Ann Chiejine: Groundbreaking Falcons ‘keeper
Born Onyeka Anna Agumanu in Imo State, 2 February 1974, girlhood sprint champion Chiejine had sport in her genes.
To her parents’ horror, she picked up the round ball game at school. Ann’s father feared football would transform her into a musclebound oaf – repulsive to men and doomed to a lonely childless future.
Only when a doctor gave the green light did Ann’s dad relent. In a bustling local soccer scene, she turned out for the Flying Babes, then Kakanto Queens.
A 5 ft 7 in beanpole, teenaged Chiejine started out as a gangly winger. After railing against her impact-substitute role at new club CN Okoli she was encouraged to try her hand between the sticks.
It proved an inspired move. As a goalkeeper she was an eccentric genius with a flair for the spectacular.
When the Nigerian Football Federation put together a team for the inaugural 1991 FIFA World Cup, 17-year-old Chiejine was already their undisputed number 1.
The Federation’s backing amounted to a battered old bus and some fuel, then 20 Nigerian Dollars daily allowance per player for the final tournament in China.
That’s chicken feed, but is still 20 Nigerian Dollars more than Irish national team players get – in 2014!
In 1992 Ann married Mr Uche Chiejine after a whirlwind romance, taking his moniker. Level-headed Uche kept things ticking over at home while Ann traversed the globe with the Super Falcons.
The marriage was eventually blessed with four children: two girls and two boys. This finally put Ann’s dad’s irrational fears to bed. Husband Uche became accustomed to the taste of Ann’s hearty soups, which she would cook then freeze before heading off on her latest soccer jaunt.
She remained between the sticks when Nigeria attended the 1995 FIFA World Cup in Sweden.
German stats boffins International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS) made an embarrassing boob with their 1999 African Women’s Player of the Century list. In a rare lapse of Teutonic exactitude, Ann appeared TWICE in their top ten!
She collected 7 votes under her maiden name Ann Agumanu and 14 votes as Ann Chiojirie [sic]. Her total of 21 should have given her a share of first place, alongside lesbian-baiting striking legend Uche Eucharia.
Glamorous Chiejine was the proprietor of a fashion salon and she fixed her team-mate’s often extravagant hairdos. She shunned a promising modelling career after her first shoot brought unwanted attention from weirdos.
I like looking unique and splendid, so that those seeing you will know that football is no longer a game for failures, as it is widely believed. — Ann Chiejine
Always sporting a trendy bandana on the pitch, Chiejine modelled her style on the flamboyant Mexican Jorge Campos.
Cajoling, waving and shouting, extravert Chiejine never gave her defenders a moment’s peace throughout the 90 minutes.
Even the best ‘keepers have their off days. Chiejine’s tragedy was that hers came in the biggest game of her career: an atrocious performance in the 1999 World Cup quarter-final against Brazil at Stanford Stadium saw her substituted in the first-half.
Brazilian right-back Nenê’s innocuous punt sailed gently over Chiejine’s statuesque figure to put Brazil 3–0 ahead after half an hour. Irate Falcons coach Mabo had seen enough and gave her the hook.
She was replaced by her understudy, Judith “Kamala” Chime, who once had a trial with Ilkeston Town Ladies. The hulking Chime steadied the ship and Nigeria hit back to force extra-time, only for Sissi’s sumptuous free-kick to win it for Brazil.
Chiejine courted controversy by playing at the 2000 Sydney Olympics while pregnant. Armchair critics tut-tutted their disapproval as, with the bravery of a tigress, Chiejine dived in where the boots were flying.
It just wasn’t in her makeup to take it easy: outspoken United States forward Tiffeny Milbrett (nickname: no tact Tiff) complained of an alleged arm “stomp” by a typically spirited Chiejine during the tournament.
In November 2000 Chiejine played in the African Nations Cup while even more pregnant. The wisdom of doing so looked questionable at best when the final against hosts South Africa infamously finished up in an full-scale riot.
She had spent her entire club career in Nigeria; taking in Flying Babes, Kakanto Queens, CN Okoli, Jegede Babes, Rivers Angels, Flying Angels, Larry Angels and Pelican Stars.
Chiejine fumed at the collapse of a prospective transfer to Arsenal Ladies in 1999. The British Embassy refused to issue her visa: “I thought the whole world was against me,” she seethed.
In 2005 Chiejine eventually hung up her gloves and bandana. She had been supplanted in the Super Falcons team by the unshowy Precious Dede.
As a keen student of the game she wanted to stay involved and give something back. She collected her badges and became a highly-educated coach. She went to the 2007 FIFA World Cup as one of Nigeria’s assistants and was also involved with the national youth team, the Flamingoes.
A spell coaching in Romania with CS Negrea Resita promised more than it delivered, but broadened Chiejine’s horizons all the same. In 2014 Chiejine manages City of David United in the Nigerian top–flight and runs her own successful soccer academy.
This article was intended to tie in with Nigeria sending England under 20s packing from the World Cup in Canada. But Chiejine’s story stood on its own two feet: it didn’t need that ‘angle’!