Abdul Sule

By Richard Johnson

ABDUL SULE was a member of the exciting Stationery Stores team which took the Nigerian league by surprise in 1992, playing with style as they won converts for the Adebajo Babes. He also got called up to the Super Eagles in just his first year of top-flight football…..


The story of Abdul Sule’s career is nothing short of miraculous. He went from the obscurity of Nigeria’s lower leagues to playing for the Nigerian senior national team in the space of one calendar year. And this was, during the heady days of Clemens Westerhof’s reign as manager, at a time when you needed something extra special to get into the dread Super Eagles. Abdul Sule did it in just his first year as a Professional League division one player.

Originally from Kogi state in North Central Nigeria, the young Abdul was born and grew up in Kaduna, Northern Nigeria’s most cosmopolitan city where he mixed freely with children from all over the country. Though tribes and tongues differed, one common factor that joined him with these other kids was their love for the game of football.

Sule’s talent was at once noticeable and everyone saw he was a diamond in the rough. He attended Sabon Gari primary school as well as the famous Rimi College and he was the undoubted star of his school team which he led to win the Bashir Sambo Cup for secondary schools before finishing high school.
After secondary school, he teamed up with his first youth club, Shenton Marafa FC, a neighbourhood team for which every kid wanted to play. Again he stood out as a striker for the team and his fame went far and wide in the Kaduna metropolis. Though he was acknowledged as a budding talent, Sule was not making as much progress as he desired until a chanced encounter with the late coach Abdullahi Bebe changed his life forever.

He recalls: “Coach Bebe and I lived in the same neighbourhood and I knew he was handling NUB FC, a division two team at the time. One day he came to watch us play and I guessed he was impressed with my performance because he offered me the chance of a trial with NUB. It was a dream come true for me and I could hardly eat because of excitement. I went and trained with the team and I got signed on. Just like that.”

Coach Bebe was a hard driver, even though a fair one. He pushed his players to aim for their very best and, in no time, he had the young Sule in the first team as an attacker. His game improved with each passing game and he soon became one of the most feared strikers in the lower league. Sule was with NUB for three seasons and won his first trophy when they clinched the Kaduna state FA Cup in 1991. That victory, however, signaled the end of his romance with the club as he was soon on his way to greater things.


UP FLAMING: The great Stationery Stores team of 1992

UP FLAMING: The great Stationery Stores team of 1992

Coach Bebe, surprisingly, got offered the job of managing Stationery Stores FC of Lagos, one of the most fanatically supported side in Nigerian football. It was going to be a challenging job because Stores’ fans demanded immediate results and were not known to be very patient with the handlers of their team.
In preparing for the task ahead, Coach Bebe sought to recruit some of the best legs in the league although he had to do it on a shoestring budget because Stores were not one of the better-funded teams even though they demand the best from coaches and players.

Sule, along with Ibrahim Babangida, Yusuf Sanusi, Sunday Audu and Okwuosa were conscripted from NUB and followed coach Bebe to Lagos. At Stores, they teamed up with other youngsters like Hakeem Ogunlade, Lati Alanamu, Julius Akpele, Teslim Fatusi, Leye Akinde, Hassan Santos, Ganiyu Ajide, Arthur Moses, Stephen Botchway et al to rewrite the story of the club in Nigeria’s football history.

Stores were FA Cup champions in 1990 but crashed out of the CAF Winners’ Cup in the first round in 1991 so the fans were hungry for silverware. Bebe and his band of young, talented and hungry-for-fame players made an immediate impact by playing a brand of attractive but purposeful football rarely seen in Nigeria. From Enugu to Maiduguri, from Kano to Port-Harcourt, from Ibadan to Ijebu Ode, the fame of Bebe’s boys grew as they won league games with effortless ease.

By season’s end they were crowned league champions but narrowly lost the FA Cup final to El-Kanemi Warriors of Maiduguri. For a team with such a lean budget, it was next to a miracle.

For Sule, three things were responsible for that amazing feat:

“One, the club may not have plenty money but we had in Mr Shola Anonymous (club patron) a pillar of support who spared no expenses to make sure that we got all we needed. He spent his money and time for the club.
“Two, the fans were so very passionate and showed love to the players that we could not just afford to let them down. Everywhere we played across the country, they were always there in their large numbers and that kind of support is not something you toy with.
“Thirdly, and perhaps more importantly, we were a crop of very young players just starting our career and we knew what impact it would have on our career if we did well with the club.”

Truly, the performances did not go unnoticed as Sule, with teammate Ganiyu Ajide got called up into the national team which was playing the qualifying series of the 1994 African Nations Cup as well as the World Cup.

