Robert Soldiers On As U.S. Army Major From Eagles Camp To varsity
From his early days, Major Patrick Seun Robert’s fortunes have always lied in the fields. From a fledgling football career on the football field, he played his way to the Alabama Agriculture and Mechanical University through a football scholarship. The ace football defender, on completion of his graduate programme, took to a different kind of defence as he enlisted in the United States Army as an Automated Logistical Specialist. While stationed in South Korea, Robert was promoted First Lieutenant and Second Lieutenant while at the Field Artillery Branch and thereafter Captain during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. Interestingly, the journey leading up to all these began at Ebenezer Primary School, Ibadan, Oyo State, where he embraced football at a tender age. Winner of two Principal Cup tourneys in Oyo State in the early 1980’s and bronze medal winner at the All Nigerian Secondary School Sports the same year, Robert also went on to play for Oyo and Ogun states Academicals team in 1983 and 1984. From IICC of Ibadan, where he impressed, he earned an invite to the Flying Eagles. His sterling qualities there stood him out and erstwhile Super Eagles coach, Clemence Westerhof, could not, but extend an invite to him. He told ENO-ABASI SUNDAY that while Eagles were preparing to play against Togo in the 1994 World Cup qualifying match, an admission letter with a four-year football scholarship landed and he latched onto it. At the university level he was the Most Valuable Player (MVP) for three consecutive seasons (1990-1992) and the Most Valuable Senior Player in 1993. Grateful to God for the seamless flight granted him so far, his military career and family, he said immense social and health benefits have accrued to him on account his engagement in sports From his early life.
MANY people would have thought that with the dexterity he displayed marshalling the defence of the football teams he played for, Major Patrick Seun Robert, would do a 360-degree turn to another calling other than the round leather game. But that is exactly what happened. By his admission, taking to football was his way of developing a sense of achievement and a positive self-image. It was also a great source of fun, among others.
His migration to the United States, he further admitted, opened his eyes to all that sports participation has got to offer.
Patrick’s sporting odyssey began during his primary education period when he ventured into the races and football at Ebenezer Primary School, Ibadan, Oyo State, at a very early age in the late 1970s. “It was not until I reached secondary school that I started focusing mainly on football, with the help of the late Coach Abayomi Akande, popularly known during his days as “Gomez,” he recalled.
Robert started his secondary education at Islamic High School in Ibadan before moving to Premier Grammar School, Abeokuta, Ogun State. In the course of his secondary education, he met and played against some of the best players of that era, who had come From different parts of the country.
He said, “It was while attending Premier Grammar School, Ibadan that I met Friday Ekpo, Eddy Adung, Babatunde Onagoruwa, just to mention but a few. I also had the privilege, during my higher secondary certificate education (Advanced level) at Ibadan Grammar School, to play alongside Bella Momoh, Dimeji Lawal, Babatunde Odua (Zico), Tajudeen Lasisi (Oldman), Jomo Jaiyeola, Bola Omoyeni, Niyi Ogundipe, Mohammed Balogun (Tarek), Locoster, Emmanuel Stowe, Adagunduro, Adelani Adedayo, among others. These players and others that I did not mention consistently challenged and motivated me to be a good player.”
As a schoolboy at Premier Grammar School, Ibadan, Robert football career flourished as he won some of the most coveted football trophies competed for during that time. For instance, he played in the team that won the Ogun State Principal Cup in 1983; captained Ibadan Grammar School to win the Oyo State Principal Cup in 1984 before leading the school to win bronze medal at the All Nigerian Secondary School Sports Festival the same year.
Enumerating some of the football competitions he took part in as a school boy, he said, while attending Premier Grammar School in 1983, “I played for Ogun State academicals at the Manuwa/Adebajo Cup Competition alongside Dotun Alatise, Eddy Adung in the team that our head coach was the late Ibikunle, popularly known as “Papa” and his assistant was coach Christian Olonta.
