Sunday, 9 June 2013

Lesbians try to lure me — Ebi

Ebi and Messi 
Super Falcons and Atasehir Belediyesi of Turkey defender, Onome Ebi, talks about growing up in Ajegunle, European career, lesbianism in football, modeling and men in this interview with ’TANA AIYEJINA

How would you rate your performance last season?
It was okay and a very good experience playing in Europe. Playing in the UEFA Champions League was like a dream come true for me as a footballer. That is where every footballer wants to play. I asked myself, “So, I have finally played in the Champions League?” It was a joyous moment for me. Words cannot express my feelings. But unfortunately, we won’t be playing in the competition next season.
After leaving Sweden for Turkey, what is the difference between both countries?
I enjoyed every bit of my football in Sweden. Even the financial remuneration there was okay but it is hard playing in Sweden. Swedes are not as friendly as the Turkish people. In Turkey, we live like brothers and sisters. Even if I don’t know how to speak their language, I am close to them than I was in Sweden, where I was a lonely girl. In terms of the football, the Swedish league is more professional than what you have in Turkey. But I prefer Turkey even though they have not gone professional yet. They pay well, their social life is very much like what you have in Nigeria; you are free to go anywhere and we have lots of Nigerians there.

What is their impression about Nigerian players in Turkey?
They respect Nigerian players. When they talk about African players in the media, their major focus is on Nigerian players. They talk about (Joseph) Yobo, (Kalu) Uche and others. We have lots of Nigerian players in Turkey now. I am the first Nigerian female footballer to play in the country but now, two others have joined me. We stay in the same city and we interact with one another. They respect us there because we have proved our worth on and off the pitch.
Compared to their male counterparts, would you say female footballers are fairly treated by the administrators?
I think they are trying. At the national team level, they are trying; we are coming up gradually and it showed at the last AWC. Nobody wants to lose but we were well taken care of in terms of financial compensation. On the issue of our missing kits, I won’t blame the administrators for that because they explained everything to us. It could have happened to anybody.
On the pitch, you cut a picture of a no-nonsense personality but off it, you are all smiles. Are you a different person while on the pitch?
Onome on the pitch is a very serious person; a girl that doesn’t take nonsense. I am not a hard person but once I am in my jersey on the pitch, I become very serious. Off the jersey and pitch, I am very simple and always smiling. I love to make friends and I don’t discriminate.
How did you start football?
I didn’t choose to play football; I just saw myself playing the game. I started when I was very young. I played with my compound and street boys in Ajegunle. I was always with the guys. They even named me Tom Boy. When I finished my SSCE, I joined Omidiran Babes in Osogbo. I played for them for about three seasons before going to Bayelsa Queens.
Did your decision get your parents’ approval?
At first they resisted. They asked, “You are a lady, what do you want to play football for?” In school I was brilliant, so my dad said, “No, you must go to school.” I fell sick anytime they stopped me from going for training. I told my dad that I would combine education with football and at the end, he and mum had no choice but to support me. Everybody gave me their support in the family.
What was it like growing up in Ajegunle?
I wasn’t staying in the very rough part of Ajegunle. I stayed in an estate there and it wasn’t as rough as the other places. Everybody there was focused on their business. I am the indoor type; I only went out to school and training. I was not the typical Ajegunle girl.
How were you able to deal with the young boys in Ajegunle?
Before I got to this stage, I gave myself a target; it was like a promise to myself. I knew I lived in Ajegunle where boys are after girls every second but I made up my mind that I was going to become a professional player. I told myself to wait a bit, get to my target before giving a thought about men. It was a personal vow to stay away from guys and it helped me a lot.
Are you still staying away from men at 30?
Not anymore. Though I am single but I don’t even think about it because I allow things take their due course.
Having played in Europe, would you prefer a white to a black man?
I have never dated a white man but you never know where love can take someone to.
How did you seal your first deal in Europe?
I was initially in Turkey before I went to play in Sweden. I didn’t play for any team in Turkey but they begged me to stay so that I could sign for them the next season. After the end of the league, I got a call from my manager in Nigeria saying they wanted me in Sweden. I was not playing in Turkey; just training. So I went there and signed a contract with Pitea.
What did you do with your first major money in Europe?
