Nigeria’s most decorated female football player, Maureen Mmadu speaks on her 101 caps for Super Falcons, her pet project ‘Anambra Female Football Kiddies Camp’and her determination to change parent’s mindsets on their girl child’s participation in football. In this exclusive, no hold barred interview with Orient Sports’ SAB OSUJI, the former midfielder reveals she bought a car for her mother after the 1999 World Cup in the USA only to find out on driving home that her mother was already dead. She spoke on other salient issues. Enjoy excerpts—
Orient Sports: You’ve been around here in Anambra State for a couple of months now, preaching about your pet project, Anambra Female Football Kiddies Cam with Maureen Mmadu, could you please explain to us what this project is about?
Maureen Mmadu: Thank you very much. This program is all about the girl-child program. It is called ‘ Anambra Football Kiddies Camp With Maureen Mmadu. This initiative came to me when I was in Norway. While there in Norway, I normally organise Summer Camp with my team. So, when I came back home recently and was appointed as appointment as ‘Ambassador of Nde Anambra Women Football’, I decided to bring the project, I mean the Summer Camp, back home here to Nigeria, Anambra precisely. Reason is that here, Anambra, is where my career as a footballer started. I was born and brought up here in Anambra.
OS: What really motivated you to take up this challenging project at this point in time and specifically with the girls as a target?
MA: Looking back at my career, how I started off, what I passed through, I felt it is important that I did something so that the present generation of girls didn’t pass through what I experienced during my time. The storm, the challenges that I went through was much that I wouldn’t want them to equally go through it. You know the phobia around girls then. No parents want their daughters anywhere near the football. My parents were not exempted. They never wanted me to play football and could do anything to frustrate me. So when I looked back, I said no, I just have to bring this initiative back home so that parents could know that it is important they allowed their girls to take to whatever career they chose so they can become whatever they want including footballers because it is football that made me what I’m today. And with some of them now already looking at me, I think it’s good for me to give back to society because it is the society that helped make me what I’m today.
OS: That’s very interesting. Indeed you braved a whole lot of odds to make it. You really belonged to the ages when parents saw their daughters involvement in sports as a taboo. But then, Maureen, tell us how you managed to overcome this, I mean how you were able to get your parents back on your side to support and encourage you in your chosen career?
MM: It was a difficult moment. Growing up, I was a bit of stubborn because I was resolute in following my dream. My mom used to tell me then that anywhere I found myself, I should be back home by six o’clock (in the evening) and that I should play football because women don’t play football. My mom is a typical Nnewi woman, they don’t joke with their kids.
So, one day I was bold enough to tell her to her face that if she doesn’t allow me to play football, I would just get pregnant and that when I get pregnant, that would bring disgrace to her and the entire family. And she screamed ‘okay, okay, please, you don’t have to do that. I will allow you to follow your dream but you must ensure your future which is your education. I finished my secondary education before Princess Jegede came to pick me and later trained me at the University of Lagos while I was playing for her team, Jegede Babes FC.
OS. Fantastic, I must say. But what course did offer at the University?
MM: I read Health and Physical Education together with Florence Omagbemi and coach Napoleon Eluma and Sarrah Okotiebo too.
OS: So far, what has been the response of the Anambrarians towards this your ‘Anambra Female Football Kiddies Camp with Maureen Madu’ project, I mean, how are the people taking the message?
MM: The response has been encouraging I must say. My Media Team has been of tremendous help, doing a great job as we move all over the place spreading the message of this new order and sensitising the people. It’s a new concept and you don’t expect all the people to just assimilate it at the same time and pace. We’ve been shuttling around, Nnewi, Awka, Onitsha and all that to spread the message about this project, how important it is for parents to allow their girls to participate in this and of course, allow their daughters to follow their dreams. I’m encouraged with the response so far. We’ve always been enjoying cordial welcome anywhere we entered and they always told me this is a very nice initiative. I must also commend the Anambra State Football Association, they have been very supportive, even bought 42 forms (at N5000 each) through Dr Emeka Okeke. Dr Okeke even urged the FA to ensure they went to all the Local Government Areas and see if they could pick two girls from each of the LGAs that are good. So he bought forms for all of them just to encourage them to participate in the program.
