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    Chinenye Okafor: How Nigerian football star became a hairdresser

    The 28-year-old defender last featured for Pelican Stars but she had initially decided to leave the sport in a bid to make ends meet

    Chinenye Okafor has revealed she temporarily changed her 22-year long traumatic journey with football to venture into the hairdressing business after having ‘nothing to show’ for her career in the sport so far.

    Chaos off the field engulfed the Pelican Stars since June 2019 due to unpaid salaries to the players amid on the field success, with an instant return to the Nigerian top-flight after relegation in 2019. 

    Okafor, who previously starred for Osun Babes and Confluence Queens, joined Pelican in 2018 and was the vice-captain of Nigeria‘s most successful club with eight titles before she initially intended to stop playing football in July.

    Despite her contribution to Edat Egan’s team, the 28-year-old admitted several challenges, including how discrimination from the authorities, influenced her decision to initially quit the sport.

    “I feel that women are discriminated against. They paid the men’s team, Unicem Rovers, and even the junior team, without paying us – even though our salary had been outstanding since June 2019,” Okafor told BBC Sport.

    “That was when I got angry. It was too much. We needed to do something for the state governor to know that something is going on. The security at Government House harassed us and even brought out guns, saying we should all leave the premises. 

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    “They said that because of Covid-19, we were not supposed to be there. I felt embarrassed. We had a team-mate that was sick, because she hadn’t had food to eat. She got a chronic ulcer and even now, I don’t think she (is in a state to) play football again.

    “They did not even say: ‘Because of her, let us release one-two months’ salaries’. I can’t even tell someone that I’m a footballer because I’m ashamed that after loving football for 22 years, there is nothing to show for it.”

    Before the world went into lockdown due to the coronavirus, players twice protested over their entitlements, first in April, and earlier this month, but there was no hope in sight.

    Following botched attempts to secure their salaries, she explained she and her teammates considered alternative sources of income to fend for themselves while waiting for the authorities.

    “Our club vice-chairman brought bags of rice and beans for us to have at home before the pandemic started,” she continued

    “It was so bad in the camp that we shared food. We also got mocked by local traders because sometimes we had to buy things on credit.”

    “Some of us were doing hair for a living or sewing clothes. We also had help from our family and from some fellow female professional footballers.

    “I sometimes cried at night because the next morning, I didn’t have anything to eat. After two-three times, I made up my mind to come back to Lagos – because I can’t keep suffering.

    “My dad began to call me to come back home, so I left the club in July. I’m now a hairdresser in Lagos. Nothing can be as fulfilling as playing football. to me, football makes me happy whenever I’m on the field of play.

    “I’m now a hairdresser and I can see that with this, I can go on with my life. I work from 8.30 to 5.30, Mondays to Saturdays. It’s tough but thank God I’m making it.

    “I never saw myself hairdressing so I think I can say at the moment it is a chore. I am slowly getting to like it now and am even thinking of having my own salon sooner or later.”

    Okafor confirmed another failed promise from the Cross Rivers’ Sports Commissioner, Offa Aya, to offset their backlog last week.

    Despite making the most of her current trade as a hairdresser, she is still keen on a football return and featuring for the senior national team in the near future. 

    “If the 2021 season starts, I will go for trials with another club,” she disclosed. 

    “I still do evening training after work to keep myself fit. I will never give up on my career because of Pelican Stars.

    “My dream is to play for the Super Falcons of Nigeria and I know my dreams will come true one day. Football has been my joy, my life, my everything and I’ll keep fighting for it.”

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