Tesilimi Balogun

– The Man, The Myth,The Legend

Contributions from by Kunle Solaja and Jide Alaka of Yoruba Trumpet

It is told in Nigeria folk lore that in a football match played in the 1960s, NEPA FC, Lagos needed a goal to win the Challenge Cup, and with time running out a fan shouted at Teslim Balogun – “do not forget your left” and he played a shot with his left foot and the rest as they say is history. The ball went through the midriffs of the goalkeeper and through the net and the moniker ‘Thunder’ was born. The nickname stuck with him because of his skills and lethal shots at goal.

I wasn’t born at that time and there are no verifiable sources in Nigeria (we do not keep historical data that well) but interviews with some noteworthy sports people in Nigeria confirmed that Teslim had a fearsome left foot that wreaked havoc and brought victory in a lot of matches.

Teslim Akanni ‘Thunder’ Balogun was born in 1927, in Lagos. His father, Oseni Balogun, was a cricket player in the 1920′s. Teslim started his football career in 1944 when he played for Apapa Bombers. He afterwards played in eight different first division clubs in Nigeria between 1944 and 1961. In 1947 he played for Marine. He appeared for Railway in 1949, Plateau in 1951, Pan Bank in 1952 and Dynamo in 1953. He was also in the cup-winning Ibadan team of 1959 and 1961. In the seven Governor’s Challenge Cup finals he played, his team won five times, making him the first player to have that number of Challenge Cup medals. He made marks in goal-scoring too. Balogun was the first player to score a hat-trick in the Challenge Cup final when he netted three goals in Pan Bank’s 6-1 routing of Warri XI in 1952.

He was one of the first Nigerian players to take his trade abroad. Teslim played professional football in England at Peterborough United, Holbeach United and Queens Park Rangers and was the Nigerian coach that led the national team to the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico.  He also played for the national team for 17 years (1945 to 1962). After his playing career in 1962, he coached until he died on July 30, 1972.

Balogun was introduced to Peterborough United by Reginald B Allen, a “Peterborian” who was secretary of the Nigerian Football Association. Balogun went to England for four years, primarily to learn the printing trade. He made his debut for Peterborough reserves in an Eastern Counties League match away to Holbeach.

Although he never scored in that match, the club manager at the time, George Swindin, thought he was a player with great potential. Because he had played professionally in Europe, Balogun was disqualified from playing for Nigeria in the Olympic qualifying series in 1959. But he returned to play a few international games.

For instance, he was called upon to play in the bilateral encounters against Ghana in the contest for the Zik Cup. He was in the Nigerian Red Devils side that held Ghana to 1-1 draw on October 29, 1960, in Lagos. A month later he also played in Nigeria’s 2-1 loss to visiting Egypt.

The match was arranged to commemorate the inauguration of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe as the first indigenous Governor-General of Nigeria. It was Balogun’s last international match.

Curiously, despite Balogun’s legendary stature in Nigerian football, he had just six international caps. The explanation is that the Nigerian national team had fewer fixtures in those days. He did feature against some visiting foreign sides.

One of those matches was a November 5, 1960, duel between the Western Region side and the Congo Brazzaville national side. The tie ended in a draw.

Five days later, a Lagos-selected side also invited Balogun to feature for it in the game against Congo Brazzaville. Lagos won 5-0. Expectedly, Balogun was the hero. His beautiful movements rocked the crowded Lagos City Stadium.

Teslim also had a knack of discovering talents either for football or for coaching. One of the football talents he discovered is the present Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) Chairman on Technical matters, Taiwo Ogunjobi.

Ogunjobi fondly called ‘Skippo’ said:” My first call-up to the camp of Nigeria Academicals came in 1970, when Teslim Balogun came to watch a football match involving African Church Grammar School and Hope Grammar School. The man later told me that he had heard so many stories about me and decided to come and watch me play.”

“After the match, we assembled under a tree, Balogun walked up to me. I had worn NO.9 during the match. Thunder Balogun asked our games master, ‘where is omo Ilesha?’ (Where is that Ilesha guy?) He said jokingly, ‘I don’t know that Ijesha people can play football.’ That was how he invited me to the camp of Western Academicals.”

Also CAF Technical Committee member, Chief Adegboye Onigbinde was enrolled in a coaching course by Thunder. Onigbinde said the late icon: “As a coach, I was discovered by Teslim Balogun who registered me for a coaching course against my will, but he insisted I would do better as a soccer coach rather than an athletics coach. And look at me today, in soccer coaching I am a. success story”.

His achievements on the field precede him and comments from those that saw him play say that as a regular player, he remains the greatest centre forward ever produced by Africa but that fact cannot be confirmed.

He died in his sleep on July 30, 1972 at the relatively young age 45.