The Leventis United were the team to beat in the Nigerian league in the 80s. They played with so much guts and uncommon elan.
Hitherto, an unknown team but rose from the third division of the league to the first division, at a time they were almost unbeatable.
Leventis United, a team founded by the Greek man John Mastrodues whose passion for football remained unparalleled.
“When we started Carpet Royal, from the first year, it was up and doing and making profits. So it was so easy and I was getting bored, said John Mastrodues on how the club was formed.
“I have a great passion for football, so I decided to organize people who were working in the factory to start playing football. It started as a joke, I followed Nigerian football and slowly, I thought I could really create a team here.
“At that time, Leventis Group had two other teams; IddoTigers in Lagos and Sanyo FC in Ibadan. So I spoke to Mr. Leventis that why don’t I create a team out of all these three teams and call it Leventis United. And he gave me the go ahead.
“So, it was in my mind that I was going to create a good team. We joined Ibadan local league which we won and got promoted to the first division of Ibadan local league. At that time, we had to play qualifications to enter the third division, national.
“By that time, I thought this was becoming serious and I started thinking of how to do a good job. Then, there was IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan which I was one of their supporters and I was scared to antagonize them.
“I don’t think there was any team that had more faithful supporters than IICC then. Stationery Stores had also but they were more rowdy; Ibadan support was a different kind of support, it was like a religion.
“So, I decided to take people from IICC and bring them into my team, so it looked like IICC was giving birth to another child. I was also very fortunate that (IICC benefactor) Chief Lekan Salami’s father and my father were close friends, so my father called Lekan Salami and told him, “look, protect my son,” because I was a young man then.
“As a matter of fact, the relationship I had with Chief Salami was amazing. He really made it possible for Leventis United to grow in Ibadan because he saw that we were genuine, that we were not trying to diminish IICC.
“In fact, many times, we withdrew from the Challenge Cup for IICC to go forward. Many times I got into problems with IICC but Chief Salami managed to resolve the issues. I got very friendly with the chief supporters of IICC in person of Chief Olotu and Baba Eleran.
“These two guys also did not like Leventis United but they could not say it to my face and they did not make it difficult for Leventis United.
“As a matter of fact, when we qualified to play in the third division national, I realized that the game became serious. So, it was my intention to create a good team. And I knew if you wanted to have a good team, you must have a good spine and the spine is the goalkeeper, your centre half, the midfielder and your striker.
“These four people were very important and I looked desperately to find them. The first person that came to my team at that time was Abdullah Alausa, he was my centre half. I asked Alausa if he knew any good goalkeeper and he mentioned Edward Ansah who was playing for Railway in Lagos.
“Edward joined us, followed by (Team manager) George Hassan, Bunmi Adigun, Wole Odegbami, I got all of them in Ibadan, but that was not my spine yet. I called George Hassan who played a very important role in the formation of Leventis United and told him I wanted a good centre half; a midfielder and a striker and he went straight away to Bendel Insurance in Benin.
“He got me Leotis Boateng and Matthew Onyeama. So, these guys were the ones that put everything in place for Leventis United at that time. So, in the third division, my first team were Edward Ansah in goal; in defense, John Benson, Abdullah Alausa, Leotis Boateng and Andrew Uwe; in the midfield, Matthew Onyeama and Bunmi Adigun; forwards, Wole Odegbami, Sunday Daniel, Bala Ali and James Etokebe.
“Five years later, this was essentially the same team that finished with Leventis United. Just two more new players managed to penetrate the first team; Friday Ekpo and Uwem Ekariin. My technical knowledge of football – I always maintain that any great team must have two great full backs because they are such an important asset in a team; they help you defend, they support the midfield and also join in the attack.
“So, I transformed two players, Benson and Alausa for those roles. When we were in third division in 1984, we won the division undefeated, we won the Challenge (FA) Cup as well as the Champion of Champions Cup by beating Rangers that year.
“That was a feat that really shook the foundation of Nigerian football. So everywhere we went, people came to watch because they wanted good football. In the second division in 1985, we won it comfortably likewise the first division in 1986.
“We also won the FA Cup for the second time. After the first year that we won in the first division, problem started happening in the club. Some of the directors at Leventis said this Leventis team, why is John taking all the glory? So, they started bringing in more people to run it, and by that I was getting a little bit upset because I did not like it. It started as a joke and later became an expensive joke.
“At that time, the cost of the team was more than what was budgeted for but one thing they failed to realize was the kind of publicity it gave to the group. Leventis regularly enjoyed front page coverage of newspapers then.
“But by that time, I had given my all, we were champions every year for four years during which we rarely tasted defeat. But people didn’t realize the kind of things one had to put in place to win,” said John Mastrodues to Vanguard in an interview in 2017.
Leventis won the FA Cup defeating notable clubs in the country such as Abiola Babes of Abeokuta, NNB of Benin that had the likes of late Stephen Keshi, Samson Ozogula, Augustine Igbinabaro, Humphrey Edobor and Lwarence Orairo.
The Ibadan-based club was founded in 1982. They won the third division in 1984, the same year they won the FA Cup.
In 1985, Leventis was promoted to the First Division after winning the second division with an undefeated record, becoming the first to achieve such feat in Nigerian football.
They won the third division title in 1984, the second division title in 1985 and the Division one (Nigerian Premier League title in 1986.
Leventis won two FA Cup titles in 1984, and 1986. They won the Nigerian Super Cup in 1984.
And were African Cup Winners’ Cup Runners-up in 1985.
“In the first instance when we played in the final (of the African Cup Winners Cup in 1985) against El Ahly of Egypt, we lost the first leg 2-0 in Egypt under very terrible conditions. In the return leg in Lagos, we won 1-0 but unfortunately that was not enough.,” said John Mastrodues of their experience in the continental stage.
“Then of course in the African Champions Cup in 1987, I felt we could win it. In the quarter-final, we went to Sudan to play El Hilal and we lost 1-0, and I thought we could recover this because they were not a good side.
“But as Jose Mourinho says, they packed buses in front of goal in the second leg. Our boys tried but they could not get a goal.
“It became so difficult, so stressful and I was so disappointed at the end because my biggest dream was to win the African Champions Cup but unfortunately, it was not meant to be. I actually passed out and had to be resuscitated.”
However, the club suffered with the recession and coups of the late 1980s.
Due to the lack of financial backing from the Leventis Company, the team disbanded after the 1987 league season.
“I didn’t have to do that because by that time I was playing second fiddle. Other people communicated to them, so all the players came to me and I made them to know that it was not the end.
“I said to them, I have brought you this far, people with talent don’t get lost, so go out and face the world, you never know you might have a better future.
“As a matter of fact, I even lost a lot of money on the team because some of the money we spent was not authorized; I had to bear the loss myself. The end was not very good but I was still very proud of my achievement in Leventis United.”