I saw Gilbert Sono for the first time when I was in third year secondary School. He was one of those footballers my school hired as mercenary as we call them then. We were about the same age I guessed for we were all in the same class level. I was 13 and member of the school football team.
School sports were serious thing in the 80s. Then, most, about 85 percent of the schools were still government controlled. Private schools weren’t many as they were now. So, organizing sports competitions were still easy for federal government to do unlike now school education is under numerous privately own. The system now is kind of “ To your tent oh! Israel”
Different calendars, different ideas, different programs. Above all, there isn’t fields and interested students for schools to worry about entering into any competition if there are even organized at state level these days let alone federal.
The motivators of 80s am not sure there were still there. Then, both the coaches, the coaching crew, the players even the local government the school came from is entitled for rewards both in monetary terms and promotion.
That was reason schools and coaches that felt that they had chance of making it to the state level go all out to hire players they believed can deliver but have never played for any other school that year. That was how Gilbert Sono and two other ‘merche' joined our school team that very competition year 1988.
Sono is an extrovert. He talks non-stop in those days when most kids terms to be all eyes in the presence of their teachers. Never Sono. Anytime we had practice or matches and needed to be transported to the field, he was always the one to enlighten the mood in the bus. He knows all manners of spirit rousing songs both heavenly and earthly.
We his host became chorus singers to out visitor. He was the main striker and I the main distributor. He was responsible for about 75 percent of the goals our school scored in that year’s competition that took us to the third place at the state level in that year’s competition. I was the best distributor and we tends to understand each other perfectly well when in the pitch that we were labeled; ‘double terrorist' by the fans.
His weakness is at the penalty spot. He have scored wonderful goals from the center of the pitch and other angles in the run of play, but once the ball is placed at the penalty spot, he would miss it. No one is ever sure if he has ever scored from the spot in a match accept he never misses during practice. Five he took for us in that years competition, he missed all. He was the one that sent us packing from that years championship from the penalty spot.
Is it not ironic? A guy that practically took the school from zonal to local government level to the state level with his goals most of which is television goals was also the one that took us out it with his spot miss when it mattered most.
That '88 was last I saw Sono until I stumbled into him at the adoration ground at Enugu monastery early this year. Man, time changes not only things, mind, behavior but faces too.
The monastery, located in one interior village at Enugu is lost inside bush the way pin is lost in a hay. You would hardly know that there is something like that there. The trees practically swallowed the few buildings in there.
The place has all manners of protocols meant to fasten the communion of the visitors with God. No phones, no novels, no textbooks, no Walkman, no iPod, no smart watches, no speaking in tongues, no screaming at the Satan, no Bible. The only allowed sacramental inside there is chaplet of the precious blood. You are required to murmur all your prayers like Hannah while facing grotty status that covers the area of about two football field.
The tale had it that all that followed the rules there achieved all they asked for within their third visit. It was brimming with young and old with faces full of problems and anticipation. None was there for sightseeing. All were busy murmuring even the kids among us caught up with what was required of them. The combined echo of the murmuring was like uncoordinated music to the ear, that’s if you are not lost enough to pay attention. I wondered how the place would have been had we been allowed to pray out.
Most that couldn’t pray silently having gotten used to shouting at Satan in prayers wherever it is they came from were visibly suffering. They don’t want to be the cause of their prayers not being heard. Silence became their number one enemy. Some at times forgot themselves and shouted for about a minute or two before controlling themselves again. Then they would spend the next five minutes asking for forgiveness before embarking on their original prayers again.
Five rows in front of me, a middle aged woman kept falling into that shouting trap. Some around her started wondering if God would know she wasn’t with them. A young man beside her on gray turtle necked polo shirt and black jeans trousers who was trying seriously to concentrate and were clearly losing the battle turned to the lady:
“What is wrong with you ah!, Can’t you fellow simply instructions, why are you distracting our concentration here?”
“But sir, why are you talking too, can’t you also follow simply instructions” another lady enjoined.
“ So, you are saying he had to keep quiet when this woman is spreading God’s animosity around ah!” another woman said
“ Is okay, it’s okay please” a man said
The tirade continued with the interested party increasing each seconds. They were still at it when a metallic voice announced 30 minutes break time. There was a rush at the gate. Some to the canteen, some to ease themselves. I found myself at the sole canteen there and was lucky to be among the first to be attended to for there was a kind of melee there. The crowd was many. As I was pushing my way out, I was clapped on the shoulder from behind. As I turned, there was the same turtle necked man smiling at me.
His beaming kept increasing while I was trying to place the somehow familiar voice that came from the face I couldn’t place. Then it hit me like an iron crusher and my mouth operated at the same minutes:
“Sono!, Is this really you?” As I handed him over one of the sachet water I bought.
“ Thank you God, thanks an awful lot” he screamed.