Nigerian international footballer, Ebi Onome, is paving the way for women footballers in Africa. Onome has lifted the African Women’s Cup of Nations trophy four times with the Super Falcons. In 2019, she made history by becoming the first African player to appear at five editions of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2019 and lifted the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations trophy four times with the Super Falcons.

The bubbly and talented football star has represented Nigeria since 2003 when she made her first World Cup appearance in the showpiece event held in the United States and has played in all editions since then.

The Super Falcons are regarded as Africa’s most successful women’s national football team, winning a record 11 African Women’s Cup of Nations titles, with their most recent title in 2018 after defeating South Africa in the final, one aspect that Onome is extremely proud to be associated with.

Aside from her international duties for Nigeria, Onome has also gained valuable experience and achieved major highlights playing in counties like Sweden and Turkey.

Currently based in China, playing for Henan Huishang, Onome regards football as her calling and hopes that one day she will become a key figure for the Nigerian Football Administration to improve the game.

But in the meantime, she is trying to keep herself together as she finds herself in the country where the global COVID-19 pandemic originated.

In this interview with Kass Naidoo, Onome opens up about the lessons that she has learnt along the way in her football career and how she bounced back from a hand injury.

Ebi, welcome to gsport. Please introduce yourself and tell us more about you.

Hi, my name is Ebi Onome and I play for the Nigerian Women’s National (Football) team and I am based in China – playing for Henan Huishang.

I love playing football! Football has always been a dream for me. Umm, when people ask me, “When did you start playing football?”, I always tell them I started playing football from my mom’s womb (laughs) because I really started playing from a very early age with boys in my street (and) in my compound.

We would always have this street-to-street game, house-to-house game, so they would always take me along. If I’m not with a team, they don’t play! So, that is why I say played from my mom’s womb.

How has the Covid-19 lockdown impacted you and how are you managing this time?

COVID-19 has been very tough! Like, nobody saw this coming and you can imagine it all started from my country that I play – China – so, it has been like hell! It’s just like the world has ended and nobody knows when we are all going to start our normal lives again.

So, it’s really, really hard…I would say I’ve been out of playing for like five months, without playing football, so we’re just training indoors trying to keep fit until we get news that everything’s fine.

“It’s really hard, you know, a football player not playing football for like five months – you can tell that I am really tired and I hope and wish that everything would just come back to normal now.” – Nigerian international footballer, Ebi Onome

It’s really hard, you know, a football player not playing football for like five months – you can tell that I am really tired and I hope and wish that everything would just come back to normal now and we can start playing again. That’s how bad it is!

When is the earliest you expect to be back out on the park playing football?

Yeah, it’s fairly hard telling when we will come back onto the field again. I am super desperate to come back to play but as it is right now, we can’t force anything, we can’t go out to play – with the risks and everything – we have to stay safe, we have to follow the rules…

I know how every other player like me wants to go back and play but it’s just unfortunate that we have to wait. Health is wealth! If we are not okay; if we are sick, how can we play? So, it is better to wait and be 100 percent sure that you are safe and start playing again then go and play and get sick.

So… that’s it! We just have to wait. Whenever they say that it is fine to play, I will play!

How do you keep fit during this time?

Ja, I keep fit by having my daily routine of exercises and drills. Sometimes my club does send us training programmes to keep us in shape, but err, no playing of football, it is just indoor exercises to keep us fit…that’s all!

That’s what I’ve been doing right now and hoping to get back and join my team again…hopefully. It’s really not easy training by yourself, indoors, you know. Not playing football, just trying to keep in shape…It’s really not easy, but (shrugs), we can’t do otherwise…

How did you fall in love with sport?

Ah, like I always say, I started playing football while I was in my mom’s womb, so when I came out, I just found myself playing. Uhm, mostly why I was opportuned to play more was because, uhm, I saw myself playing more with the guys in my compound. Whenever the guys were playing, I was always there; they always wanted me to be there with them, so I just loved the game.

“When I got to secondary school, I played for my school team and captained my school team almost throughout my time in secondary…” – Onome speaks on developing her football career from a young age

I would always rush down from my primary school to go play with the guys. If I’m not back from school, they would wait for me until I got back from school so I can join them.

When I got to secondary school, I played for my school team and captained my school team almost throughout my time in secondary…

When did you realise you wanted to make a career out of football?

