The Legend of Thunder Balogun

Many Nigerians today do not know who the Late Tesilim Thunder Balogun was and i am sure most of you reading this have no idea.

This generation of Nigerian football fans probably heard about Rashidi Yekini as fables... A whole lot actually watched him play, but Thunder Balogun most definitely trumped Yekini and this is why.

Many have never heard of him.

When I decided to go to town and ask about him, I was surprised that some people who were in their 40s said they never knew him.

This is especially true for Nigerians who grew up in the north. For those of us down south, east and west, we grew up on Thunder Balogun stories.

While playing football, the one with the "hottest" shot was referred to as Thunder Balogun.

Pic: Nigeria's UK Tourist team of 1949 with Thunder Balogun standing far left
I grew up on this legend. I was too young to have watched him play by the time he died and there are no clips of him anywhere in the world, but what kind of people, especially Nigerians have never heard of Thunder Balogun.

I never even imagined he was real because the stories about him were, to say the least outrageous but in 1990, my local club, Sharks FC signed a striker, Kayode Balogun said to be one of the sons of the great Thunder and I began to believe the man could have been real.

If you ask me, as well as some other football historians, they will tell you that Balogun could be Nigeria’s greatest ever player who reignedin an era where there was no television for the world to see his talents.

Then what could have made him bigger than the likes of Austin Jay Jay Okocha, Henry Nwosu, Etim Esin, Haruna Ilerika etc if not the legend that made him seem more immortal than anything mortal.

Some people swear till this day that he was not human.

The legend
As a kid growing up, I heard of a great player, Thunder Balogun who killed his brother in a football match.

Now, legend had it that he had a left foot so ferocious that his shots would always go in as goal because goalkeepers were too scared to attempt to stop them.

It got to a point the Nigerian government bought his left leg; actually paid for it to stop him from using it in games and that was how sanity prevailed in Nigerian football as Balogun could only use his left leg for walking, running and making passes on the pitch but he could not shoot with it.

However, in the FA Cup final of 1949, it happened that Thunder’s sibling was in goal for the opposing side on the day.

They argued at home and Thunder was told by his younger brother that he would not score in the final.

The legend continued that Thunder Balogun warned his younger brother against playing in the match but his pleas fell on deaf ears.

In the game proper, the opposition was tough for Thunder Balogun’s side as his younger brother saved every ball that came his way.

The game was heading for a stalemate when in the 88th minute Thunder Balogun received a pass at the center circle.

He beat two players as he advanced and then looked up at goal.

He could have scored from distance but he realised that the Nigerian government had bought his left leg, b

Immediately a fan behind the post screamed out, “Thunder Balogun, remember your left leg!”

Balogun then released a rocket of a shot that the keeper, his brother tried to save but it tore a hole in his stomach, destroyed the net, killed the fan behind the post who shouted at Thunder to use his left and was only stopped by the bridge behind the King George Stadium in Lagos where the game was played.

In fact the story continues that until this day, the blood stains from the slain goalkeeper can be seen on the posts at the Onikan Stadium, as it is called now while cracks on the bridge indicate the portion that stopped the ball in its tracks.

The goalkeeper died and the grief was too much for Thunder Balogun to bear so he quit football even though he eventually won the FA Cup.

I’m sure you heard your own version of this story but that was how great the man was back in the day.

In some versions, Nigeria were losing 99-0 to India in an International game and thunder Balogun who was banned from using his left leg had to redeem his country and when his captain saw him through on goal, he shouted, "Thunder Balogun, remember your left."

Tales believed by many

A person becomes a legend when his stories are told over and over time, most of them unverified or modified by the bearers.

However, these take nothing away from the fact there is more truth than fables in most of them. spoke with Femi Adetula of Nigerias’ League broadcast rights owners; Super Sports and he shared his thought on Thunder Balogun

“In Lagos or Yoruba land we call him, Ara-awo Ara-awa because he has thunder in his feet. Whenever he shoots with his left leg fire comes out from his boots. He actually killed a player with his shot,” Adetula said.

“He is a legend and no one can take that away from him.”

Chief Ominiokuma Kile, a retired referee and member of the Rivers State football Association told that he actually watched Balogun play on one occasion.

“I was lucky to see him play once only. You know in those days of King George the 5th Stadium (as Onikan was called in those days) it was very difficult to get in, especially if you are not there early enough. Before I could get into the stadium it was already forty minutes gone so I didn’t get to see him sufficiently.

“I tell you he was a human canon and actually sent one or two goalkeepers to hospital. In those days, defenders never wanted to stand in the way of his shots.

Another fan, Eddy Omeni simply told of a story from his parents.

