raised in the community, that opportunity of them meeting and watching the match is very high. For the past 19 years of the league, many youths have found themselves as couples while coming to watch the league matches. Opi League has produced more couples in the community than any other events. This is because from coming to watch matches, they get acquainted and from there they get closer to each other and the next thing is marriage.
People also get business links while there. People who are related but never knew it also get across each other and there is also a symbiotic business relationship among indigenes of the town. You know that when blood is involved, people tend to trust themselves more in business dealings. So some people who otherwise may not have known themselves might use the opportunity of Opi Eze Arize Unity Cup to be united. So what is united in the name of Eze Arinze is blessed, because as I told you, Eze Arinze is a saintly personality.
Once you think of Eze Arinze and what he represents – peace, love, eze omenma (King of good doings), then you know that every other activity around that football is already blessed including people meeting , striking out businesses, establishing marriages, business proposals. So many things happen there including those who get connected to someone who help them in learning trade, getting educated and as well as I getting jobs.
There are a lot of things that have been happening during the league which otherwise would not have been if the league was not there. Eze Arinze Unity Cup is the only forum where Opi people meet and get in touch with one another.
Looking ahead, where would you see Eze Arinze nity Cup/Opi League in the next 10 years?
In the next 10 years, I will see Opi League as something more than just a league. For now, Opi League is the best organised league compared to others around us in the state. If you look at other matches they play in different communities around us, they are personalised around individuals, particularly those who are still living but Opi League, the name Eze Arinze means that in the next 10 years we will expand beyond football into some other things.
Right now as I am speaking with you, more people are getting interested in assisting so that when we become financially stable, that Eze Arinze Unity Cup/Opi League will become a foundation that can also be interested in supporting indigent students, providing shelter to widows and providing funds for those who need to be assisted in way or the other.
The way I see this league in time to come is that it is going to sponsor some other things outside football. Right now, it is the basis of unity in Opi community.
What would be the fate of the league after Dan Shere?
That is why I am calling on all well-meaning Opi people to see the Eze Arinze Unity Cup beyond just football. To see it as a point of contact for our people. To see it as a point of unity and to see the continuity of it. I am happy that people are getting more interested in the Eze Arinze Unity Cup more than ever before and that is a huge good sign. For now, I do not intend to politicise the Eze Arinze Unity Cup and let me tell you, it is one of the reasons I decided not to be showing so much appearance in the football matches. I want it to be purely seen as a universal brotherhood forum for which Opi people are known for.
When you think of football, you think of unity.