Once I started playing in my secondary school and playing against boys, I realised that this was my calling. This was what I really wanted to do.

What have been your career highlights to date?

Yeah, playing the five World Cups, FIFA World Cups, lifting the African Cup of Nations four times, being named the Nigerian Footballer of the Year and I was opportuned to captain the Nigerian national team (shakes head smiling) I think…What would I ask for again?

What are some of the lessons you have learnt along the way?

I always learn not to take anything for granted. Like in 2016 I had a hand injury that almost made me believe that I won’t play football again! If you can still see the scar it’s still there (points out at her arm). That almost made me feel…Don’t play.

Since then, I appreciate more than ever the gift I have and to keep working and let God take care of the rest because in football you can’t escape getting injured. You just have to pray for God’s guidance.

It was really a tough year for me that 2016…

How would you describe the state of women’s sport in Africa?

Yeah, women’s football in Africa isn’t necessarily the best. Things are improving but what I see in Nigeria there’s lots that needs to be done. And, it can only be achieved with investment.

Investment from the government, investment from corporates, investment from brands…I think with that, that can help us improve things and African football.

What can the rest of the world learn from Nigeria about the promotion of women’s sport?

I’m not too sure about what the rest of the world can successfully learn from us. Yeah, because, err, we are the ones learning, we need to learn a lot outside to improve in our areas – Nigeria I would say, not Africa, I’m talking about Nigeria.

“We have some of our players trying to have foundations so we can catch them young and help the younger ones to grow to show themselves. We still have a lot more to learn from other countries.” – Onome points out that some footballers are giving back to the communities in Nigeria by starting foundations to develop future players

We need to learn from them. I’m fortunate to have seen improvements in the way women’s sport is marketed in Nigeria today. My manager has shown so much experience in the way of showcasing the female side of sport and many others.

We have some of our players trying to have foundations so we can catch them young and help the younger ones to grow to show themselves. We still have a lot more to learn from other countries.

Which sportswomen inspire you and why?

I would say Florence Omagbemi, she was once the Nigeria captain and once the coach of the senior national team. I’ve learnt from her because she’s a leader and she played in the position that I play, so she inspired me a lot.

I have a couple of them, but she really inspired me a lot. I really learnt from her.

What is your advice for young girl footballers about following their dreams?

Don’t listen to anyone that tells you, you cannot do it. No way! We control our own destiny’s and if it’s something that you want to do, you have to work very hard as nothing comes easy. You have to set a goal for yourself – a very high goal.

I know you passed your difficulties, temptations, times that you want to stop but no, set a goal for yourself and make sure you do everything to achieve that goal – don’t give up!

People will condemn you but never give up, pursue what you want. It’s the heart, if you are determined, you will get there.

What is your greatest sporting ambition?

My greatest sporting ambition will be to one day be the key figure for the Nigerian Football Administration. To help improve sports mostly football!

 

 

Photo 1 Caption: Nigerian international footballer, Ebi Onome, is paving the way for women footballers in Africa. Onome has lifted the African Women’s Cup of Nations trophy four times with the Super Falcons. In 2019, she made history by becoming the first African player to appear at five editions of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2019 and lifted the Africa Women’s Cup of Nations trophy four times with the Super Falcons. Photo: Ebi Onome (Twitter)

Photo 2 Caption: The bubbly and talented football star has represented Nigeria since 2003 when she made her first World Cup appearance in the showpiece event held in the United States and has played in all editions since then. Photo: Ebi Onome (Twitter)

Photo 3 Caption: The Super Falcons are regarded as Africa’s most successful women’s national football team, winning a record 11 African Women’s Cup of Nations titles, with their most recent title in 2018 after defeating South Africa in the final, one aspect that Onome is extremely proud to be associated with. Photo: Ebi Onome (Twitter)

Photo 4 Caption: Currently based in China, playing for Henan Huishang, Onome regards football as her calling and hopes that one day she will become a key figure for the Nigerian Football Administration to improve the game. But in the meantime, she is trying to keep herself together as she finds herself in the country where the global COVID-19 pandemic originated. Photo: Ebi Onome (Twitter)

Photo 5 Caption: Aside from her international duties for Nigeria, Onome has also gained valuable experience and achieved major highlights playing in counties like Sweden and Turkey. Photo: Ebi Onome (Twitter)

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