With the Women’s World Cup just around the corner, now’s as good a time as any to look back at one of Nigeria’s female footballing heroes; Nigeria’s Princess of Goalkeepers: Ann Agumanu-Chiejine.

With the Super Falcons, the Nigerian goalkeeper won four consecutive African Women’s Championships (equivalent to the men’s African Nations Cup) and played at three World Cups and one Olympic games. With all these honours under her belt, it is little wonder she’s considered one of Africa’s best goalkeepers ever. In fact, in a rare error, the International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS) had Ann’s name appear twice in the top 10 of their 1999 list of African Women’s Players of the Century (guess she was too good lol). Ann Agumanu, her maiden name, garnered 7 votes, and Ann Chiejine, her married name, garnered 14 votes. She ideally should have shared first place with another Nigerian icon, Uche Eucharia, with her total of 21, according to the rules.

Born in Imo State on the 2nd of February, 1974, Ann was heavily involved in track in her teenage years before she picked up the round leather game at school. Her father was initially against the idea of her playing football, citing that it will make her muscular and therefore chase away future suitors and make it difficult for her to have children. He did however relent after a doctor allayed his fears.

Teenage Ann started out as a skinny winger, but eventually ended up between the sticks at her then club, ‘CN Okoli’. As a goalkeeper, she was absolutely eccentric, her athleticism and acrobatics caught the eye of everyone. When the Nigerian Football Federation created a team for the inaugural 1991 Women’s FIFA World Cup, the 17-year-old was the undisputed number 1.

In 1992 Ann got married to Mr Uche Chiejine and the marriage was blessed with four children: two boys and two girls, clearing the previous irrational doubts of her father. In the 1999 World Cup campaign, she was the only wife and mother on the team, having birthed two daughters already. In an interview, she remarked: “Some people believe that getting married marks the end of their professional careers and that playing football will prevent them from having children. I’m showing you that it won’t bother you and you can still play.”

Ann Chiejine is perhaps most popularly remembered as the goalkeeper who represented the country while being pregnant. She represented Nigeria at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia with a 4-month pregnancy and 5-month pregnancy during the 2000 WAFCON. In another interview with Brila FM, she said: “I didn’t know I was pregnant, it was not good, it was FIFA that brought me out and I later discovered that I was four months pregnant. But I chose to continue the tournament. It was a big risk, a very big one, but I took that risk for Nigeria.” After Nigeria was knocked out in Sydney, she proceeded to the 2000 WAFCON that was held in South Africa about a month later.

During her playing years she was also the proprietress of a hair salon. She often fixed her teammates with ostentatious hairstyles. For the World Cup, she dyed the famous Mercy Akide’s hair green and white (colours of the Nigerian flag) and gave the then team captain Florence Omagbemi, a flamethrower orange tint. Ann was as much of a diva as a goalie, admiring players like Mexico’s Jorge Campos. She always donned colorful bandanas while in post and performed dramatic saves even when only conventional stops were required.

Unfortunately for Ann Chiejine, a prospective transfer to Arsenal Ladies fell through in 1999 because the British Embassy refused to issue her a visa. She spent the entirety of her club career in Nigeria; plying her trade at Flying Babes, Kakanto Queens, CN Okoli, Jegede Babes, Rivers Angels, Flying Angels, Larry Angels and Pelican Stars.

In 2005, Ann hung up her gloves and bandana and followed the route of most retired footballers, she earned her coaching badges and licenses and went to the 2007 FIFA World Cup as one of Nigeria’s coaching assistants and was also part of the coaching staff that won the 2016 WAFCON. She had a spell, coaching in Romania with CS Negrea Resita, but it didn’t pan out nicely. In addition to her coaching exploits, Ann also has a thriving soccer academy.

Olokungbemi Gerald

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