Former Super Eagles player, Ene Okon, dies on 47th birthday

Former Nigerian international, John Ene Okon, has passed away, the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) announced on Tuesday.

Ene Okon, who featured for the Super Eagles at the 1992 Africa Cup of Nations, passed away after a brief illness in Calabar, Cross River State – same day he clocked 47.

“Former Nigeria international player John Ene Okon has passed on,” the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) announced via Twitter on Tuesday.

Until his death, Ene Okon was the head coach of Calabar Rovers, where he was famed for his talent as a midfielder.

Rovers manager, Ijani Okori, confirmed the demise – calling it a “big loss” to the club and his family.

“It is an unfortunate situation. He died this morning (Tuesday),” Okori told Supersport.

“He was ill and we tried to ensure he got back in sound health. Despite that he did his work diligently.

“He completed the recruitment of players for Calabar Rovers for the new Nigeria National League (NNL) season and this happened.

“It is a big loss for us and his family and everyone close to him because he was a professional to the core.”

His ex-international team-mate, Etim Esin, wrote on Facebook: “I just learnt of the passing away of John Ene Okon, ex-Flying Eagles to Chile ’87 and Senegal 92 AFCON bronze medallist with the Super Eagles. Another one bites the dust. May his soul rest in peace.”

Football journalist, Colin Udoh, wrote on Twitter that Ene Okon died of liver problems.

Apart from being part of the Eagles squad that won bronze in Senegal, Ene Okon featured for the Flying Eagles at the 1987 FIFA World Youth Championship.

Despite winning the Africa Cup winners Cup, Nigeria Premier League as well as the FA Cup with BBC Lions, Okon’s biggest regret was his inability to play in Europe.

“I would have been more popular if I had played in Europe,” the former Akwa United player said two years ago.

“I tried to move abroad but unfortunately I didn’t have a manager. Only a few national team players had managers then.

“Some of my teammates, who moved to Europe on their own, signed slave contracts and I didn’t want to fall victim to club exploitation.

“I approached my closet teammate in the Eagles for help. He promised to do something, but he disappointed me.

“I regret not playing professional football in Europe like many of my Eagles teammates. It’s more painful because I was highly talented.

“I’m sure my international career wouldn’t have ended the way it ended. In fact, I would have been one of the regular first-team players in the national team. I keep telling my players to learn from my mistakes.”