Most Nigerians not born in the seventies may not be familiar with the name “Thunder Balogun” as they would be of the likes of Stephen Keshi, Daniel Amokasi, JJ Okocha, Kanu Nwakwo, Rashidi Yekini among others. Here is the man the one time UAC Stadium is named after.
The Lagos State government in appreciation of Balogun’s contribution to football in Lagos State, Nigeria and United Kingdom where the football legend was based named the former UAC stadium after him
Tesilim Akanni Olawale Balogun was born in Lagos State in 1927 to the Oseni Balogun’s family. He attended St. Patrick’s Primary School, Oko-Awo, Lagos Island, and St. Mary’s Catholic School, Port Harcourt. He later proceeded to Cosmopolitan Evening School. All along, he played for the schools’ football teams.
At age 19, Balogun was a star of Apapa Bombers FC and scored the lone goal when they defeated one of the most formidable teams in Nigeria at the time, Railways XI. He moved on to play for Marine Athletic Club in 1946, UAC XI in 1947 and Railways in 1948. He also played for Union Line in the same year.
By the time he was 22, he had represented Nigeria many times and was selected as one of the players to represent the country during the UK tour where Nigeria played many friendly matches against top clubs in the UK. It is note worthy that they did not play with boots but with their bare feet in those days and sometimes, with only bandages around their feet. He joined Jos XI on his return and helped the team reach the final of the Challenge Cup for the first time in 1951 losing to Lagos Railways. Balogun played for eight first division clubs within eleven years.
He left for the United Kingdom in 1955 to study Printing Technology. During the study, he was signed by Peterborough United FC in August, 1959 and Queens Park Rangers among others. Thunder Balogun also did a coaching course to become the first UK-trained African Coach. During the period, his name became a household name in UK football competitions. He became a prominent footballer among the whites. In 1959, he was invited to Nigeria to play for the Western Region FC by late Chief Obafemi Awolowo but left for the UK again after the tournament.
Thunder Balogun returned to Nigeria in 1962. He played for Nigeria for 17 years and was the first Nigerian coach to lead Nigeria football team to the Olympics in 1968, drawing 3-3 with Brazil. He was a bare footed player like his other contemporaries in the extreme cold weather in UK.
How “Thunder” became part of his name has a significant history. It was gathered that in a football match played in the 1960s, NEPA FC, Lagos needed a goal to win the Challenge Cup and with time running out, a fan shouted at Teslim “do not forget your left” and he played a shot with his left foot and the rest became history. The ball went through the midriff of the goalkeeper, through the net and the moniker Thunder was born.
The nickname, ‘Thunder’ stuck with him because of his skills and lethal shots at goals.
According to one of his sons “Kayode Balogun”, in an interview with a Sunday national Newspaper. ”People said a lot of things about my father. Some of them are true, others false. Sometimes, I laugh after hearing some funny tales about my father. One of the funny tales is that of the goalkeeper who died after trying to stop my father’s shot. Well, the truth is that he did not tear his stomach with the shot. It was a match between Nigeria and *”*Sierra-Loene. The goalkeeper had an injury when trying to stop his shot and because the medical facility at the time was not as efficient as we have today, he died of the stomach injury. But my father did not have the intention of killing the goalkeeper with the shot. It was a match and he only tried to score for his side.”
The above is an affirmation that a goalkeeper died as a result of Balogun’s terrific shot the keeper attempted to safe.
In a related development on the above story, Tokubo, the eldest son of the late football legend told sport reporters in another interview that his father confirmed that his (Thunder Balogun’s) terrific shot caught the keeper unaware and he later died.
Similarly, When Balogun was playing in UK, Tokunbo said a keeper’s hand was broken in an attempt to save his father’s shot. According to him, the incident made him more popular that time in the entire UK. The Queen of England also recognised him then as a footballer to reckon with.
Another mystery of thunder Balogun’s football life was an affirmation by Tokunbo (his first son) that confirmed that Balogun’s shot tore the net in Liberty Stadium now Obafemi Awolowo Stadium, Ibadan. The three incidents above mentioned and more were attributed to the football star which are confirmed from direct sources to the deceased.
One of the sport journalists of his time, Segun Adenuga also described Thunder Balogun as a wonderful player whose talents on the field had no equal among his then contemporaries. He confirmed Balogun’s dribbling pattern that had no rival, even beyond Africa.
