In this interview, Stephen, one of the sons of Segun Odegbami, talks about his father.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Stephen Odegbami, the fourth child of Segun Odegbami.
How was it like growing up with a famous father like Segun Odegbami?
I never mentioned that I was the son of Segun Odegbami, especially at school, because I was afraid of either being victimised or having too much attention on me. Because I was a very shy person growing up, I wasn’t really interested in the spotlight. I went to an all-boys school, CMS Grammar School, in the 90s. I remember the first day dad came to school with me. He dropped me off and that was the first time I had the first taste of that kind of attraction or spotlight of having a famous parent. Immediately my dad came in, the headmaster welcomed us specially. Students were all peeping from their classrooms and were like, ‘oh, that’s Segun Odegbami’s son.’ The moment he dropped me off, I got the attention from everyone. On the spot, I had many people who wanted to be my school father. Growing up, if I would introduce myself, I would say Stephen. I would only add ‘Odegbami’ when asked of my surname. I won’t deliberately mention it at first because of the attention it attracts.
Would you say your father’s name has opened doors for you?
Yes it did and it still does, though I am not one to take advantage of it. I don’t introduce myself as an Odegbami, except on exceptional cases, when I had to actually introduce myself. This occurred more when I was with my dad at events. His name has opened doors for his children and not just his immediate family, but others too who have benefitted from him.
Asides from being the famous footballer we all know, what kind of father is he?
He is a very caring father. He is very compassionate too. He sticks his neck out for his children and tries to make it as easy as possible for them. He makes up for whatever he lacks with care and support.
Can you recall some fond memories growing up with him?
When we were younger, he always took all of us out to fun places. He is a father who enjoys the closeness of his family and children. He likes us all to have a good relationship. He pushes for it more than anybody else.
How does he spend time with his children?
He had more time to spend with us when we were growing up. Now, we are older and we are all busy doing our own thing. But every time he gets the opportunity to spend time with us, he does. We go on outings and he has several special places, but he regularly goes to the tennis club on the mainland.
In our younger days, he took us there most of the time. Everyone at the club knew us because we always came there. I think he was probably the only one then that came to the club with his children.
Were you disappointed when he said he was retiring from football?
I wasn’t disappointed, even though I was born at the pinnacle of his career. So, I watched more of his tapes than really see him play live. I wasn’t born during the 1980 African Cup of Nations Cup, but I’ve seen footages of him play, even in the 70s.
How did you feel whenever you watched his tapes, especially when Nigeria won the 1980 African Cup of Nations in Lagos?
It’s an experience one can’t really put into words. Many people wish they are in my shoes. It gives me great joy that I have a football hero as a father, one who didn’t just pass through the corridors of football in this country but who made his mark. I feel very proud of him.
Do you know why he is nicknamed ‘Mathematical’?
Yes, I think it was because of his precision on the field of play, and his touchline dribbles. I also know he was nicknamed ‘mathematical’ by the famous radio commentator, Ernest Okonkwo, who made the name popular.
Did he influence his children’s careers?
He is a very liberal person. A lot of us are into the arts. One of my sisters is a professional make-up artist, my brother is into computer and graphics design. I am into sound engineering. He always encouraged us to do what we loved most and that we should be good at it.
Who among his children has passion for football like him?
I used to think that I could have been good at football. I don’t know if it could have been so, if not for that accident I had at a tender age. I think I might have played football. I can’t remember how old I was then, maybe six or seven. But it was just discouraging for me then, because I was in the hospital for about two months. So, I just lost interest. I know that my sisters were good at athletics and sports. I don’t know if they would have taken to football.
What are the values you learnt from him?
I learnt a lot from him while growing up and up till now, I am still learning from him. I learnt one thing quickly from him in my younger days — he doesn’t lie and he detests lying. That was one of the first things I picked up from him while I was growing up. He is very caring and compassionate. Personally, I think that sometimes his compassion overrides his better judgment. That is how compassionate he is. He is hardworking too.
At a point he ran for the presidency of the Nigeria Football Federation but didn’t win. How did he feel about it?
I know that he has genuine love for Nigeria football and he wanted to get into the position to make things better. He is not a politician or a businessman; he is just a humanitarian who feels that we can make things better for ourselves and our immediate environment. He tried all he could but it just didn’t pan out as he would have wanted it to be.