My first big money wasn’t in Europe though. It was in Nigeria while I was playing for Bayelsa Queens. I went to play a qualifier with the U-19 national team and we were given $1,000, about N150,000. I took everything to my mum after I changed it. Everything was in N100 and N50 notes. The money was so much and my mum exclaimed, “Jesus Christ, where did you get all these money from?” I told her how I got the money and she was so happy and she said, “Go and play football my dear, you are free.”
Can you recall your debut for Nigeria?
I first joined the national team in the U-19 category in 2000 but I was a bench warmer; I didn’t get the chance to play. However, my first outing with the Super Falcons was at the 2003 Women’s World Cup in the US. We played three group games and I was featured in the last game against Sweden. I came in seven minutes to the end of the game and I was so nervous and scared. I was playing with Florence Omagbemi, Patience Avre and the other big players and it made me scared. When I got in, the Swedes scored the third goal through my wing. I was supposed to trap the ball but I came in late because I was nervous and shaking all over and they capitalised on it and scored. I cried throughout that day. Mrs. Ayo Omidiran consoled me but the tears kept coming out. The other players talked to me and I got myself back and blended with the team. Avre cracked a joke at me saying, “If iron can bend, what about common plastic?” She was referring to me as the plastic. All these helped me to get going. It was fun though and I will never forget that day.
How did you feel winning the African Women Championship in 2010?
That was the most memorable moment of my life. Holding that trophy gave me so much joy and fulfillment that I didn’t make the wrong choice playing football. I was a proud Nigerian; I was on top of the world.
The Falcons  had   their worst performance at the AWC in 2012, coming fourth. What was responsible?
I would say we are not down yet. We came fourth, so we are still among the best teams in Africa. Football is about determination, training and focus. I think we were over confident. We were over-relaxed; we felt as African champions, we would go out there and beat anybody. We were so sure that we were going to win the AWC again. Before the semi-final match against South Africa, the mood in camp was like, “Let’s go out there and beat them again.” You know they had never beaten us before then. So we entered the pitch over confident and they shocked us.
Some feel the coach, Kadiri Ikhana, was not good enough. Do you hold same opinion?
I won’t put the blame on the coach; he can’t enter the pitch and play the game for you. It’s the players that do the playing. I don’t think the coach did anything wrong. Ikhana is a very good coach despite the fact that he hadn’t worked with a female team before then.
What do you hope to do on retirement?
I am planning and praying to retire in the US, so that I can further my education. It’s not to start looking for an office job because I still want to remain in sports, probably the management aspect of it.
When was your best and worst moments?
Of course when I won the AWC in 2010 was my best moment as a footballer. And the worst was when we played South Africa at the 2007 All Africa Games and I scored an own goal against the Super Falcons. I nodded the ball into my own net but I thank God we fought back to draw the game 2-2. At the 2007 World Cup in Germany, I also committed another blunder that made us lose a game but that is football.
Have you thought about modeling due to your shape?
I have been thinking about that because I have received a lot of compliments about my shape. People say, “Your shape is okay, go into modeling.” And I love fashion. I am working towards it. I have told my manager already.
Are you one of the footballers who buy expensive cars, houses and jewelry?
I love cars but I am not a car freak. I don’t even know how to drive and I am not too keen about cars. I would love to have my own house but I am still with my mum; my dad is late.
Is lesbianism in female football in Nigeria?
It’s true, they have it in female football; it’s everywhere both within and outside Nigeria.
Do you have a personal experience with lesbians?
Yes. Girls have been coming to me, asking me out but when your heart is not just there, you cannot do it because others are doing it. I have never been part of it and I won’t advise any player or person to be part of it.
After making name and money, do you think guys approach you because of your money?
I have been thinking about that. I think it’s normal in Nigeria for guys to feel, “This girl is a star, she earns so much money from football, let me go for her money.” I would say it’s not advisable to go for a guy that has nothing because definitely, he is coming for something. You have to look for someone who can take care of you and would love you for who you are and not what you are or for your money.
Are you fulfilled as a footballer?
I am okay. I am using the game to assist my family in my own little way, so I will say I am fulfilled.
What is your advise to young female footballers?
They should stay focused, they shouldn’t be in a hurry to travel abroad because that is what is going on now in Nigeria. They need to be patient and start their careers in the Nigerian league, where they can showcase themselves. Coaches pick national team players from the domestic women league. If they are picked, they will go further from there. Travelling is not the answer. It’s not every Nigerian player outside that is truly playing football.
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