Perpetua Nkwocha

Football’s Pioneers: Perpetua Nkwocha

In the latest instalment of Football's Pioneers, Professor Matt Taylor profiles Perpetua Nkwocha, an inspirational role model for female footballers in Africa and beyond.
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Just hours after scoring four goals to help Nigeria win the African Women’s Cup of Nations in October 2004, Nkwocha was involved in a sit-in to force the national association to pay the bonuses it had promised. 'We were fighting for our rights’, Nkwocha later explained to journalists.

The players were eventually paid but the incident summed up the discrimination Nkwocha and her team-mates faced despite establishing themselves as the one of the most successful teams in African football history.

Perpetua Nkwocha was born in Imo State, Nigeria, in January 1976. She played organised games at secondary school and was then scouted by elite clubs, appearing for Larry Angels (now River Angels) and Pelican Stars in the Nigerian league. She played in the Chinese league and in 2007 joined Sunnanå SK in Sweden.

Nkwocha made her international debut in 1999 and notched up a total of 99 appearances for Nigeria, scoring 80 goals. With the Super Falcons, she won five African Cup of Nations titles (2002, 2004, 2006, 2010 and 2014) and appeared in four FIFA Women's World Cup tournaments between 2003 and 2015. She also played at the Sydney 2000, Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 Olympics.

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Perpetua Nkwocha
Perpetua Nkwocha

Perpetua Nkwocha has won five African Cup of Nations titles with the Super Falcons.

In South Africa in 2004, she finished top goalscorer and Player of the Tournament. That year, Nkwocha also received the first of four African Women’s Footballer of the Year awards (the others coming in 2005, 2010 and 2011).   

A goalscoring midfielder, Nkwocha combined considerable speed and flair to become what one writer called ‘the quintessential Nigerian footballer’. She was particularly known for her dribbling ability in tight spaces.

Nkwocha played into her late thirties but eventually moved into coaching in 2015 when she joined fourth tier Swedish club Clemensnäs IF. She also coached boys’ teams and was reportedly spending the winter coaching a group of Afghan migrants in her Swedish home town of Skellefteå in 2016. On the international stage, Nkwocha was assistant coach for the Super Falcons at the 2016 and 2018 Africa Cup of Nations tournaments.

Nigeria’s women footballers still face considerable discrimination ranging from unequal pay to lingering homophobia. In 2016, the Super Falcons marched on the Nigerian Parliament to demand payment of promised bonuses and in 2019 Desire Oparanozie was stripped of the captaincy for demanding an equivalence of pay with the men’s team.

In her willingness to protest injustice as much as her achievements on the pitch, Nkwocha remains a role model for female footballers in Africa and beyond.

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