What are his views about Nigeria’s 2014 World Cup chances?
He writes about his deepest thoughts on Nigeria football in the papers. I also read about them in the papers. Yes, we talk about football once in a while whenever we chat, but our relationship is more of a father-son relationship. In most cases, he talks about life in general.
What is the most important advice he has given you?
I learn a lot from him by simply watching his examples. This is because I am around him a lot. So, I pick them up as I watch him. I am where I am now because I learnt so much from him and I am still learning. He shows me by example what to do and what not to do. I don’t need to him to tell me, I just see the example and pick it.
How has he been able to shield his family from the limelight?
He is very protective of his family. He has a good relationship with everybody, I must say. One of the things I have also learnt from him is maintaining good relationship with one’s family.
How is his relationship with your mother?
They have a good relationship and they communicate well. My mum is based in Ogun State.
What were some of your favourite moments when you watched his tapes?
I remember watching one of his old tapes in the studio last week. I can’t remember which one, but he scored a goal during a Confederation of African Football tournament, and he just raised his hands up in celebration. I told him that he should have run around and somersaulted in celebration, or something like that. He just looked at me and laughed. Many of the tapes that I have seen are build-ups to his goals. But I am always excited whenever he scored a goal. One of the most significant moments for me was during the 1980 African Cup of Nations final where he scored two goals.
What are his likes and dislikes?
He doesn’t like lying and insincerity. Those are the things I know he doesn’t like. He likes one to be compassionate. He also encourages an active lifestyle. He likes one to be engaged in sports. Through him, I have learnt that being active in sports helps one’s health, reasoning and social status. He encourages one to have a healthy and active lifestyle.
What are his hobbies?
He used to play snooker. But he plays tennis regularly now.
What are his favourite outfits?
He used to wear native attire a lot. I still think he likes wearing native outfits more.
What is his favourite meal?
He likes guinea fowl. He also likes yam, fish and potatoes.
What is his regular schedule like?
In most cases, he wakes up early in the morning, watches the news for anything interesting, then he would have his breakfast and head to work. His schedules at work are always spontaneous, maybe he is going for a meeting or function. Nobody can predict that. But at the end of the day, he would go to the club and play tennis. A few other times, he would just hang out with friends.
Would you say he is a socialite?
He doesn’t attend parties, but he goes for functions or weddings if he is invited. So, I wouldn’t say he is a socialite in the real sense of it. But he is just someone who is ‘socially available.’
He retired at the peak of his career. Do you think he regrets hanging his boots at that point in his life?
No, I don’t think he regretted hanging his boots at that time. But I do know that he wished he played at the World Cup. Of course, he wanted to play at the biggest stage of football, but he didn’t get the opportunity to. He wanted to play at the World Cup.
Do you think his retiring early gave him more opportunity to spend time with his family?
Yes. It also gave him the opportunity to explore other fields. He did a little bit of engineering, sports broadcasting and set the trail. He went into sports consulting, writing and journalism.
Can you recollect one particular memorable event when you went out with him?
They are so many. I remember meeting the Governor of Lagos State when he launched his book and went on a book tour. That was the first time I would ever be in the presence of the governor. We also went to Oyo and Ogun states and met the governors too. For me, that was great.
Your father recently escaped a robbery attack when robbers shot at his car. How did you feel about the incident?
I was shocked and scared for him. He didn’t tell me at first because he was still suffering from the trauma of the attack at that time. Hence, I am sometimes worried, especially when he is about to go on a road trip.
Your father holds a pride of place in the nation’s football history. For you, what is his legacy?
For me, his legacy is that he showed that one can combine education and sports successfully because he played professional football while he was still in school studying. And if one sets his or her mind to it, one can excel in both. An active football career could span 10 – 15 years and one would need the educational background to guide one in what one wants to do after a football career. Only a few people have managed to succeed in doing both. But he has succeeded in doing that and remains relevant and impactful in Nigerian football. He’s been active and I feel it is because he had a good educational background. So, he showed that one can excel in academics and sports, because that is what would give one’s longevity in this life. A football or sports career comes and goes, but one would want to do something else afterwards.
Would you encourage your children to play football?
Oh, yes, definitely, especially now that we have people like Cristiano Ronaldo.