“I heard in one of the games he played, one of his players reminded him of his left leg which the government had stopped him from using and he took a shot that killed the goalkeeper. According to Eddy, he was about to take a shot with his right leg before a player told him to remember his left.”

Peter Abaje of the Africa Independent Television heard his own version of the story.

“They said he had terrific shot and whenever the ball is with him goalkeepers are scared. I heard there was this penalty he took that passed through the goalkeeper’s stomach and came out from his back and also tore the net. Anytime he takes a penalty kick keepers just allow him to jab the ball in than allow him to use his left leg.”

John Adejoro says in primary school he was told that you don’t stand on the goal line when faced with a penalty by Thunder Balgun because you and the ball will go into the net.

Carlos Binebi Numa who played for Nigeria’s Under 16 team that won the FIFA World Cup in 1985 swears that the blood stains from Thunder Balogun’s goalkeeper brother can be seen on the posts at Onikan Stadium until this day.

I am sure there are more than a million versions of this Thunder Balogun story but who was the man? Did he really kill a goalkeeper, what was it about his left leg?

The man Thunder Balogun

Everybody called him Thunder Balogun but at birth he was named Tesilim Akanni Balogun.

He attained legendary status after he became the first Nigerian to play professional football in England.

He was born in 1927 in Lagos to Oseni Balogun who was a cricketer

Teslim played for Apapa Bombers, Marine, Railway, Plateau, Pan Bank and Dynamo all between 1944 and 1961

He won the FA Cup, then known as Governor’s Cup five times in seven final appearances and was also the first player to score a hat trick in in the FA Cup final when he put three goals past Warri XI as Pan Bank won the 1952 final 6-1

Nigeria’s foremost football historian and statistican, Kunle Solaja wrote once that
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.

In 1949 he was part of Nigeria’s first national team, known as the UK Tourists team that toured the United Kingdom.

Pic: Thunder Balogun in team shot with Peterborough United in 1956
After that encounter he signed for Peterborough, becoming the first Nigerian to play professional football in England.

He also had stints with Holbeach and Queens Park Rangers where he played 13 times and scored 3 goals in 1956.

His playing career lasted from 1945 to 1962 and he in the coaching crew for Nigeria to the 1968 Olympic Games where the country drew 3-3 against Brazil.

Despite his awesome club record, he had less than 10 caps for the national team.

This was simply because at that time the team did not have a busy schedule save for friendly games and you must consider the time he spent in England.

FIFA instructor, Adegboye Onigbinde said this about Balogun recently during the launch of the Thunder Balogun Foundation

"The greatest footballer Nigeria has ever produced was Teslim ‘Thunder’ Balogun, there is no doubt about it. As a footballer, he did many things players before his time, those of his time and after and even years to come did not do and have not been able to do with the ball. I know that one of the goals I still consider as my greatest was scored by ‘Ara awa’ at the Olu Ibadan Stadium in 1968. He had played in England and the UK Tourists knew him very well. So, in that match in Ibadan, the Tourists were always on him each time he received the ball. To beat the pressure of, ‘Ara wa’ stood outside the 18-yard box with his back turned at the UK Tourist goalkeeper, a ball was floated to him from the midfield and the English players were waiting for him to bring it down.
But against their imagination, he staggered a bit, and in turning, he fired a shot at the goalpost, which saw the goalkeeper diving the other way while the ball was already shaking the net," Onigbinde continued.

The story of Thunder Balogun will never die. For those of us who have studied we see him as one that could be Nigeria’s greatest of the old order.

He died in his sleep on July 30, 1972 at the relatively young age 45 but the legend of Thunder Balogun lives forever.

Thunder Balogun, the man lived and was a real person, but he certainly did not kill his brother. However, we enjoyed those fables as kids growing up
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  1. Interestingly crafted and I feel sad I never got to see such legend in action but men like him are never born twice.

  2. Yeah Lizzy. I didn't see him play too but the legend lives on

  3. So this story is true! I thought it was a mere fable. When I was in primary school, my uncle used to tell us a lot of intriguing stories about Balogun. But the only difference here is that he said it was actually Balogun's wife or girlfriend who reminded him of his left shot.

  4. tips to balogun but sorry i never heard of you

  5. emmanuel emiwiser AbijeJuly 21, 2014 at 2:56 PM

    thunder balogun u are truly great wish i had ur shot

  6. Legend indeed,is unfortunate that i was not born during ur reign, I never watched you play football, how I wish ur brother didn't die of ur shot or you never killed any one. Oh!! I can imagine the grief u hold in ur heart till ur death, just for wanted to make ur fans proud! Is so painful. You will never be forgotten. RIP

  7. Yeah, thanks for the history lesson on Thunder Balogun, it did fill a lot of gaps!

    Super factual article!