“While attending Ibadan Grammar School for my Higher School Certificate (HSC) also known as A-level; I led the school to represent Oyo state at the All Nigerian Secondary School’s Sport. The following year (1984), I played for Oyo State Academicals at the Manuwa/Adebajo Cup competition and our head coach was the late Samuel Ojebode, assisted by Coach Aderibigbe in the team, which was captained by Dimeji Lawal.”
In 1985, Robert again flew Oyo State’s flag, representing the state’s Academicals team at the National Sports Festival, tagged Kwara ‘85. That year, he captained the team and was assisted by Bella Momoh.
At the tertiary level at Alabama A & M University, where the Logistics Officer of the United States Army studied, he was the Most Valuable Player (MVP) for three consecutive seasons (1990-1992) and also the Most Valuable Senior Player in 1993.
Not all of Robert’s peers, who took to football From primary school, stuck to it and made names for themselves. But for him, the urge to put in concrete terms, the saying that what is worth doing is worth doing well enabled him to soldier on. Added to this, he said living a disciplined lifestyle devoid of excesses also sustained his love for the sport.
Said he, “As I mentioned earlier, I was into football right From primary to secondary and advanced secondary schools. As far as the adroitness or the deftness of displaying football skills during my playing days, I always believed in the saying what is worth doing at all is worth doing well. Football is a team game, unlike track and field events, which was why I always challenged myself to perform to the best of my ability so as not to let down my teammates. Another vital part to this was the self-discipline to stay away From things (off the field) that are known to be detrimental to the game.”
To this day, an experience Robert had barely 30 years ago, shows the extent mischief makers can go in their bid to throw a spanner in the works of persons or groups they feel were more grounded than they were.
Hear him, “A competition that I have not been able to remove From my memory has been the National Sports Festival, tagged Kwara ‘85 in Ilorin. Could you imagine having Mutiu Adepoju, Dimeji Lawal, Babatude Odua, Nosa Osadolor, Bella Momoh, and Emmanuel Stowe in your team and not beating any opponent? What happened was that we were getting ready to play the quarter final match against Bendel State when our team coaches, Late Samuel Ojebode and Mr. Aderibigbe informed us that there was an unfounded allegation against Nosa Osadolor. He was alleged to have already graduated From a university, which made him unqualified for the competition.
“In short, it was a deliberate effort to ease us out of the competition. And by the time the sports committee found out the truth, it was already late. There was no doubt that we would have won the gold medal for Oyo State.”
Furthermore, the soldier also regrets “not winning a gold medal in the football event at the 1984 All Nigerian Secondary Schools Sports Festival saying, “we had a very solid team but we were just unlucky.”
Looking back at his high and low moments in school sports, the ex-Nigerian international said his “most memorable school sports competition remains the Oyo State Principal’s Cup competition in 1984, while his worst moment in school sports was losing to Bendel State at the semi final of the All Nigerian Secondary School Sports Festival also in 1984.”
Born and bred in Oyo state, Robert, whose deceased parents hailed From Edo State, jocularly refers to himself as a man From three states, that is, Edo, Oyo and Ogun states, which are places he lived and schooled.
Upon leaving secondary school, Robert’s club football career took flight and he laced his boots for some club sides. Between 1985 and 1986, he played for Niger Match Football Club of Ibadan, now disbanded. In the 1986/1987 season, Adegoke Motors Football Club now disbanded paid his wages while he starred for IICC Shooting Stars Football Club, now 3SC From 1987 to 1990. It was with this club that he won the state Challenge Cup, Lekan Salami Cup as well as the Division II league, among others.
His foray into Super Eagles came when he starred for the Flying Eagles. Their Ghanaian counterpart in the final of the 1990 ECOWAS Cup pipped them to the trophy. “I was called to the Super Eagles by the then Technical Adviser/Head Coach of the Super Eagles, Mr. Clemence Westerhof, immediately after the Flying Eagles took part in the ECOWAS Competition in 1990. As a matter of fact, I was one of the three players that were promoted to the Super Eagles. The other two were Dotun Alatise and Ademola Johnson.
