Nigerian football was again thrown into mourning on Thursday, as news emerged about the sudden death of ex-under-20 female national team, Falconets’ captain, Ifeanyinchukwu Stephanie Chiejine, who passed on aged just 36, with wild speculation now trailing the sad occurence.
Alarmingly, though, Chiejine’s death is now drawing a myrida of uncanny suggestions and esoteric hints, with several associates of the late left-footer insisting her demise was spiritually instigated.
A cross-section of former players and stakeholders close to the Lagos-born lass insist Chiejine did not die of natural causes, and sources from the family believe she died of a mysterious ailment, which she battle for several years, but the illness was kept from public knowledge.
A credible source added that Chiejine’s illness, whioch some say even saw her rapidly lose hair on her head, was kept secret because of its uncommon nature, while several efforts to revive her failed after she was taken to different churches in Lagos State.
Nonetheless, Chiejine is fondly remembered for her exploits during her active days with Nigeria’s women national teams, such that her former teammates and fans gave her heartfelt messages across social media.
Nigerian Women Football League (NWFL) has also directed that there will be a minute’s silence in honour of Chiejine at Saturday’s Champions Shield (Super Cup) game between Bayelsa Queens of Yenagoa and Rivers Angels of Porrt Harcourt at Samson Siasia Stadium.
Chiejine, who still holds the global record as the youngest player ever to feature in the FIFA Women’s World Cup, when she lined out for Nigeria’s senior squad, Super Falcons, at USA ’99, was plying her trade with a top club in Kazakhstan, where she met her untimely death on Wednesday.
The then energetic female dazzler, who grew up in Orile-Iganmu area of Lagos and was the captain at Iganmu Secondary School, first played for Tokas Queens of Ojo before moving to Confluence Queens of Lokoja; from where she was called up to captain the first set of players in the Nigerian female youth national team, which went on to star at the maiden FIFA U-19 Women’s World Cup in 2002.
Chiejine, who was playing for SSVSM-Kairat Almaty in the Kazakhstani Women’s League Championship before her death, had also earlier been on the cards of FC Indiana in USA’s W-League, as well as KMF Kuopio and PK-35 Vantaa in Finland and Zvezda Perm in Russia.
Born May 17, 1983, Chiejine went on to have a busy career as a senior international, taking part in the 1999, 2003 and 2007 editions of the FIFA Women’s World Cups as well as Sydney 2000 and Beijing 2008 Olympics; with a total of 15 goals overall in 61 games for Nigeria.
Nicknamed ‘Smally,’ Chiejine also played for Flying Babes of Lagos and FCT Queens of Abuja, with one of her best displays in the Falcons being at the 2007 All-Africa Games in Algeria, where she emerged top scorer with five goals in helping Nigeria win gold, which has not been repeated by any other of the country’s squads since.
The winger-cum-attacker, who made a total of 68 appearances for the Falcons, with 18 goals, between 1999 and 2008, was also part of the Nigerian squad that won the 2002 African Women’s Championship, played professionally in Russia, United States, Finland and Kazakhstan, where she died on Wednesday.
A social media statement by Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), which announced her death, read: “We are sad to announce the sudden demise of former @NGSuper_Falcons player Ifeanyichukwu Chiejine who passed on after a brief illness on Wednesday, 21st August 2019. Ifeanyi captained the first set of the U19 National Women’s team to the first U19 (Now U20) @FIFAWWC in 2002.”