By Stephen Byrne
The Fifa World Cup begins in Brazil on 12th June and we will be looking at Rovers’ connections with all participating countries.
One connection between Rovers and Nigeria exists in the unlikely figure of George Edward Henry Skinner. This inside-forward and football coach was born in Kent in June 1917 and died in Eastbourne in September 2001, aged eighty-five, leaving two children, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
With just one League appearance with Spurs to his name, Skinner played in two unofficial matches for Rovers during the wartime 1945-46 campaign.
From 1948, though, his career took a twist as he and his wife Evelyn moved from Finland to Nigeria, Libya and Jordan and on to Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iceland in search of football coaching posts. He was appointed national coach of Nigeria in 1962 and held the post for three years.
In 2000, Rovers briefly held the registration of Ben Iroha, who had 52 full caps for Nigeria and one goal to his name. Formerly with Watford, midfielder Iroha had retired from international football and was unable to make Rovers’ League side. He was born in Aba in November 1969.
Rovers also took on trial Tobi Jinadu in March 2003. Nigerian-born, the full-back had previously played for Tooting and Mitcham United and, unable to claim a place with Rovers, his next port of call was Cambridge City from July 2003.
Whilst no Nigerian player has represented Rovers in the League, a number of opposition sides have fielded Nigerian players. In all, ten Nigerian internationals have played against Rovers in the Football League.
Enoch Showunmi, though born in London, won two full caps for Nigeria. He played as a substitute for Leeds United in August 2008 and in both Tranmere Rovers’ fixtures against Rovers in 2010-11.
John Chiedozie, born in Oweri in April 1960, scored twice in nine full internationals and also once, from the penalty-spot at Eastville in August 1980, in six League fixtures for Orient against Rovers.
Londoner Sam Sodje, the holder of seven full caps, played for Charlton Athletic against Rovers in February 2010 and for Notts County against Rovers in March 2011.
His brother Efe Sodje, who scored once in nine matches for Nigeria, played for Macclesfield Town, Luton Town and Gillingham against Rovers between 1998 and 2007. A third brother, Akpo Sodje, played for Charlton Athletic against Rovers in November 2010, but never won international honours.
Kayode Odejayi, born in Ibadan in February 1982, who won a solitary cap for Nigeria in 2008, played against Rovers on six occasions, twice for Colchester United and four times with Cheltenham Town; he scored for Cheltenham against Rovers in January 2006 and for Colchester at The Mem in February 2010.
George Abbey, born in Port Harcourt in October 1978 and the holder of eighteen full caps, played three times for Macclesfield Town against Rovers between 1999 and 2004.
Ade Akinbiyi, who won a solitary cap for Nigeria, scored for Gillingham against Rovers in September 1997 in one of three appearances against the Pirates.
Rueben Agboola, who won nine full caps, played in both Sunderland’s matches against Rovers in the 1987-88 campaign, Rovers memorably defeating the Third Division champions 4-0 at Twerton Park that campaign.
Tunji Banjo, who played alongside Chiedozie in Orient’s game with Rovers in October 1978, scored twice in nine internationals for Nigeria.
Gboko-born Dominic Iorfa won 21 full caps and played in both Peterborough United’s fixtures against Rovers during the 1992-93 relegation season.
Other players of Nigerian heritage have opposed Rovers in the League. Solomon Taiwo (Dagenham and Redbridge), Lateef Elford-Elliya (Tranmere Rovers), Dele Adebola (Crewe Alexandra), Efe Echenomi (Orient) and Kelvin Etuhu (Rochdale) were all born in Nigeria.
John Salako, in Fulham’s side against Rovers in November 1998, was born in Nigeria, yet won five full caps for England.
One of the fastest goals conceded by Rovers was scored by Nigerian-born Emmanuel Omoyinmi at the Memorial Stadium in September 2001; the goal was timed as 56 seconds and this match finished 1-1, one of five appearances against Rovers made by the striker during his spell at Oxford United.
Emeka Nwajiobi of Luton Town, born in Nibo Awka in February 1959, played in the FA Cup-tie in January 1986 which Rovers lost 4-0 at Kenilworth Road.
Other opponents have been born in England of Nigerian heritage, amongst them Crawley Town’s Hope Akpan, Orient’s Justin Fashanu (1961-1998), his brother John who won two England caps and opposed Rovers with both Lincoln City and Millwall, Bournemouth’s Chukki Eribenne, Charlton Athletic goalkeeper Carl Ikeme and Dennis Cheidozie Oli, who scored for Gillingham against Rovers on Good Friday 2012 and played for Wycombe Wanderers at The Mem in February 2013.