It is with a heavy heart that I put these few words together, as I join the Nigerian football community to mourn the passing on of former national team star and coach, Paul Ebiye Hamilton.
So sad I am that it should not have been mourning time but a celebration of life for one of the legends of Nigerian football, as a player and coach, but for the fact that he died in pain.
What a shame that a man so modest, so humble, so generous, so kind should die the way ‘Wonder Boy’ did, after a protracted illness, occasioned by liver and heart problems. So sad that he even had one of his legs amputated earlier this year; such that I keep getting gory pictures of what his last days must have looked like.
Coupled with the cancer of the throat story of another icon of Nigeria’s exertions in the round leather game, Kelechi Emeteole (Caterpillar), I could only put on bravado of guts while discussing with a pal, Afolabi Gambari over the plight of our mentors, who are mostly left to whimper and wallow until the fangs of nature grip them.
The big question: Why is that people don’t remember to shower help and aid, or lends hands of support for our mentors until it appears as if those who are meant to adore on a daily basis are edging closer to the great beyond? Why is that we cannot bring out wads of naira for our esteemed personalities in need until they start facing grief health issues and complications.
That appeared to be the story of Paul Hamilton; such that it was until his passing that we started hearing stories of how he had battled with health issues all through 2016 and into early 2017, but the best he got was a courtesy call by the sports minister on the sidelines of his visit to Lagos to set in motion a hand over of the National Stadium.
Why did it take so long for any form of information to be spread around about the vicissitudes ‘Wonder Bee’ had been facing? Why had no one in the Nigerian Coaches Association or members of both factions of the players’ unions revealed details about the icon’s plight?
Yet, this was a man who held a record as the first Nigerian to coach both the country’s male and female senior national teams – Super Eagles and Super Falcons! In fact, he was the pioneer coach of the Falcons and brought home the country’s second medal on the global stage of international football, when he led the Flying Eagles to bronze at the 1985 World Youth Championship (WYC) in the then Soviet Union.
Not only was Paul Hamilton successful on the soccer field, having earlier also played in the trail blazing Nigerian squad to the 1968 Olympics as well as in the 1976 Africa Cup of Nations, where he excelled as a winger and won his sobriquet, Wonder Boy; he was equally a hero as far as character goes.
Such was his noble nature that Paul Hamilton always received myself and a former colleague, Dare Joseph at his home near the National Stadium in Surulere during our days together at Complete Football. Those were the days when coaches never distanced themselves away from men of the pen trade, unlike what applies today, and ‘Wonder Bee’ was always eager to play host and serve drinks.
I recall that he never offered us alcohol, so I wonder how he got liver problems. I remember that he had an elderly mother staying with him, so I am not surprised he lived to the ripe age of 75. I remember how he encouraged his son, Priye, to play lawn tennis, rather than compel him to take after his strides in soccer.
That would portray for you how noble Paul Hamilton was. Sadly, you cannot get a full grip of the deep level of modesty he had, nor would you acknowledged how much of a selfless, empathetic, avuncular, philanthropic and charitable person he was unless you got up close to him during his lifetime.
Those were the traits that saw him end up running a tender football academy from a small shop on the grounds of SportsCity, after his other dream project, Nigeria Football Association (NFA) Weekend Soccer Academy fell apart barely two years after takeoff. The football governing body was meant to run the project, but Paul Hamilton soon became the director in a private capacity, with assistance from other likeminded youth developers around him – but funding became their biggest albatross and the dream soon died.
He too has now died, and I feel deep personal regrets that I too never bothered visiting him after Dare Joseph’s departure to God’s Own Country. Just like other Nigerians, I forgot one of our most endearing coaches. Now, instead of celebrating a life well spent, I am morning the unsung exit of a unicorn. A candle blown out in the rain…