New Telegraph

February 29, 2024


Retired Super Falcons defender, Florence Iweta-Owobeno, in an interview with CHARLES OGUNDIYA said football gave her everything she achieved in life. Excerpts…

The Nigeria Football Federation recently honoured the set of players that got to the quarterfinal of the 1999 FIFA Women World Cup, how has it been with you since that glorious moment?

It’s a memory we have held onto, and we had been looking for an opportunity like this for a very long time; we are glad that the time came and we were deservedly honoured, so it’s a big privilege to everyone of us.

What would you say was the secret of the success of that team?

A lot of determination, teamwork and hard work. Our coaches pushed us and we gave it our all. There were a lot of players that came to camp but we that eventually made it put an extra effort which put us in that position, so it was a lot of hard work.

Every group or society always have their differences, how were you able to overcome whatever issues that came within the team?

I think we had our individual differences, but we didn’t let it affect us as a team. When we had issues we would thrash them out amicably and we would remain together as a team because we believed that teamwork would make us win. So, it was always teamwork, no matter what was going on around the team we would still come together and worked as a team, so, I think that was what helped us to the level we got to.

How was the friendship like within the squad?

The friendship was there, when people from different teams came to the camp it was like we were one big family. When you are invited from your club, you should know that once you come to the national team camp, you have a new family. That was the feeling during our time; we worked together as one team, it’s not like because you come from club A and I am from club B then we would not see ourselves as one in this new environment, our coaches never welcomed such division. |So, it was always a family thing when we came to camp, when you come in, this is Super Falcons of Nigeria, we are here to represent Nigeria and not individual clubs.

Will you say you dominated on the continent at that time because other countries were not used to women football or because of your strength as a team?

I won’t say we dominated because other countries’ football standard was low. I think it was down to the extra efforts from us; that determination and hard work, so, it wasn’t like their football level was responsible for our success. I remembered we still had hard times playing against teams like South Africa, Ghana, Cameroon; so it wasn’t easy like that, we still had to work hard and make sure that we do our best on the pitch.

How did you come into football?

I started playing when I was in high school, Essi College Warri, Delta State, they recruited us from there, I actually started with the track and field, but I later changed to football. I was running 100m, 200m before they recruited us into playing football, and I’d say I learnt how to play football, people who taught me how to play football were my grassroots coaches, coach Napo, late coach Joname and late coach George, may their souls rest in peace. Also, our chairman, who really encouraged us with everything, Elder Eddinton Kuejubola, he’s the pioneer, he’s the one that made us who we are today, If not for him, I don’t know if I would have played football. He was the one that made us and I know he pioneered the careers of a lot of player, he was the rock behind us.

Why did you believe you could make it in football rather than track?

I can’t really say; I knew I was going to make it in football, I was just as a young kid growing up, opened to different opportunities, so I was just doing what I could and thank God that we made it up to this level. Nobody saw this coming, but I knew that we worked hard, we gave it our all and also trusted God.

What have you been doing since you retired?

I stopped playing football in 2008; which was the last time I played competitive football. After playing for the national team, I went to play in the United States for a school, I played there for four years and I got my degree in nursing and since then I’ve been working as a registered nurse in the States, so I think football brought me to where I am today and I’m so grateful.

You are happily married, how were you able to cope with your relationship especially with your career as a footballer?

I think one of the struggles female footballers have is that we dedicate all of our time and everything to playing and sometimes that distracts us from having relationships. We find it difficult to engage in relationships, that’s why it took a long time for some of us to accept any man that came to us for relationship. My advice to the younger ones who are coming up, you are playing football, but still remember that you are a woman, for women, our time is limited, in as much as we are playing football, we should remember that there’s still life after women football, so it’s very important to think towards that even while we are playing competitively.

As a registered nurse in the US, how was it like for you during the outbreak of the novel COVID-19 pandemic?

It was very tough working with COVID-19 patients; being in the midst of sick patients and taking care of them, it was really tough, but ever since we’ve been taking care of people, working as a nurse it hasn’t been easy but I thank God that we are healthy and we are able to provide care for those who needs care because we are called to serve as nurses. It’s been a pleasure; I won’t trade it for anything else. COVID is real, take all precautions that you could and stay safe always.

What would you have done if you were not into sports?

I would have gone into business because I didn’t even see myself becoming a nurse. Business was one thing I wanted to do, but somehow I found myself doing nursing when I went to the States. I think that is the calling to me, because I didn’t struggle through it, I mean it’s a lot of hard work but I didn’t struggle playing football. I was playing football and studying nursing and if you ask anybody it’s really tough for you to be a footballer and also studying to be a nurse at the same time, but I thank God I was able to achieve that.

What was your parents’ reaction when you wanted to go into sport?

I think my mum was lenient; she told me that ‘if you’re doing sports, make sure take your studies seriously’. So long I was making good grades and partaking in sports, she didn’t have trouble with that, so, I think that was one thing that made her to encourage me. If I wasn’t doing well in school it would have been different and I think that is what happen with a lot of families. They want their kids to perform well in school even if they want to do sports. So, for a young kid coming up, if you want your parents to let you do sports, education comes in first then sports comes in next, but then, you can succeed in it either way it’s a hard thing to do but it’s worth doing.

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