The Legend of Thunder Balogun
Many Nigerians today do not know who the Late Tesilim Thunder Balogun was.
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.
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.
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 played in 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.
As a kid growing up, I heard of a great player, Thunder Balogun who killed his brother in a football match.
He had a ferocious left foot 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 his opponent on the day.
They argued at home and Thunder was told by his younger brother that he would not score in the final.
Legend has it that Thunder Balogun warned his younger brother against playing in the match against him 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.
Immediately a fan behind the post screamed out, “Thunder Balogun, remember your left leg!”
Immediately, Balogun released a rocket of a shot that the keeper 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 third mainland bridge behind the Onikan Stadium.
In fact legend has it that until this day, the blood stains from the slain goalkeeper can be seen on the posts at the Onkan Stadium 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.
Tales believed by many
Naijafootball247.com 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 naijafootball247.com 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 Omen 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,