‘We didn’t shower for three days after U-20 Women’s W’Cup’

Falconets and Bayelsa Queens goalkeeper Omini Oyono tells in this exclusive interview with ANTHONY NLEBEM how she started her football career, during the U-20 Women’s World Cup, her ordeal at Istanbul airport and more

Welcome back from the U-20 Women’s World Cup. How would you describe the experience?

It’s a dream come true for me. With all the training I’ve had growing up, my goal has always been to play at the FIFA World Cup, and it’s a pleasure to have that exposure now.

You conceded three goals in four matches at the World Cup in Costa Rica. Is it an achievement you are proud of?

Frankly, I am not proud of my achievement in Costa Rica. I think I should have done better, especially the mistake I made against Canada; it hurts me so much.

How did you like to keep two clean sheets in the tournament?

That was my goal when entering the tournament, we wanted to play in the final, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. I feel very bad.

You girls allegedly slept on the ground at the airport in Turkey after they missed your flight. How was the experience?

That was not a nice experience, it was a pity for me to sleep on the floor at the airport, but we had no choice at the time but to accept it.

We learned that you had to pay $18 to take a bath at the airport, with some players being unable to pay and unable to take their bath. Were you affected?

It was not an easy thing, from the moment we left Costa Rica to Colombia and then to Turkey. To take a bath, you had to pay $18. Let me tell you the truth, I haven’t had my bath and most of us haven’t had a bath for three days. None of us could afford to pay $18 for a shower, so we went days without a bath. But some officials, such as the staff in the back room, who could afford the $18, took a bath.

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Is it true that you girls washed your kits yourself in Costa Rica?

No, we did not wash our kits ourselves. We didn’t drop off our kits at the laundromat until after training, they come to pick them up, wash them and bring the kits back to us.

What is your next step as a footballer after the U-20 Women’s Cup?

My dream is to play outside of Nigeria and show the world my talents, but first I have to improve on the areas I lack to become a better goalkeeper.

Some of your teammates have been invited to the Super Falcons for the recent friendlies against the USWNT. How quickly do you think you can break into the senior team, which has experienced goalkeepers like Chiamaka Nnadozie and Tochukwu Oluehi?

I’m very happy they were called up to the Super Falcons, they deserve it. I expected that, because they did very well at the World Cup in Costa Rica. My prayer is that we grow into the senior team. For me, I believe it’s a matter of time and grace, if others can break through into the senior national team, I believe I can too.

What is your impression of women’s football in Nigeria?

Women’s football is growing rapidly in Nigeria. Now you can play and win an away game, not like the usual home wins alone. Teams can now achieve road wins, which was very difficult in the past. The competition is tough, with talented players. If you are not strong enough you cannot play in the Nigerian league because everyone wants to play.

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Were you born with a silver spoon?

I was never born with a silver spoon; I was born and raised in Ughelli in Delta State.

When did you start playing football?

I started out as a high school player, just normal school football, nothing serious back then. I had an appendectomy while I was in Delta State and my mom told me to go to Cross River, my state of origin, so I could make a full recovery. I went to Calabar, and that’s how it started. A friend invited me to the stadium and introduced me to the coach of the Pelican Feeders team. That’s how I started playing football. From Calabar I moved with Local Queens to Lagos where I spent a season with the team. Then I joined Abia Angels; later I moved to Kogi where I played for Confluence Queens before joining Bayelsa Queens.

Most parents usually kick their daughters playing soccer. Did your parents stop you?

My mom didn’t support me playing soccer because she doesn’t want me to look like a man. But my father fully supported him, he loves football and knows many Nigerian coaches and that made it very easy for me.

Who was your role model soccer player growing up?

I was inspired by the former England women’s goalkeeper, Hope Solo. The first day I saw her match, I told myself I wanted to be just like her. Then I didn’t take my football career seriously, so I started watching her games. I was inspired by her. Interestingly enough, it was my father who told me about her and urged me to look at her.

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Why did you choose to become a goalkeeper?

I started playing football as a right back when I was with Pelican Feeders in Calabar. But one day we went to train and my coach saw my reflexes between the posts and made me a goalkeeper. He bought me gloves and jerseys and asked me to join the goalkeepers, and I’ve been a goalkeeper ever since.

What are your best and worst moments as a footballer?

My best moment was when I played at home against Cameroon in one of the World Cup qualifiers last year, and that was great for me. I was everywhere throughout the game, coordinating my defense and saving. My worst moment was when I played against Edo Queens in 2020, when I conceded a really cheap goal, I don’t think I’ve ever conceded such a cheap goal in my career.

Which striker gave you the hardest time so far?

The list is many, but I’ll talk about two. I remember being in Kogi, Charity Ruben, who now plays in Israel. When she was with Bayelsa Queens and Ibom Angels, I was afraid she would shoot. And there was also Joy Igbokiri, who now plays in France. When she was also in Bayelsa, she took advantage of the small space to score. They are fantastic strikers who give goalkeepers a headache every day.

What are your ambitions as a footballer?

My biggest ambition is to make money, come back home and build a football academy in my state. My state is blessed with so many football talents, but many of them languish, no one to brighten them up, they hope to make it one day. If God wasn’t there, I’d still be home.

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