Legendary Sam Ibiam:Nigeria’s First Goalkeeper

With the death of Skipper Richard Etim Henshaw just four days after Nigeria, Sam Ibiamagainst all odds, qualified for the 2010 World Cup, perhaps the only surviving member of the pioneer Nigeria national team, the famed 1949 UK Tourists, is Goalkeeper Sam Ibiam Henshaw.

Henshaw is a man of history, who was not just the first national skipper, but also the first skipper to lift the national cup. He died on November 18, 2009.

Ibiam, along with 17 other players, boarded the RMS Apapa for Nigeria’s first venture abroad on August 16, 1949. Now, he does not have good remarks for the neglect he and his last surviving colleagues suffered. He is alone now in his bungalow at Unwana, Afikpo, in Ebonyi State, South Eastern Nigeria. He has suffered from a kidney problem for some years now.


“Nigeria has not treated us pioneers fairly. I have lost interest in Nigerian football”, said the lanky fair-skinned old man who will be 86 on April 4. Save for a token of N250, 000 ($1,700) sent to him by the Nigeria Football Federation in 2009, the frail-looking former Nigerian goalkeeper has been without attention. He said he spent the money to take care of his health problems.

Ibiam pointed out that, as pioneers, they should have been accorded some recognition. “They treated us badly, that is why I don’t blame the present generation of players who agitate for money or other material gains before playing for Nigeria. They possibly saw what has happened to those before them and decided to learn a great lesson from it”, said Sam Ibiam.


In spite of his plight, Ibiam still recalls his active playing days with fondness. He said his career began in 1945, the same year that Nigeria’s national cup competition began as the Governor’s Cup. He had just completed his secondary school education at Hope Waddell Institute, Calabar, when he featured for the Calabar XI. He later joined the Port Harcourt XI, where he shot to stardom.

He was in the Port Harcourt team that got to the semifinals of the Governor’s Cup from 1947 to 1949. Even though Port Harcourt lost twice consecutively to Tesilimi ‘Thunder’ Balogun-inspired Railway FC of Lagos in the 1948 and 1949 final matches, Sam Ibiam was selected as one of the 18 players to represent Nigeria in the tour of UK.

He featured in all the matches, except the opening one, in which the reserve goalkeeper, Isaac Akioye, was in goal. On return from the UK, he moved from Port Harcourt to join Railway club in Lagos. In 1952, he left for Pan Bank FC and later the SCOA team in Lagos. He returned to Railway club in 1954 and left again to join the Accra Great Olympics of Ghana, becoming Nigeria’s first goalkeeper to venture outside the country. Even though he was in Ghana, Ibiam was always called up each time Nigeria had an international match.

His most memorable international match was the 3-3 draw with Ghana in Accra in 1957. The interesting aspect of the game was that his reserve goalkeeper at Accra Great Olympics, Dodo Ankrah, was in goal for Ghana. It was the first time Ghana failed to beat Nigeria at home.

Indeed, the Ghanaians were lucky to have escaped with a draw. They scored the equaliser in the dying minute of the match.

Nigeria shot into the lead through Patrick Noquapor within 97 seconds of the kick-off. Although international matches involving Nigeria were few and far between in the early years, the premier national team goalkeeper can lay claim to being the safest hands ever to guard the Nigerian goal post.


Ibiam had a unique goalkeeping record. In nine years Ibiam conceded just five goals for Nigeria. Discarding the matches the Nigerian selection played while on tour of the United Kingdom in 1945, as those matches were against amateur clubs and did not constitute full international matches, Ibiam was Nigeria’s goalkeeper from the first international match against Sierra Leone on October 8, 1949. He played his last game for Nigeria in 1958.

When he earned his first proper international cap against Sierra Leone on the return journey from the UK, Nigeria won 2-0. He therefore had a clean slate. He did not play in Nigeria’s next international game two years later when the Jalco Cup competition was introduced between Nigeria and Gold Coast (now Ghana).

Another goalkeeper called Olisa was in goal for Nigeria in the match the country won 5-0. In Nigeria’s next international match against Gold Coast in 1953, Carl O’Dwyer made a debut and conceded the seven goals in the match that has remained Nigeria’s worst defeat. Ibiam returned to the national team in a 1-0 defeat of Togo in a friendly match on October 6, 1956. He still kept a clean slate. His next match was against Gold Coast in the annual Jalco Cup competition. Nigeria won 3-0 — again a clean slate for Ibiam.

He conceded his first international goal in eight years when Nigeria drew 3-3 with Ghana in an October 27, 1957 match in Accra. Remarkably, that was the first time Nigeria avoided a defeat from Ghana in Accra.

The following year, Ibiam had his last international appearance when Nigeria beat Ghana 3-2 in Lagos to win the Jalco Cup for the last time. On return from Ghana in 1958, he joined the Onitsha Redoubtable, a club put together by Justice Chuba Ikpeazu who later became NFA chairman in 1965/66 and 1988/89.

The club was the eastern champions but lost to Ibadan Lions 6-3 in the semifinal of the 1959 Challenge Cup. He stopped playing in 1960 to start a coaching career.

In his coaching career, Ibiam handled the Aba XI and later the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation team of Ikorodu from 1965 to 1967 and had to leave for the East at the outbreak of the Civil War. In spite of being a man of history, all that Ibiam can show for his accomplishment is a trophy given to him in 1987 at the First National Sports Award for Sports Heroes and Heroines of Yesteryear, during the tenure of Bayo Lawal as sports minister.

He said that all the other things, including the green blazer with a badge emblazoned with the initials NFA and with ‘United Kingdom 1949’ woven underneath, which was the official uniform of the UK Tourists, were all lost in Onitsha, where he resided during the Civil War.

“All my collections, including the photographs we took during the UK tour, were all lost”, he lamented. “I had loads of pictures of my playing days both in the United Kingdom and Ghana. It is unfortunate I lost all during the war.”

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