81 minutes into his first game in English football, websites, mobile phones and vidiprinters around the country were for the first time typing the name of Peter Odemwingie. I’m sure there were plenty of people around the country thinking “Who?” – I too was once in this position. Today, however, I class him as one of my favourite footballers.
You could say it was fate that brought my attention to Odemwingie, while on holiday in France a family friend had the chance to go watch Lyon v Lille at the Stade Gerland and, while at the game and knowing my love of all things football, picked me up a scarf without thinking what team the scarf represented. The team, it turned out, was Lille OSC.
Being the curious fan that I am, I researched this French enigma through the only channel a fan could before the days of Wikipedia – I popped Pro Evolution Soccer into my PS2. Makoun and Bodmer were there but there was one name that stood out, Peter Odemwingie. I can’t think back to how I may have pronounced his name then, but I would put money on it having been wrong.
Peter had only just moved to Lille from La Louviere (in the 2005 January Transfer window) and, playing the majority of his football on the flanks, he scored four goals in his first season; the next year he had a great season scoring 14 goals and leading Lille to an unprecedented third place and Champions League football.
It wasn’t until the 15th of April 2006 that I finally saw the man in action. Through the wonders of the World Wide Web I found a barely visible feed of Lille’s match at home to Bordeaux and, after six minutes, I was hooked. Mathieu Bodmer opening the scoring in the second minute before Odemwingie found the net four minutes later. On the half hour the Nigerian had two and Lille were 3-0 to the good, the game eventually finishing 3-2. Les Dogues had a new fan.
Two weeks later, while playing scrabble with my girlfriend at some ungodly hour of the morning and flicking through the TV channels between turns, I discovered Channel 4’s French Football coverage. The match in progress was Lille v Lyon and I watched agog as Lille destroyed the all conquering Lyon 4-0. Odemwingie scored two goals, the best of which was a delightful chip over the helpless Remy Vercoutre.
Unfortunately the season was drawing to a close and it would be another three months until I could watch the fascinating Odemwingie again. He would not disappoint – the season kicked off with a great 2-1 win over Rennes away from home, the next week bringing the visit of Lille’s arch-rivals Rennes.
This was the game where Odemwingie would truly capture my imagination. After Mathieu Bodmer had given Lille an early lead the game belonged to the number 14, the flying forward turning past Marcos Ramos and racing towards goal before curling his shot beyond Charles Itandje. His second was the easiest of tap-ins, Kader Keita doing the hard work and squaring the ball for Peter to make it 3-0.
He was not going to be denied his hat-trick, Keita again charging down the right teasing a wonderful cross into the box where Odemwingie, unmarked between two defenders, expertly powered the header into the back of the net. The home fans were enchanted just like their newest fan, captivated, watching in awe of his new favourite player.