This was no mean feat for Sule who had barely completed one full year of top-flight football but Westerhof must have seen something special in him to be so enamoured of the young player who was just approaching his 19th birthday. Because of the quality of attackers in his team (with Rashidi Yekini at the height of his reign as Africa’s deadliest striker and Daniel Amokachi, Samson Siasia also doing excellently well in their respective European clubsides), it was difficult to get a game but rather than give up on him, Westerhof converted his new found jewel to a defender to help plug his problematic right-full back position. And, with aplomb, he fitted into the role almost seamlessly.


ROLLING WITH CHAMPS: Sule with other Super Eagles players on the commemorative photo-stamp during the 1994 World Cup qualifiers

ROLLING WITH CHAMPS: Sule with other Super Eagles players on the commemorative photo-stamp during the 1994 World Cup qualifiers

Sule made his international debut against Uganda in a Nations Cup qualifier and helped the team to a 2-0 win on August 29, 1992 at the National Stadium Surulere. This was the first of many national team caps for him but Sule reckons his best game for the Super Eagles was the 6-0 demolition of Ethiopia on July 24, 1993 in the final qualifying game for the 1994 African Cup of Nations which Nigeria went on to win. His last game for Nigeria was the World Cup qualifying game against Cote d’Ivoire which ended 4-1 in favour of the Super Eagles at the national stadium, Lagos.

Back at Stationery Stores, Abdul Sule and his teammates took the club to the semi-finals of the African Champions Cup before losing to an Emmanuel Amuneke-inspired Zamalek FC of Egypt.

The season fell short of the heights of the previous season and by 1994, he was on his way up north to team up with BCC Lions of Gboko where he was teammates with the enigmatic Moses Kpakor, Amir Angwe, Patrick Mancha, Bolaji Douglas and others.
In just his first year, he helped the team to retain the FA Cup by defeating Julius Berger FC of Lagos 1-0 after winning the league title a few weeks earlier. This was his second league title, after the win with Stores in 1992 but he had his eyes on a move abroad so he left BCC after just one season to join El-Kanemi with the intention of travelling out from there.


ON DUTY: Sule in the colours of AC Horsen

ON DUTY: Sule in the colours of AC Horsen

His stint with El-kanemi was very brief, lasting just two months, before he jetted out to Asia to join Qatar Sports Club where he played for two seasons before moving to Europe to sign for Denmark’s Herning Fremad.

He was at Fremad for three seasons before crossing to bigger Akademisk Boldklub where he spent five years, scoring 30 goals in 137 games to emerge second all-time topscorer for the team. He won the Danish FA Cup and the Super Cup in 1999 and helped them to a second place finish in the league and, though he left in 2004, he’s still highly regarded at AB till this day for his achievement with the club.
He moved on to Koge BK for a year before leaving for AC Horsens for another season. In 2006, he left Europe for Malaysia to team up with Johor FC but, after two seasons, he was soon on his way back to the familiar terrain of Denmark to join Falster Alliancen for one season before finally calling time on his career at the end of the 2008 football season.

Retired but certainly not tired, he got employed by top scouting agency, European Sports Managent (ESM) to work as Consultant/Project manager while working on getting his coaching badges.

By 2010, he qualified with a UEFA B coaching certificate and led the Danish street soccer team to European glory in Germany even as a rookie coach.
This feat obviously impressed HIK Copenhagen which promptly engaged him as youth coach. Again, like he did with the street soccer side, Sule led the HIK youth team to victory in an international cup competition and he was deployed to the first team as reward for his industry.

In 2013, he got the call from his home state of Kogi to come home and help revive the fortunes of the state-owned teams. For him, it was an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“Even though I grew up in Kaduna, Kogi is my home state and when I got the call, it was impossible to say no because I had always wanted to give back to the society. I was already involved in a youth foundation in Denmark and set up a replica in Nigeria. Probably that was what some people saw and got interested. I came back and got the job of Technical Director of Kogi United and Confluence Queens, both owned by the state government. I’ve since been moved to Technical Adviser and, recently, Chairman of both teams. I have used my influence to secure favourable deals for them from Hummels and I can boldly say that we are one of the best-kitted teams in the country in terms of quality. It is a long-term project and, by God’s grace, Kogi United will soon be a force to reckon with in the country.”


Sule, second from left, in the Johor FC line up

Sule, second from left, in the Johor FC line up

If you know how far this Kaduna boy has come, you won’t bet against him achieving all he has set his mind to do.

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