"Can a tree make a forest?"

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The saying that a tree does not make a forest, is quoted now and then to suggest that teamwork is needed to achieve greatness. But, something happened many years ago that made me to begin to look at that saying again.

It happened that something took me to my local government headquarters, Bende, Abia State, Nigeria recently. Because I had not been there for a very long time, curiosity made me to begin to walk around to see the changes that had taken place over the years.

I got to the football pitch which made the greatest impact in my memory more than 30 years after. Nothing much has changed except the goalposts which were wooden planks then, but now metal poles.

I remembered that particular October 1st, Nigeria's Independence anniversary day. As primary school kids, we had prepared very hard for the competitions that took place that day.

We were all hopeful of winning laurels in track events and football in particular. Everyone was in high spirit, hoping that our soccer team, Bombing Stars will win the trophy. The motivator in that team was one Chima, nicknamed "Man-pass-man". He was a star in a class of its own, a master dribbler of no mean repute. He was more or less, a one-man squad that could dribble and meander through the opponents to net a ball.

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There was a time we were two goals down in a match, and our players were down casted, blaming each other for our misfortune. The manner "Man-pass-man" dribbled from our post to the other to score, drew a thunderous applause and injected a new spirit in our players which made us to win that match.

Now, on reaching Bende on that fateful Independence day, a rumour which later became true started filtering in that "Man-pass-man" was not present. He followed his parents to the farm. But the competition had to go on. Other schools were there in their numbers. Sadly, Man-pass-man's absence reverberated and seemed to have affected everyone's psyche. We were simply demoralised, both players and supporters.

In track events, apart from Nnenna, alias "404-Peugeot" who clinched the gold medal in girls' 100 metres, every other foot we put was a sad one. Onyemachi whom we banked on to pick gold in the boys' track events was a shadow of himself. He appeared to have lost concentration at the "go" whistle, and in fact, did not complete the race. He abandoned the race halfway when he saw everyone was ahead of him.

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The peak of the events, football was the worst hit. Five minutes into the match, we were two goals down. Every move our players made was wrong. The spirit to face the challenge was not in them at all. Our magic boy, Man-pass-man was no where to motivate the players. Even our teachers, including our sports master, seeing the hopelessness of our situation abandoned us to our fate.

We were simply at the mercy of our opponents who were using the ball to do whatever they wanted, to the happiness of their pupils who kept jeering at us as if we were nonentities. As the final whistle went, the result stood at nine goals to nothing. What a shame!

Coincidentally, some people who didn't watch the match to the end, but saw our girls singing and jubilating thought we won. What happened? Few seconds to the end of the match, our goalkeeper, Ndukwe who had already earned the nickname, "Basket-fetches-water" due to the ease with which balls were passing him as water passes through the eyelets of a basket, made an unexpected and fantastic save of a goal bound ball. He caught the ball so stylishly that he won the admiration of everyone, and our girls started singing and dancing in praise of him. In fact, as soon as "Basket-fetches-water" kicked the ball into the field of play, the referee blasted his whistle for the end of match.

There is little doubt in my mind that this disastrous outing we made could be extrapolated to the absence of "Man-pass-man". So, I ask again, "Can a tree make a forest?"

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