Kikelomo Ajayi – the queen of the falcons
Name: Kikelomo Ajayi
Born: 28 April 1977 in Akure (Nigeria)
Height: 1.62 cm
Weight: 54 kg
Nickname: “Mamayaro” in honor of the male Nigeria and Newcastle United left back Celestine Babayaro
Previous clubs: Koko Queens of Akure, Rivers Angels of Port Harcourt, Jegede Babes, Pelican Stars of Uyo (all Nigeria) and Niederkirchen (Germany).
Present club: Police FC of Lagos (since 2001) – but currently on loan to Bayelsa Queens of Yenagoa (both Nigeria).
Honors: Five-time African Women’s champion (1998, 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2006). Quarter-finalist in the 1999 Women’s World Cup in the USA. Featured in the 2003 World Cup finals in the USA.
Favorite hobbies: Playing the drums at church, reading, listening to music and watching television.
Kikelomo Ajayi has won five continental titles with Nigeria’s Super Falcons. At this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in China PR, the 30-year-old also wants to achieve glory at the very highest level.
If any other male or female player achieved the incredible distinction of winning an unprecedented five continental titles – all in succession – you would probably expect them to be, not unsurprisingly, rather immodest about their feat. But Kikelomo Ajayi, captain of Nigeria’s “Super Falcons”, the reigning African women’s champions, is not one for the arrogant approach, despite becoming the most successful international player in the history of the African game.
“First and foremost, I give God the glory, because it is not easy to achieve what I have done,” the slender left back, who is also a corporal in the Nigerian Police Force (NPF), told “FIFA Magazine” in Lagos.
When she led the most dominant side in African football to 1-0 victory over Ghana’s “Black Queens”, in last November’s final of the African Women’s Championship (AWC) – earning her and Nigeria a record fifth title – it took a close relative to make Kikelomo Ajayi aware of her unique feat. “It was an aunt of mine that made me realize what I had personally achieved. When you depend on God, he will surely take you to where you want to go.”
The first daughter and a second child in a family of six, Kikelomo Ajayi began her romance with football in the Isolo area of Akure, the capital of the southwestern Nigerian state of Ondo. “My brother and I contributed the little pocket money my father used to give us to buy a ball to play our little games on the street. We also got a small trophy that we made for the winner of the competition we used to play in. my team used to win this trophy most of the time and I was the only girl on either team!” she recalls.
But her now proud parents, Falarugbo and Mary, were not always in favor of her decision, made at a very early age, to opt for a career in football. “They refused to give me money for food and they even stopped paying secondary school fees at one time. It was a very difficult time for me,” Kikelomo says. “They asked me why I, as a girl, was taking such a serious interest in football to the exclusion of other things. They asked me if I could see any other girl doing what I was doing, playing against other boys. But when I started making money out of it, they relented. My mother calls me ?small mother’ and she shows me so much respect now.”
Koko Queens of Akure were the first serious club to spot her potential, offering her a rather substantial sum, as well as promising to underwrite her secondary school fees. But they were unable to hold her for long, as Rivers Angels, one of the top clubs in the Nigerian women’s league – arguably the strongest on the continent – signed her up in 1996. But she did not get her break on the international scene until she joined Jegede Babes, owned by Nigeria FA board member Bola Jegede.
“Ismaila Mabo was the coach of the ?Super Falcons’ at the time,” Ajayi recalls. “He saw me play in a league game nine years ago and said I must join the national team that was camping in Northern Nigeria. A lot of people wondered how a little teenager like me would be able to play international football against women that are stronger and fitter than me. But he really believed in me and I was determined to prove that he was right.”
After scoring her debut for the national side during a training tour of Holland in 1998, Ajayi won the very first of her five African titles in the same year. It is an experience that remains etched in her memory: “All I thought about was just making the team, as I was so young and tiny, so winning an African title at the age of 20 was fantastic. I was the smallest in the team then and everyone wondered how such a little girl could play in such a key defensive position. I went on to do even better at the AWC in 2000 in South Africa, scoring two goals and being rated as being one of the best defenders in Africa, which was great for me.”
Three subsequent titles in 2002, 2004 and 2006 – with her captaining Nigeria to victory in the last two – have ensured that the Super Falcons’ achievements have remained unparalleled in Africa. But despite filling the trophy cabinet of the Nigeria FA, the Super Falcons have, compared to the Super Eagles, been treated very poorly, giving serious credence to claims of outright gender discrimination by the male-dominated Nigerian football community.
When the Super Falcons won the first of their two African titles in 1980, they were lavished with huge cash bonuses and gifts, luxury houses, cars and various household goods. But the five-time African women’s champions have always struggled on shoestring training budgets and minimal rewards, a fact that pains Ajayi greatly.
Far more experienced
“Most of the trophies in the cabinet of the Nigeria Football Association were brought by us, not the “Super Eagles”, and yet they are better paid and looked after. If they give us forty per cent of the resources that they give to the Super Eagles, we can win the World Cup!” Ajayi boasts.
Nigeria, who have featured in every World Cup since its inception in 1991, remain the only African side to have reached the tournament’s knockout stages. At the 1999 finals in the USA, they came close to reaching the semi-finals but were cruelly knocked out by Brazil in a thrilling 4-3 encounter at the Jack Kent Cooke Stadium in Washington DC. But “Mamayaro” (she is nicknamed after fellow Nigeria international and Newcastle United left back Celestine Babayaro) is determined the Falcons must go a step further when they return this year to China PR.
“When we played there at the 1991 World Cup finals, we performed very poorly and we want a different experience this time,” Ajayi says. “Our players have now played professional football in Europe and Asia and are far more experienced. We are bringing the cup back to Nigeria …We can dominate the World Cup if we prepare well.”
Nigeria’s opponents in the FIFA Women’s World Cup China 2007 (10 – 30 September) can only ignore the iron will of Africa’s most successful player – and women’s team – at their peril.