The Lighter Side To Trailblazing Footballer Chima Okorie

Former professional footballer and trailblazer Chima Okorie talked to Outlook Traveller about his life in India in 2014
Footballers Krishanu Dey and Chima Okorie
Footballers Krishanu Dey and Chima OkorieFlickr: EBFC Official

Football is special in Kolkata. The atmosphere is electric and at fever pitch when teams take to the stadium during the Calcutta Football League season. Spectators are treated to the sight of not just upcoming or established Indian players but also those from overseas, particularly African, West Asian and European players.

One of those captivating players was Chima Okorie from Nigeria. When he travelled to Kolkata in 1984 to study architecture, he could have scarcely imagined that playing for his university team would change his vocation completely. As it is, Okorie started his professional career in 1985 in Kolkata with Mohammedan SC and finally hung up his boots in 2002 with Bengal-Mumbai FC.

In between, he would play for some of the best clubs like East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, as well as in England. When he bulldozed his way down the pitch, fans would scream his name with fervour. At the end of his club career in West Bengal, he had scored more than 300 goals. Outlook Traveller sat down for an interview in 2014 with the 55 year old trailblazer of West African footballers in India, who had then started working as a coach.

Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi presenting an award to Okorie in 1988
Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi presenting an award to Okorie in 1988Copyright: IndiaHistorypic

Outlook Traveller: What is a dream destination you still want to visit?

Chima Okorie: Every place is a dream place. Hailing from Nigeria, I came to India and did my B.Com from Vizag. Later as a footballer, I travelled to many places in Asia and Europe, only to discover that different places have their own unique charm not to be experienced elsewhere.

Which place could you visit again and again?

There is this cold town in Assam, Haflong, surrounded by mountains. I went there for an exhibition match way back in 1989 when I was playing for East Bengal. I had never heard of it and did not really want to go there. But once there, I did not wish to return. It was heaven on earth. And there were such good momos to be had.

Chima Okorie handing Odafa Okolie the award for 'Footballer of the Year' by the Calcutta Sports Journalists' Club
Chima Okorie handing Odafa Okolie the award for 'Footballer of the Year' by the Calcutta Sports Journalists' ClubFlickr: MohunBagan

Do you miss Nigerian food?

In Nigeria, we make a special dish with cod called ofe. They take away the oil, dry the fish and make it hard till you could break your head with it. That's why you have to soak it overnight in salted water. I have a footballer friend, Odafe, who is also very good in the kitchen. He makes it with palak and methi. My mama back home in Owerri uses okazi, ugu and oha but these vegetables are not available in India. Do you know what ugu is?

No. Tell us.

Pumpkin leaves. I thought I would never have it here but one evening a Manipuri friend's mother served it to us. Of course they call it by some other name but it' strange: Nigeria and Manipur are so far apart and yet we share something common in our cuisines.

A woman selling ugu in Abuja, Nigeria
A woman selling ugu in Abuja, NigeriaWikimedia Commons: GodwinPaya

You seem like quite a foodie.

I love cooking. I like hotels where they let you cook your own food. My friend Odafe plays for Churchill Brothers in Goa. When I'm around, I always stay in his home near Benaulim beach. It's wonderful there. After my morning jog along the beach, Odafe cooks whatever I fancy. He is especially good at making perfectly round puris and parathas. I've been pestering him to open a beach restaurant.

Your favourite hotel?

Green Hotel in Gangtok. It's homely. They make you feel like a baby by serving hot chocolate every night. The family which owns it occupies one of the floors and they often invited me to have momos and green tea with them. Many hotels are attentive but there was something special about the service there.

Haflong in Assam is heaven on earth for Okorie
Haflong in Assam is heaven on earth for OkorieFlickr: Nadir Hashmi

Your favourite destination is in Assam and your favourite hotel is in Sikkim. Any special reason you prefer the Northeast?

Ha ha ha. We can't ignore the fact that Gangtok girls are beautiful. Pretty, red-cheeked, well-fed but not fat. Very fresh and appealing. Don't look surprised when I say that my wife, Ket, is from Assam.

What do you never fail to pack?

My precision training manual. It's my black book with illustrative instructions about how to play football. While travelling you never know when you will chance upon youngsters and whether you can speak their language. But I can at least explain how to play good football through this manual.

Does Ket pack for you?

I'm not like Indian husbands. I do my own packing. But, I do it rather carelessly and need my wife's touch in the end. Oh, I think I am like an Indian husband.

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