MEET ETIM HENSHAW: NIGERIA’S FIRST NATIONAL FOOTBALL CAPTAIN

Etim Henshaw, the pioneering captain of Nigeria’s senior national team, died in November 2009, at Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria at the age of 89.

This occurred just a few days after the Nigerian Super Eagles booked its place in the World Cup Finals, sixty years after the formation of the national team.

In all probability, Etim Richard Ekeng Henshaw, is a name few of our readers are familiar with. To learn that he died in the city of Calabar, the capital of Cross River State, Nigeria, at the ripe age of 89 in November 2009, may still not ring any bell. However, this man played an important role in the history of the Nigerian national football team, and one of their earliest matches was against Dulwich Hamlet at Champion Hill.

Etim attended Duke Town Primary School, Calabar, after which he proceeded to Hope Wadell for his secondary school. On completion in 1938, he passed his Cambridge exams in flying colours and went straight to the Marine Technical Institute in Lagos in 1939, to be trained as an Engineer.

The technical school was four and half years, then practical training on board ships took him another four years. After that, he went over to the United Kingdom for his exams. He sat for the Marine Engineering certificate in 1947, when he captained the Nigerian team on UK tour.

There was an arrangement between the Marine Department and the Nigeria Football Association; that he should be allowed to continue with his course. That was why he stayed behind and didn’t come back to Nigeria with the team after the tour. He was the only member that stayed behind so as to afford him the opportunity to continue with his studies. While studying Marine Engineering at Cardiff Technical College, Etim also signed up to play for Cardiff Corinthians.

As well as an exceptional footballer, Etim Henshaw was a natural leader, a great motivator and regarded by all as a gentleman.

Football in the 1940s was a wonderful game as they just played the game for the love of it and not for any monetary gain or for any other reason. It was just for pleasure. According to an interview granted to a national sports newspaper, Etim said that they grew kicking the ball around whenever they could. According to him, “It was in our blood. It wasn’t our job. Sometimes it seemed that today they only care about putting the ball in the net. We played because we loved to play and because it made us feel free. We were amateurs, but were more dedicated than the present-day professionals. We played for the love of the game and were a bit more competitive than the present-day footballers.”

Henshaw was not just the first national team captain but also the captain of the team that became the first national cup winners in 1945. He played for Marine FC of Lagos in the mid-1940s and participated in inter–colonial matches between Lagos XI and teams from the then Gold Coast and Porto Novo. In 1945, the Governor-General of Nigeria, Arthur Frederick Richards (later Lord Milverton), donated a beautiful silver trophy for competitions among football clubs which had grown tremendously in some part of the country, especially in Lagos, Ibadan and Calabar.  The trophy was known as Governor’s Cup. Lord Milverton attended only the inaugural competition in 1945 and then that of 1947 before he left Nigeria. On those two occasions, Henshaw’s Marine FC (later NPA and now Warri Wolves) won the trophy.

Etim was the first Nigerian and first player to lift the donated premier national cup. It is on record that he was the only player to have received the cup directly from the donor. The governor-general attended only the inaugural final match of November 7, 1945, and the October 6, 1947 match, when Marines beat ZAC of Ibadan, 2-0.

He was the captain of Marines when he received this cup from the donor, then Governor–General of Nigeria, Sir Arthur Richards in 1945, and again in 1947.

The selfless and meritorious service of the likes of late Chief (Engr) Etim Richard Ekeng Henshaw is something that those who appreciated the contributions of these unsung heroes continue to demand from the international players of today. His exemplary conduct, commitment, dedication and patriotic fervour saw the team excel in a tour of the United Kingdom in August 1949 and also shone brightly on the African continent in a series of games for several years after. In spite of his indelible mark in Nigeria’s football and till he died, Henshaw curiously remained in the background for ages in the serene environment of Calabar.

Although his last active football match played was in 1952, he still tried to update himself about contemporary football stars. According to what was read of him, “I watch football once in a while on television. I admire the skills of Okocha, especially that free kick he scored against Cameroon, referring to the epic quarter final clash with Nigeria at the 2004 African Cup of Nations.

“He should be made to teach the younger ones the art of taking free-kick” said Henshaw. He however, believes the present-day footballers may not possess better skills than those of the 1940s and the 1950s.

“We were amateurs, but were more dedicated than the present-day professionals. We played for the love of the game and were a bit more competitive than the present-day footballers.”

The situation had since changed with football players. Nobody wants to play just to catch fun. Being a football player is about the most lucrative of all the games that exist in the modern days. Money is the main reason people play now. It is their sole source of inspiration.

Underlining the sheer dedication, the players of his era had for the game, Henshaw said it was a serious offence for players to get monetary rewards for their skills and performances.

He recalled an incident in 1945 when he almost got into troubled waters, playing for Marines at the then King George V (KGV) Stadium which is the present day Onikan Stadium. “We were playing an LDAFA (Lagos and Districts Amateur Football Association) league math and the score line was 0-0.

