Nigeria’s First Goalkeeper: Sam Henshaw Ibiam, the Black Magnet

Sam Henshaw Ibiam (April 4, 1925—December 2, 2015), popularly known as “The Black Magnet” during his playing days, was a Nigerian footballer who played as a goalkeeper for the pioneer Nigerian national football team who were regarded to as the “1949 UK Tourists“.

Ibiam, born in Ebonyi in 1925, came to limelight after featuring for the Port Harcourt XI team that got to the semi-finals of the old Governor’s Cup from 1947 to 1949. His heroics lead to his call-up to represent Nigeria in the tour of the United Kingdom in 1949.

Image of Sam Henshaw Ibiam
Sam Henshaw Ibiam (1925-2016), Nigeria’s First Goalkeeper (1949-1958)/GettyImages.

The 24-year-old, also known as “The Cat”, alongside 17 other players, boarded the RMS Apapa for Nigeria’s first venture abroad on August 16, 1949. He was Nigeria’s goalkeeper from the country’s first international match against Sierra Leone on October 8, 1949. Nigeria won the match 2-0, Ibiam’s first proper international cap, where he kept a clean sheet by failing to concede.

Sam Henshaw Ibiam had a unique goalkeeping record. He did not concede a single goal in eight years of the nine years he represented Nigeria and in all his nine years with the team, he conceded just five goals, which he did against one team- Ghana.

He did not play in Nigeria’s next international game two years later when the Jalco Cup competition was introduced between Nigeria and Gold Coast (now Ghana).

However, Ibiam returned to the national team in a 1-0 defeat of Togo in a friendly match on October 6, 1956. He still kept a clean sheet. His next match was against Gold Coast in the annual Jalco Cup competition where Nigeria won 3-0: another clean sheet for the shotstopper.

Image of the Nigerian national team without boots.
The Nigerian national team, UK Tourists, without boots, 1949. The team was known at the time as the “Red Devils” due to their red shirts/Wikipedia.

Sam Henshaw Ibiam had a unique goalkeeping record. He did not concede a single goal in eight years of the nine years he represented Nigeria and in all his nine years with the team, he conceded just five goals, which he did against one team- Ghana.

He conceded his first international goal in eight years when Nigeria drew 3-3 with Ghana in an October 27, 1957 match in Accra. Remarkably, that was the first time Ghana failed to win Nigeria in Accra. The following year, Ibiam had his last international appearance when Nigeria beat Ghana 3-2 in Lagos to win the Jalco Cup for the last time.

Consequently, he retired from international football in 1958.

However, Ibiam continued in club football when he joined the Onitsha Redoubtable, a club put together by Justice Chuba Ikpeazu who later became the Nigeria Football Association (NFA) chairman in 1965/66 and 1988/89.

In recognition for his achievements, Sam Ibiam was awarded a trophy at the “First National Sports Award for Sports Heroes and Heroines of Yesteryear” in 1987.

Ibiam died on December 2, 2015 at his residence in Unwana, Afikpo, Ebonyi State, Nigeria, after a protracted illness. Though he suffered neglect in his last years, he lived to be 90.

Sadly, officials of Nigeria’s Sports Ministry and the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) were absent and failed to send representatives during the burial of the national team’s very first goalkeeper in April, 2016.

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Ayomide Akinbode

Ayomide Akinbode holds a degree in Chemistry but has a passion for History and Classics. When he is not writing, he’s either sleeping or playing Scrabble.

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