OS: After the camping exercise, what happens to the lucky ones? Where next do we expect to see them?
MM: We are trying to catch them young, hence we are going to the grassroots. We are able to get good ones, say of 15-17 years of age, why not? We can make case for them to undergo screening and possibly join the National U17 Female Team, the Flamingoes. I believe Nigeria still needs players who can help make the country proud. And in doing this, everybody should join hands in the effort to make Nigeria great again. Secondly, I would say a big thank you to Anambra State Governor, Chief Willie Obiano, and his wife, for them to have announced the establishment of two State Football Teams, a male and a female teams in Anambra State.
To me, catching them young and integrating them into the female state team means that I’m ‘killing two birds with just a single stone’, fishing out the young talents, nurturing them to the state female team and also taking them to the national U17 female team.
OS: Maureen, you hold the singular record of being the highest capped Super Falcons player. During an 18-year-national team career spell, you amassed 101 caps only equalled by former Super Eagles captain and goalkeeper, Vincent Enyeama. You also featured in four FIFA Women’s World Cup finals in 1995 (in Sweden), 1999 (in the USA), 2003 (in the USA) and in 2007 (China). You also featured in two Olympic Games with Super Falcon in Sydney, Australia (2000) and 2004 in Athens (Greece). How do you feel when you look back at these incredible feats?
MM: Without being emotional, it makes me feel fine and fulfilled. And I must have to be grateful to God, my parents and fans that always push me to this level. I also say it is a product of my commitment, dedication and passion I have in the game that made me get to that lovely height. Don’t forget, hard work pays too because you must have to work hard for God’s blessings to manifest.
OS: And you played for SEVEN CLUBS while in Europe, particularly Norway?
MM: Yes, that’s true. It started with my move to IL Sandviken……..
OS: (Cutting in) including Klepp IL, Obik (2006), Linkopings FC (2007), Amazons Grimstad (2008), Kolbotn IL (2010) and Avaldsnes IL (2011-2013). How do you reflect on your days in the European league?
It was fun, I must say. I had a great stay out there in Europe, Norway, to be precise and I will forever remain grateful to God for it.
OS: There is still this aspect of your career. You chose to coach after your playing career.
MM: Yes, I’m a coach. I decided to go into coaching and I’m a UEFA C licensed coach. I coached at Avaldsnes FC. I spent four seasons with the club as a player and also captained them too. And when they saw my potentials in coaching, they encouraged me to go into management by helping me to undergo a course in management. As a matter of fact, they picked all the bills for the duration of the course.
The coast? I think it’s about an equivalent of N500, 000.00 in Nigerian money. I must say a very big thank you to them for giving me that platform for me to showcase myself in coaching aside playing the game. Becoming a coach after playing is a very big thing for me.
OS: And your coaching experience also spanned through the Super Falcons under Coach Dennerby, if I’m not mistaking.
MM: Yes, when I left my job at my Norwegian club, Avaldsnes FC as an assistant coach, I was drafted to the Super Falcons as an assistant coach to Thomas Dennerby during the last FIFA Women’s World Cup finals France. It was a very nice and rewarding experience. We worked hard together and I believe recognized my experience and contribution to the Super Falcons team because before he could ask for my assistance in the team, he must have gone through my (CV) profile. When I joined the came, we worked together and he saw the potential in me and I really say a very big thank you to him. I really learnt much from him.
He taught me a lot added to what I had learnt back in Norway. When you play, undergo management course, and work under a coach like Dennerby, who is highly experienced or people that you know that are top-notch in-game, for me, I think it really helped me a lot and I must say a very big thank you to him.
OS: Is Maureen keen on handling the Super Falcons or any of the female national teams any time in the future?
MM: Of course, yes. The dream of every player is to represent his or her country. Same way, every coach wants to help his or her country and mine wouldn’t be an exception. You can see what I’m doing here with this ‘Anambra Female Football Kiddies With Maureen Mmadu’ project. For me, grooming them young and my passion in the game is also part of national service. But then, of course, I would like to be a part of the female national teams coaching crew but you know I’m not the one to decide. I’ve served this country and Nigeria Football Federation, NFF, so if they feel that my services are needed at the national team level, why not? It’s all down for them to decide what they want.