“In that competition, we won silver medal after losing to Ghana at the final. Players that were with me in the Super Eagles Camp back then were: Moses Kpakor, Alloy Agwu, Mutiu Adepoju, Peter Rufai, Thompson Oliha, Ajibade Babalade, Dimeji Lawal, Friday Elaho, Isaac Semitoje, Monday Odiaka, and the list goes on. Stephen Keshi and Augustine Eguavoen were playing professional football and always came to join us in camp.
“As we were preparing to play against Togo in the 1994 World Cup qualifying match, I received an admission letter with a four-year football scholarship From Alabama A & M University in U.S.A. That was when I had to make a crucial decision of my life, whether to accept the scholarship/admission and proceed to America or establish myself in the Super Eagles. I definitely would have made the team). Thank God assistant coach, Tunde Disu, Felix Owolabi, the late Muda Lawal all encouraged me to accept the scholarship/admission offer and forego playing for the Super Eagles.”
Even though he stuck to football for the love of it, the sport was incapable of affording him a house or car all through his playing days. According to him, “I bought my first car after I arrived in America; built my houses in America and Nigeria after I enlisted in the U.S Army. In other words, I did not own a car or a house during my playing days in Nigeria.”
Despite this, he said participation in sports that early in life has affected his world “positively. I could remember when I was in high school; I wanted to be a lawyer but still wanted to play football so as to develop a sense of achievement and a positive self-image. Even though I knew that playing football was a great source of fun; brought people together and built community pride, I never thought, until I migrated to the United States, that sport participation was associated with psychological well-being, positive social development and life skills that apply far beyond the football field… If we do our work merely to earn a paycheck or satisfy somebody, then we will fall short of the highest motivation, which is engaging in any particular work because we have passion for it.”
However, “I give Glory to almighty God for everything that I am today and what I will be tomorrow. Some of the health benefits of my engagement in sports From very early in life are apparently the blessing of not having chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension and not being obese etc. God enabled me to have the self-discipline to adapt to a healthy lifestyle and take good care of my body.
“Also, during my playing days, I had the opportunity to meet influential people in the society, some of which are still my friends. Again, I thank the most precious, most gracious, and indubitably the most merciful God for everything.”
After a cursory look at the pathetic state of school sports in the country, the US Army chief decried “government and school administrators’ lackadaisical attitude towards school sports.”
On the way out, he said incorporating Physical Education into high school curriculum and its enforcement were germane steps to stem the drift.
“Governments at local, state and federal levels, as well as schools should offer incentives such as sport scholarship to encourage athletes. Provision of modern facilities for sport and recreation, equipped with modern amenities and backed with a well-structured maintenance programme”, should also be ensured.
Furthermore, “the root to encouraging young people to participate in sport also lies in the quality of the teaching they receive. In this, there is no magic bullet, as you cannot deliver a gold medal athlete with a coach, who only has an idea of the sport and not willing to think outside the box to do what it takes to prepare the athletes. So, subject matter experts (certified coaches) should be engaged.”
After leaving Nigeria on September 4, 1990, Robert bagged a Bachelor of Science degree in Finance in 1995 and a Master of Science degree in Economics in Finance in 1997.
After enlisting as an Automated Logistical Specialist, he was later selected to attend the Officers Candidate School and was commissioned Second Lieutenant in the Field Artillery Branch, on August 3, 2000.
In 2009, he was selected for promotion to the rank of Major and simultaneously to attend the prestigious United States Army Command and General Staff College (GCSC). While there, he was promoted to Major. Upon graduation From CGSC, he was assigned to serve as the Battalion Executive Officer for a battalion that was deployed to Iraq.
Robert Soldiers On As U.S. Army Major From Eagles Camp To varsity
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