The patient goalkeeper: A tribute to Chinedu Agwu, by Farriel Allaputa

I had attended an early Tuesday meeting at the office when I first met Chinedu Agwu, sitting casually in the reception, phone in one hand and a copy of a daily sport paper in the other. We greeted each other in the quick, polite way strangers do as I moved past him.

I would later find out that afternoon that he was a goalkeeper on the verge of a move to Enyimba.

We met again in the office three more times and by then we had become much friendly, firm handshakes accompanying every salutation. After that, I only saw Chinedu during trainings or on match days when he made the substitute list. Paul Godwin was in a pretty decent form at the time and for quite a while; the farthest Chinedu got to fulfilling his dream of playing for the biggest club in Nigeria was sitting and watching games from the bench.

In my time as Media Officer of Enyimba I have seen lots of players come and go, with the start of every season having a certain feel to it. A feeling of excitement, of anticipation of the victories and trophies to come and the new players latch on to this euphoria. But weeks into the season and a veil of frustration slowly wrap some of the new boys yet to be given an opportunity on the pitch.

There is fierce competition in the squad and very talented players in all positions means not every player will have a chance to play. Few understand this. Many do not.

I suppose it was Chinedu Agwu’s understanding and complete acceptance of this fight for a place in the team that drew me to him. From the moment he joined Enyimba, it was apparent he was going to be the back-up keeper, as the club had Richard Ocheayi as the second choice after Godwin, but it didn’t stop the then 26-year-old from working hard in training and having a warm smile for everyone.

In my only interview with him on March 7, 2012, we talked about his struggle for a starting place and how he felt about it: “I am a very patient person,” he had said. “I know that in the game of football you have to wait for your turn to shine, because it goes around. Right now the other goalkeepers are doing well so I just have to remain patient and wish them even more success, because we are all in the same team. If they keep clean sheets, it’s good for the team so I don’t have to be in a hurry.”

It was a remarkable perception and interpretation of a situation many find burdensome and I was understandably fascinated by this uncommon expression of solidarity with his colleagues, for whom, many would begrudge.

Unfortunately, Chinedu Agwu never really did have his turn to shine for Enyimba.

There were only a handful of performances but his smile never wavered and we remained friends until his eventual departure from the club. I have seen patient players waiting for their turn but never one as tolerant as Chinedu Agwu. He accepted life as it came. No, he wasn’t resigned and unwilling to change things. He just was confident that he would get an opportunity to prove himself, to make his mark. How sad it is now to realise he did not live long enough to make the mark he so earnestly sought.

Part of the process of life is that we would lose friends and family along the way. That as we march slowly and inexorably toward our own end, we would miss the companionship of those we hold dear. But that never eases the pain that comes with news of the passing of a friend. The lump in the throat, the sense of time stopping.

When I first learnt an ex-Enyimba goalkeeper named Chinedu Agwu had died, I didn’t immediately realise who it was. Years had passed; names of players become a blur after a while. Later that night, I did an online image search and the first photograph stopped my heart.

It was my friend. The patient goalkeeper. To die aged 30 is sad but to do so on New Year’s Day is tragic beyond belief. I can’t express enough sympathy for the family he talked so lovingly of but has now left behind.

“I am a very patient person. I know that in the game of football you have to wait for your turn to shine, because it goes around.”

You may not have shined as much as you’d hoped my friend, but for the many lives you touched with your smile and patience, you will always be remembered. Earth has lost a goalkeeper but heaven has gained a great young man.

May God grant your soul eternal rest and strengthen your family, now and always.

Farriel Allaputa, Head of Media, Enyimba FC