“Some Syrians in the stands were betting and when I eventually broke the deadlock by scoring the winning goal, the Syrians were so happy that they gave me 10 shillings (equivalent of the present day One naira). And hell was let loose. I was nearly suspended by my club and the LDAFA. It was argued that as an amateur, I was not supposed to accept anything for playing football.

It was a pity that the Nigeria Football Federation could not do anything to support him in any way, and document his life and story for posterity. It is the least that could have been done to honour one of the great pioneers and heroes of the country’s football tradition.

There was this natural enthusiasm among young men to play football.  As it is today, so it had been in the days of growing for Henshaw and his peers. The main thing was that every space around the houses was a field; every open ground was a field. Anything round needed to be kicked. In fact, then, because there were very few vehicles on the road, it was easier kicking anything that looked like a ball. It was as if boys were just born to learn how to kick balls around. It was even worse then, what with plenty oranges and lime trees that could be plucked, ripe or unripe and be used as ball.

In as much as it was competitive, nobody expected any monetary reward. Football game played as kids would just be carried on at school level where it would lead to competitions among the schools.

Etim joined the Marine football team when he got admitted to study at the institute. That was the beginning of his football career.  How did this happen? It was the duty of the head of these teams to go around picking good players for their departments. So, the director of the Marine team wanted to know the boys who were leaving school with top grades, and as he just finished his class six after taking his Cambridge (A Level), the director of the Marine team said he should come and learn Engineering and join the team.

As a student of Marine Technical School studying for his A’ Levels which would lead him to study Engineering, he was selected to play for the Marine football team during competitions in Lagos such as PWD, LTC, Railways, Police as well as Igbobi College. Most big stores and departments then used to have football teams who were competing with one another.

Etim became one of the second set of Nigerians brought up as Marine Engineers. One of the aims of the school was to get some of them into the Marine football team, and that was how Etim got into the team. He was a very good player and one of their first team. This marked the beginning of his soccer career and from there started moving up the ladder.

in those days, there was no formalized national team playing for the country as a team. The different football teams have been competing over the years among themselves, so whenever there was any international match for Nigeria, the authority would select players from these teams. That was how he was first picked and played against countries like Togo, Gold Coast (Ghana) Porto-Novo and others in 1940. They came to Nigeria, and later select players who also went to play them in their respective countries.

In 1946, the first team outside Lagos joined the competition. The team Abeokuta Town Selected was led by one school teacher, Mr. E.E. Efiok. Later the football authority started bringing other teams from different parts of the country to Lagos to vie for the Governor’s Cup (now FA Cup). It was from there that they picked players to represent Nigeria for the UK competitions. That was how they got boys from Kano, the West the East, to make up the team which went to England. There was no definite national team as we have it now. But then, when they wanted to play, say Ghana, they would pick players from the different teams, and form a national team for that particular match. But nothing was paid to any player, nothing whatsoever.

Etim started his career in 1939, and when it was time to appoint a captain for the team, the mantle fell on him. That was how he became the captain of the Marine team and won the Governor’s Cup in 1945.

The Marine team, having won the Governor’s Cup twice, became dreaded because they had good players. Other teams treated us (Marine team) with great respect. The Marine team players also became famous.

So, when it came to the time of the UK tour: having selected players for the Nigeria 11, the officials decided to pick a player as the captain, Etim was also picked. That was the first time the Nigerian players would be playing as a national team and outside the coast. It was a glorious trip. For detailed reading on the celebrated UK tour, please refer to our publication of Volume 2, Number 1.

It should be noted that playing for the country in those days attracted no reward. There was no time that government rewarded the national team. According to the late legend, when the government wanted to open the new King George V Stadium (now Onikan Stadium) in the mid-60s, members of the UK tourist team were invited and at the end, they were given commemorative plaques as their reward.

Henshaw, was one of the most feared Forwards in Nigerian football, and possessed a shot of such power, as to rival Thunder Balogun and presented selectors with such a nightmarish choice before the UK Tourists tour that they were both chosen for the team.

A true gentleman of the game and a great hero of the Governor’s Cup, Henshaw, like others who have done the country proud and have gone to the great beyond should be given a post humours award while the ones still living should be on honours list.

Etim Henshaw did his best for the country but as usual, he didn’t receive any benefit until he died in November, 2009. His remains were interred on Thursday, 19th February, 2010, in Calabar, capital of Cross River State.He stayed with Marine team for 36 years before he retired.

As earlier written, virtually everyone connected with the UK Tourists is dead now. The sole survivor is the goalkeeper, Pa Sam Ibiam, who lives in a remote village in Unwana in Afikpo area of Ebonyi State. If the government could not do anything for those that have died among them on the pretense that they were no more, at least, Sam Ibiam, the goalkeeper of that team is still very much alive, though old, let something be done for him. After we did a page write-up on him in the Volume 2, Number 1 edition of our paper, an anonymous good samaritan who appreciated him and his peers forwarded a bank draft to him. Unfortunately, the Nigerian factor made it impossible for him to cash it as it spent over 7 months in transit before delivered. As it was anonymous, it was impossible to trace the sender. What stops the federal government and the Nigerian Football Federation in taking care of our heroes.

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