Tokunbo described his late father as a patriotic Nigerian who loved his country to the heart. According to him, he mentioned how his late father was given a ‘mouth watering’ contract by Brazilian Football Federation to coach young Brazilian Footballers in the country. This was as a result of the brilliant performance of the Nigerian team he led to the 1968 Olympics game. My father rejected the offer and remained Nigerian coach. Tokunbo confirmed in an interview.
The magazine gathered that “Thunder” became part of his name as a result of Balogun’s terrific shot on the field. Most football fans of the time attributed his left shot to thunder attack on the goal keeper. The trio incidents above mentioned were as when thunder struck. The uniqueness of his terrific left leg shot when facing a goal keeper made us nicked name him “Thunder”, an octogenarian football fan of the time confirmed.
For instance, Thunder was called to play in the bilateral encounter against Ghana in the Zik Cup contest. He was in the Nigerian Red Devil’s side that held the visiting Ghana team to a 1-1 draw on October 29, 1960 in Lagos. He also played on the Nigeria side a month later in the match arranged to commemorate the inauguration of Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe as the first indigenous Governor-General that saw Nigeria losing 2-1 to the visiting Ghana team.
It should be noted however that despite Balogun’s legendary stature in Nigeria’s football, he had just six international caps, because at that time, the national team had fewer fixtures. But then, he featured in matches against visiting foreign sides.
One of such was a November 5, 1960 match between the Western region and the Congo Brazzaville national side, which ended in a draw.
Barely a week later, a Lagos selected side invited Balogun to feature for it against same Congo Brazzaville in which Balohun’s Lagos side won 5-0. He won many fans with his moves at the crowded Lagos City stadium.
Apart from been a great footballer, Teslim Balogun also had knack for discovering talents for good players or coaches. He as a matter of fact discovered a former chairman on Technical Matters of the Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, Taiwo Ogunjobi, fondly called ‘Skippo’.
Ogunjobi said, “My first call-up to the camp of Nigeria Academicals came in 1970, when Teslim came to watch a match involving African Church Grammar School and Hope Grammar School. The man later told me that he heard so many stories about me and decided to come and watch me play”
After the match, he invited me to the camp of Western Academicals”.
Also, CAF Technical Committee member, Chief Adegboye Onigbinde was enrolled for a coaching course by Thunder Balogun. According to him, “As a coach, I was discovered by Teslim Balogun, who registered me for a coaching course against my will. He insisted I would do better as a football coach rather than as an Athletics coach. And look at me today, in soccer coaching, i am a success story.”
FIFA instructor, Onigbinde said this about Balogun during the launch of the Thunder Balogun Foundation in Lagos.
“The greatest footballer Nigeria has ever produced was Teslim ‘Thunder’ Balogun, there is no doubt about it. As a footballer, he did many things other players never did before his time, those of his time and after and even years later did not do and have not been able to do with the ball.
“I know that one of the goals I still consider as my greatest was scored by ‘Ara awa’ (Thunder sound) at the Olu Ibadan Stadium in 1968. He had played in England and the UK Tourists knew him very well. So, in that match in Ibadan, the Tourists were always on him each time he received the ball. To beat the pressure off, ‘Ara wa’ stood outside the 18-yard box with his back turned at the UK Tourist goalkeeper, a ball was floated to him from the midfield and the English players were waiting for him to bring it down. But against their imagination, he staggered a bit, and in turning, fired a shot at the goalpost, which saw the goalkeeper diving the other way while the ball was already shaking the net,” Onigbinde continued.
It is worthy of note that his achievements on the field preceded him as comments and testimonies from those who saw him played was that as a regular player, Thunder Balogun remains the greatest centre forward ever produced by Africa.
Kayode (Balogun’s son) narrated how Balogun died on 30th July, 1972 “My mother said he called her in the night and they spoke about their life journey until around 2am when he eventually went to sleep. It was an unusual conversation but there was nothing to suggest that he was spending his last night with the family.
In the morning, she tried to wake him up but he has gone. She called our family doctor, Dr. Olusanya, who confirmed he was dead
Teslim ‘Thunder’ Balogun, also known in some quarters as ‘Balinga’ died in his sleep at the age of 45.
7 things you didn’t know about my parents-Kayode Balogun
• He died in his sleep
• He travelled to the UK through Ghana because Nigeria did not want him to go
• He spoke with my mum till 2am on the day he died
• He was not flamboyant
• He was the first African to be awarded a coaching certificate in the UK
• He taught his children how to play football
•The Queen of England sent a condolence letter when he died
Culled from Sunday Punch.