Onome Ebi is one of Nigeria’s most accomplished and famous female footballers. She has played in five World Cups — the only African player to do so — and is the one Nigerian player that most fans want their photograph taken with.

But like most African superstar athletes, she came from humble beginnings. She started life in a slum community in the Nigerian capital of Lagos but has gone on to beat the odds and enjoy a thriving career in Europe and, most recently, China.

“I started playing football when I was in my mom’s womb… I was so little when I started!” exclaims Ebi, who played the game just for fun as a child until her first coach discovered her talent and advised her to pursue a professional career.

‘Society doesn’t want women to play football’

Despite having a mentor by her side, Ebi found it hard to establish herself as a female footballer in a country where it isn’t considered a traditional or legitimate career path — and her coach had to convince her parents that they should allow her to play.

“Our parents don’t want women to play,” Ebi said. “Society as a whole doesn’t want women to play. People think that football is for men and women are supposed to just get married and feed the children.”

Frauenfußball Nigeria | Onome Ebi

Onome Ebi has represented Nigeria 81 times — but is still waiting for her first goal.

Perspectives are slowly changing but it’s still rare to see older women playing football. Every morning when Ebi goes out to train, she’s usually the only female among the men.

Not only does she have to work extra hard to gain recognition as a woman in a male-dominated sport, but she also has to defend her ability to still play at the age of 37.

But she remains very athletic and her experience and speed still outshines many of the younger players coming through.

Ebi’s foundation and Common Goal

Ebi hopes to make her sixth appearance at the next World Cup in 2023. And although she is still playing, her club career was slowed down last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She was unable to return to her club for the last league season as a result of the lockdowns in Nigeria and China.

Meanwhile in Nigeria, she is always looking for new ways to give back through charity and community initiatives. Ebi has a foundation that is focused primarily on helping young girls who want to play football professionally and she is involved in supporting Nigeria’s struggling female football league.

Beyond her personal foundation, Ebi also donates 1% of her income to Common Goal, an initiative that supports high-impact NGOs that use football to drive progress towards the Global Goals. 

Time to give back

Through Common Goal, Ebi discovered that YEDI (Youth Empowerment Development Initiative) was operating in Lagos on projects she seeks to support, including raising awareness among young people on health topics, like AIDS. 

Ebi agreed to join YEDI on one of their rural outreaches and when she arrived at the location and met the girls, her heart melted. 

Off the field, many people may not recognize Ebi. The girls had never heard about her before but they were happy to see her, and after the outreach session Ebi gave them a group hug. She also presented them with gifts and assured them that they can achieve whatever they want to, regardless of their background.

“Being here today really reminds me of my childhood,” Ebi said as she smiled and watched the little children playing.

“It’s just like I’ve gone back to being a child again. I loved the experience I had talking to the girls, I’m glad I had the opportunity to come here today.”

Ebi may have achieved so much in her own career, but now it’s time to give back.