After the final whistle, the Coach of Fotress Ladies, the Cinderella team of the Nigerian federation cup, Wole Opatola, celebrated more than just a win as his childhood dream has come full circle.
His amateur team, Fortress Ladies, beat Honey Badgers 2-1 in the Federation Cup Round of 16 in Lokoja.
“I never knew Wole Opatola was a Coach. He performed wonders with little girls from Benin today.
Baba ends with theatrical jubilations.”
Sports journalist Wale Mustapha who watched the game, put into words the third-eye view of the celebration by Wole Opatola.
Wole Opatola: The Sports Journalism Wonderkid
Opatola’s journey to becoming a coach took him through the TV set of NTA in the 90s, analyzing football as a youngster and into a full-blown sports journalism career.
Currently, he is dusting up his dream to try to make up for the lost time.
What started as compensation for missing out on a football career is now blossoming into a career path that is grabbing the attention.
“I was a footballer growing up, playing from street to street, joining different youth club sides in my locality in Ketu in the early 90s before moving up to the Pepsi Football Academy. Most of my mates went through the same progression and played for the national team. Th likes of Yinka Adedeji, who made the Siasia U-20 squad to the 2005 World Cup. Olufemi Oladapo, Nigeria’s best player to the Canada 2007 U-20, Raphael Ademola, who won the U-17 World Cup in 2007, and others. However, the issue is that my parents didn’t allow me to go professional. They insisted I must go to school and become a doctor. So I decided that if I couldn’t play football, I would become a coach and try to arrive at the same level, which is the very top.”
A Partnership That Works
Wole’s attraction to sports was a fairytale. A secondary student of Igbobi College, Lagos, is analyzing sports on TV in the 90s.
Alongside Shina Okeleji, they became a model for every youngster wanting to walk the same path.
Unknown to many, the opportunity was a means, not an end, as he hugged the limelight for the sport he loves.
“Laughs. You can see that all my life has been associated with sports. My father encouraged me to meet up with Chief Segun Odegbami when he noticed the talent, and Baba Odegbami featured me on his show on NTA as a JSS 2 student, and since then, I have never looked back. That was how I became a TV personality.”
The Journey Through The Journalism Curve
From that moment, his career in journalism began, attending major championships, the Olympics, world cups, and others.
“Before I knew it, Multichoice DSTV took me to South Africa in 2001 to witness the Launch of Supersport 3, and Chief Odegbami sent me to cover the Mali 2002 Nations Cup. Boom, another journey into the World of Journalism began. The decision to go into coaching this time is entirely mine but inspired by the reasons I told you earlier.
After hitting the peak of his journalism career, it was time for Wole to fulfill his promise to himself.
Wole Opatola: Making Up For Lost Time
A coaching career beckons as he attended training with local associations before eventually making the decision to go abroad for more training.
Meanwhile, before setting for Europe, a chance meeting with an amateur women’s team owner gave him a temporal coaching job.
That meeting is now charting a path for him after he took the team to the final of the Edo State Women’s federations cup.
Fortress ladies lost to Edo Queens, and Wole Opatola knew it was time to acquire more knowledge.
“I first met the Fortress Ladies owner, Jimmy Aimuagbonrie, in Ibadan at the Football Coaches Association of Africa Nations (FCAAN) coaching course in 2019. We became good friends, and he invited me over to assist him in 2021 when his team was playing in the Edo State Federation Cup. We made it to the final but lost to Edo Queens 1-3. I left not long after to concentrate on my coaching courses with the Scottish FA, but I got a phone call from him when I returned from my UEFA course in the UK in December, and I didn’t think twice. I like the team, the girls are so young. Imagine the goalkeeper is a 14-year-old in JSS2 at Idia College. The team is just as ambitious as I am.”
Fortress Ladies: One More Upset
The Fortress ladies have a date with Destiny on Thursday, a game of their lives against the 2022 Nigeria national women League champions.
Another upset will take Wole and the Fortress ladies to the last four of the national federations cup, but there is a stumbling block.
“Well, I regret to inform you that we have decided to split the team, and we will not be at full strength going into the game because of fixture congestion. We tried all we could by sending a letter to the Football Federation requesting a shift in date as per our match with Bayelsa Queens because the match is slated for the 18th of May in Calabar. Also, we have a Nationwide play-off on the 21st of May in Benin City.”
Two Birds And One Stone
How will the team travel from Benin City on the 16th of May, arrive in Calabar on the 17th, play on the 18th, start the journey back on the 19th, and arrive at Benin City on the 20th to begin a crucial championship on the 21st?
Despite that, Wole is not giving up hope of pulling another Upset against Bayelsa Queens.
“We got an understandable response from the football house that the Federation Cup takes precedence over all other competitions hence it couldn’t be shifted, so we had to divide the team into two so we wouldn’t suffer from lethargy and burnout. We will go in and pour all our anger on our opponents at the Nationwide Play-offs, and hopefully, we will pick a ticket to the Championship”.