Taribo West is one of the most successful players in Nigerian football history; the tough-tackling defender featured for top European sides like Auxurre of France Inter and AC Milan in Italy before a sojourn in the English Premier League with Derby County. He couldn’t make it to the 1994 FIFA World Cup and African Cup of Nations triumph in Tunisia earlier that year but the former Julius Berger FC star played pivotal role as Nigeria won Africa’s first gold medal in the football event of the Olympics that was in the United States in 1996. He attended 1998 and 2002 editions of the World Cup and also won silver and bronze medals with Nigeria at the Year 2000 and 2002 AFCONs.
However, the player in an interview looked back with nostalgia how life looked like it had nothing impressive for him until fate led him to football which eventually changed his story. He wouldn’t have been a superstar footballer he eventually became if he had followed the career path his father showed him.
His late dad actually wanted him to become a road side mechanic as he was not really keen on education and the old man believed he was not talented enough to play football to a great height despite the fact that his son was the captain of his primary school football team.
However, his mother had a different vision regarding his son, she didn’t want him to learn mechanic trade and this usually caused disagreement between the couple which eventually led to their separation. “My father and my mother clashed when he said I should go and ‘do’ roadside mechanic. My mother tried to persuade him to allow me finish secondary school so that I could read and write. They clashed and one night, he drove my mother and I out of the house,” the superstar recalled.
This sad twist in their fate was close to overwhelming both mother and son but the determination to rise above adversity propelled them to soldier on with life without their father and husband. It is not as if the young Taribo was thinking about tertiary education but the least his mother wanted was for him to finish his secondary school education. So, after leaving St Andrew’s Elementary School, Diobu, River States, the young Taribo proceeded to Government Community Secondary School in Port Harcourt.
This struggle to make ends meet actually started for him as a primary school pupil as he had to work to support his mother. “It was an afternoon school. The reason I had to attend an afternoon school was because in those days, my mother was selling akara, garri, beans.
So in the morning, I would hawk these things before classes started at 12noon. I attended a government community secondary school which is a 30-minute drive from Port Harcourt. In the middle of this, I was taking care of myself,” he said.
Even as a secondary school student, he was already into football as he was a member of Junior Sharks but Taribo didn’t think he could earn his daily bread from football. So, after he left secondary school, he had to do another job to at least fend for the family and he chose fishing. “I went to learn fishing in the fishing ponds; I left home because the only way to learn fishing was to go to the fishing ponds. I learnt how to kill fish, crayfish, crab, cut fire wood and I could paddle and roll a boat.
They used to give us plantain, yam, garri and we used to give them snail, fish, crayfish, bush meat, crab. It was like trade by batter but money was changing hands. I know how to set the trap,” he added. He was tired with life at Diobu so he moved back to Port Harcourt for greener pastures. “I started hawking. I would go to slaughter to buy goat meat and sold from door to door and made like N20.00.
From there, I learnt brick-laying and later went into panel beating,” he added. He was forgetting everything about football until an old friend Elijah told him all the menial jobs he was doing was not what God wanted for him, insisting he was talented enough to play football professionally. He wasn’t with any club at the time and as someone who was not relying on anyone to feed, he was too afraid to abandon what he was doing for football because of fear of being starved to death. He had another plan; he worked harder to save enough money to sustain him while he pursued his footballing career.
“Any customer that came, I would negotiate and render the service and save some money. One guy came to do his car, his name is Victor, and he said he needed a conductor. I started doing conductor for Victor. I saved enough money from that ‘conducting job,” he added.
Then came his moment of turnaround when a youth tournament was staged in Port Harcourt and two his friends were selected and were to be taken to Lagos. He was not part of the tournament where the two kids were selected but he felt he needed to leave his comfort zone and seek greener pastures elsewhere.
“I met one of my coaches who knew when those boys were selected and where they were. He gave me a recommendation letter to the coach that picked them. He gave an address and said if I did not see the coach, I should go to the National Stadium. I went to the National Stadium and met the coach.
“He took me to my friends and promised to feature me in a contest due the next week. I went for the game in Ajegunle, I was good. The coach took me to the owner of the club, Chief Ibukun Oluwa.” That was how he started his career, first at Obanta Football Club before he moved to Union Bank and later Sharks of Port Harcourt and Julius Berger FC. (Saturday Telegraph)