Endurance Idahor was born on August 4th 1984 in Edo State, Nigeria, a region known colloquially (and ironically in the tale of Idahor) as the ‘Heart Beat of Nigeria’.
He began his footballing career as a centre-forward with local side Igbino Babes, before finding success at Lagos-based Julius Berger, a stepping-stone for many successful Nigerian players before him (Emmanuel Amuneke, Sunday Oliseh, Taribo West and Yakubu all began their careers at Julius Berger).
Idahor finished his first season at the club as the Nigerian Premier League’s joint top goalscorer and consequently earned a move to Port Harcourt-based Dolphins FC for the 2004/05 season. Dolphins finished 6th in the league that year and went on to represent Nigeria in the 2005 CAF Confederation Cup, eventually losing the final to FAR Rabat of Morocco. Impressing on the continental stage, he ultimately earned a move to Sudanese side Al-Merrikh, one of the oldest clubs in Africa – and what would become his final employer.
Idahor embraced life in Sudan, becoming involved in charitable causes across the country and even adopting Sudanese citizenship. His attitude earned him a widespread reputation as a model professional, and as a role model for aspiring young African footballers.
The struggles experienced by his fellow countryman and Al-Merrikh teammate Stephen Worgu in adapting to Sudanese culture are a testament to Idahor’s attitude and determination (Worgu’s performances were inconsistent and overshadowed to an extent by a conviction for drinking alcohol). He impressed sufficiently to earn a place in the Nigerian Under-23s squad, and matured into a key player for the Red Devils.
As he approached his 25th birthday in 2010, the world was at his feet. He was flourishing as a footballer about to reach his peak years; he had found purpose and satisfaction in his charity work; and he had a young family. The future couldn’t have looked brighter.
On March 6th 2010, Al-Merrikh were scheduled to play Al-Amal, a fellow Sudanese side based in the north west of the country. Idahor went into the game in good form, having scored against Ethiopa’s Saint George in the first round of the CAF Champions League the previous weekend.
Some reports suggest that he had complained of chest pains two days prior to the game, although this does not appear to have been substantiated. Indeed, there is no evidence to suggest that this was investigated, nor was there deemed sufficient concern to prevent him playing.
The fixture kicked off as normal, and remained scoreless and unremarkable until the fifteenth minute, when it became apparent that Endurance Idahor had fallen to the floor in the opposition penalty box after an off-the-ball incident. His collapse was initiated by an Al-Amal defender’s elbow hitting him in the chest as he looked to find space to evade his marker.
In the aftermath, one official said anonymously that “it was a normal incident of obstruction”, and there is no suggestion that there was any malicious intent: which made the Al-Merrikh striker’s disproportionate collapse particularly worrying. As he fell, he appeared to have lost consciousness, and landed head-first, lacking the ability to cushion himself. Video footage and reports from those in attendance confirm that his lower body convulsed as he lay stationary on the pitch.
What unfolded subsequently is perhaps typical of any mass response to a crisis taking place in a heavily populated public arena. Players of both sides were suddenly indistinguishable as the gravity of the situation became apparent, both sets of players identifying not with their own team, but with a fellow professional lying motionless on the field of play. The referee, acknowledging the seriousness of Idahor’s injury, decided to officially call a halt to the game.
Medical staff rushed towards him, instantly realising the need to act rapidly. Players looked conflicted between tear-stricken fear and the desperate urge to assist, or to somehow undo what had happened. Meanwhile the sense of chaos was spreading to the 30,000-strong crowd, where Al-Merrikh supporters, unable to determine what exactly had occurred, began throwing stones and fighting with police.
Within minutes an ambulance arrived on the pitch beside the fast-swelling crowd of players and officials surrounding Idahor’s body. He was slowly lifted onto a stretcher as spectators and members of both coaching teams watched in impotent disbelief. Small tussles broke out in the vicinity, emotions running high. Just four minutes after he fell to the ground whilst seeking space in the box to make himself available for an incoming free kick, Idahor departed the stadium lifelessly in the back of an ambulance. The remaining players appeared traumatized and bemused. Five minutes earlier there were twenty-two men competing against each other, now only twenty-one remained and the match terminated.
Upon arrival at hospital, it was quickly confirmed that Idahor had passed away. Among the first on the scene was the Nigerian ambassador to Sudan, who insisted that permission must be sought from the player’s wife before an autopsy into his death could take place.
In the meantime, thousands of Al-Merrikh fans descended on the hospital to give their support, desperate for positive news – destined to discover their worst fears. The club itself quickly released a statement confirming the striker’s death, describing him as “an example of a professional and committed individual and a symbol of loyalty” adding, “we will assure [sic] that justice takes place”.
The autopsy would later reveal that Idahor suffered a fatal circulatory collapse as a result of a heart attack. When asked about the funeral and whether he would be buried in Sudan or his native Nigeria, his widow said “I don’t mind; Idahor loved Sudan and the Sudanese loved him.” As it transpired, the burial took place in his hometown of Benin City in the ‘Heart Beat of Africa’, where Idahor lay in state at the Samuel Ogbemudia stadium.
A friendly match took place in his memory, featuring players from his first club, the Igbino Babes. At the ceremony, leaders delivered effusive eulogies. Charles Okundaye, Edo State Director of Sport, spoke on behalf of Anita Evbuowan, the state’s Commissioner for Youth and Sports:
It is disheartening to note that such a creative and active footballer ended his life after slumping on the field of play. There is no doubt that Al-Merrikh Football Club of Sudan has lost one of its best attackers. The vacuum created by the untimely death of late Endurance Idahor will be very difficult to fill. Nigeria has lost a very quiet, organized, respectful, dedicated and result-oriented footballer.
Afterwards Sanni Lulu, President of the Nigerian Football Federation, (represented by Chief Taiwo Odebunmi, Ekiti Football Association Chairman) said:
We are yet to get over the tremendous shock of receiving the sad news of the death of the young man who always showed so much commitment on the field of play at both club and National level. ‘Idahor’s attributes and virtues as a serious-minded professional athlete who has faith in his ability was never in doubt. He had drive, perseverance and inventiveness and was lively and friendly with all he met.
Billy Joel’s 1977 single ‘Only the Good Die Young’ is named after a clichéd assertion, but in the case of Endurance Idahor, it feels appropriate. There is a particular tragedy attached to his premature passing. Character witnesses are unanimously positive, and reflect a young man who was liked and admired by seemingly everyone who encountered him. Only a few weeks prior to his death he visited a Sudanese orphanage, where he reportedly donated the equivalent of three months’ worth of earnings.
While, four years later, Idahor will be remembered as another promising footballer to have died on the pitch as a result of heart complications, he must also be remembered for his altruism and for his charitable character. You imagine that, had he anticipated his death, he would have wanted his legacy to be used to help others.