OS: Having played for the country, earned 101 caps and equally coached at the national level no matter the duration and capacity. In a nostalgia, what memories come to your mind?
MM: Memories of fulfilment, hard work, because you know, it was very tough because as it is often said, the beginning is always difficult. But football making me where I’m today and affording me an opportunity to represent Nigeria 101 times on the international stage makes me feel so happy and I really have to thank God for that because I believe that when you work hard, concentrate on your task, and your passion with prayer, I think you will always reach your desired height.
OS: You also won the African Women Championship, four times, isn’t it?
MM: You are right, four times, with Super Falcons.
OS: Your trophy or do I say medals cabinet must have been full of different sizes and shapes of medals. Tell me, where are those medals?
MM: Wao, all the medals are in my sitting room, that’s where you will find them because I hang all of them right inside my sitting room. You can also see a whole lot of the awards that I won during my career, many of them when I was in Europe because it was when I travelled out to Europe that I realised that there was a gulf of difference between football in Africa compared to Europe. I won a lot of personal awards, more in Europe than here in Nigeria, I can say.
OS: Amongst those awards, which one do you cherish so much?
MM: In Nigeria, Europe or in the World?
OS: All of them put together. Which of them stands out so dearly to you?
MM: I would say it the individual award. When I won the highest goalscorer’s award for the first time in 2002 when I was with Sandviken and the Best Player Award when I was with Klepp IL. I think these two awards represent a whole lot to me.
OS: When was that moment you can look up and say was your happiest moment during your career?
MM: It was in 1999 when the Super Falcons qualified for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. It was going to be my first Olympic Games and you know every player wants or athletes wants to be at the Olympics because it is the highest level of sporting activities.
OS: Tell us, when was that moment you can say was your worst moment during your playing career?
MM: My saddest moment in life was when I lost my mother. That time I was in the national team. I also lost my dad when I was on the national team. I equally lost my elder sister when I was in the national team.
You could see how sad one can be after losing his father and sister earlier while away serving one’s fatherland only to also later lose one’s mother while serving one’s country.
OS: That means you lost three of your close ones while serving the country?
MM: Losing these three persons in my life while serving the country, you can see how painful it is. But it only speaks of the passion I have for the game and the country.
OS: How can you compare the present Super Falcons team with the Super Falcons of your time?
MM: There’s no comparison at all. They are never the same and can never be, in fact, the present Falcons can come nowhere near the team of our time. There is a huge difference. During our time, it was more like hard work, dedication and passion.
During our time, there was not much monetary reward then. But now, there is huge money in women football. The Falcons, with quality players, full of dedication and hard work, command a lot of influence in women football across the continent. Call it fear factor, before any game, everyone would say, Nigeria was going to win and we were just coming to the stadium to complete the formality. Now, the narrative has changed, we now hard to work so hard to win or be like the Super Falcons of our time.
Every country, no matter how small, has woken up and every one of them wants to taste the cake that’s top continental and global football. Football is currently undergoing rapid modernisation quite unlike before, so it is a bit different between now and then.
OS: As a footballer, when you got your first million naira, what did Maureen Mmadu do with it?
MM: That was in 1999 when I came back from the FIFA Women’s World Cup finals in the United States of America, USA. Immediately we arrived in Nigeria, I went straight to the car dealer and bought a car, a Toyota Corolla car which I said I was going to give to my mom. But sadly, when I drove down-home, I found out that my mother was already dead. So, at that point, I became speechless, I never knew what to say or do. It was a very painful moment for me.
OS: Finally Maureen, this your project how prepared are you to drive it through. Is it going to be a one-off thing or a continuous exercise?
MM: For sure, it is going to be a continuous thing. This is just the maiden edition back home in Nigeria, my fatherland and Anambra precisely, my home state. For me to bring this project home from Norway is a sign that it is not what I’m going to do once and its all over, no. It’s going to be an annual event because I’m going to be doing it twice a year, during the Easter and Christmas periods. It has come to stay in Nigeria, precisely in Anambra.
OS: Thank you, Maureen, for sharing thoughts with us. Hopefully, you will oblige us when next we call. Good luck and all the best for your project.
MM: Thank you so much and continue to do the best for the game because it’s you people that started it all from the scratch.