Welcome to Last Word on Football’s ‘Families in Football’ series. Over the next few weeks, we take a look at siblings, cousins and even parents and children that have played the beautiful game. Some have played cup finals together while others have been on opposing sides. Today, we focus on brothers Efe, Sam and Akpo Sodje.
Families in Football: Efe, Sam and Akpo Sodje
The eldest of four brothers, defender Efe Sodje was a journeyman footballer through the English Football League.
Although he played for 11 different clubs at various levels of the game, Efe won promotion with six of the sides that he played with.
He finished top of the Conference National at his first club, Stevenage Borough, and came runner up in Division Three with both Macclesfield Town and Crewe Alexandra respectively.
While captain of Huddersfield Town, Efe gained promotion through the playoffs. He would also win Division One with Southend United and come runner up in Division Two with Bury.
Although his promotion record was strong, the defender also suffered relegation with Macclesfield, Crewe, Southend and Barrow. He ended his career back at Macclesfield but managed just six appearances.
During his time at Crewe, Efe was called up to the Nigeria squad. The defender turned out 12 times for the Super Eagles, finishing second to Cameron in the 2000 Africa Cup of Nations. He also represented Nigeria at the 2002 World Cup, playing in group games against Argentina and England.
Similarly to his older brother, defender Sam also began life at Stevenage Borough and would turn out for over 12 clubs.
He left Boro to join Margate in the Conference but the club were relegated to the Conference South due to failing ground requirements.
Despite that, Sam was signed by League One side Brentford. The defender spent two seasons at Griffin Park, winning the club’s Supporters Player of the Year in 2005, before joining Reading.
The defender had a brief spell in Greece with Xanthi before returning to England and playing for Notts County and Portsmouth.
Like Efe, Sam represented Nigeria at senior level but managed just four appearances.
The youngest of four brothers that played football, (although third-born Steve never played professionally), striker Akpo Sodje played for 17 different clubs across his career.
He began life at Queens Park Rangers and, like his two brothers, spent time at Stevenage Borough, where he scored on his debut. He followed the footsteps of Sam and played for Margate before other non-league spells at Gravesend & Northfleet, Heybridge Swifts and Erith & Belvedere.
Akpo then moved to Huddersfield, where his brother Efe was captain. However, he managed just seven appearances before signing for Darlington after a successful loan spell.
Time at Port Vale, Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton followed before the striker moved to Scotland, where he played for Hibernian.
Akpo spent one season in China at Tianjin Jinmen Tiger before returning to England to join Preston North End. Spells at Scunthorpe United, Tranmere Rovers and Macclesfield followed before retiring in 2014.
Despite not winning any promotions in his career, Akpo won Port Vale’s Player of the Year in 2007 and the Sheffield Wednesday Striker of the Year in 2008.
Games Played Together and Against in the Football League
Efe and Akpo played together five times during their time at Huddersfield. However, the brothers only won one of the five matches, while Efe netted in a 1-1 draw against Torquay United.
Efe faced off against brother Sam on three occasions, with the older sibling failing to win. Sam’s Brentford beat Efe’s Yeovil 3-2 before the Bees saw off Southend in the same season. In 2011, the brothers met again in a 2-2 draw between Bury and Notts County.
Sam played with younger brother Akpo 19 times while the pair were at Charlton. Sam scored in wins over MK Dons, Stockport County and Carlisle United while Akpo netted in a 2-1 defeat against Brighton & Hove Albion.
Sam and Akpo faced off against each other once with the youngest sibling netting twice for Scunthorpe in a 2-1 win over Portsmouth.
Along with fellow footballer Steve, Efe, Sam and Akpo have another brother that became a sportsman. However, unlike the quartet, Bright Sodje played rugby league and rugby union. Nephew Onome Sodje also played professional football in England.
Despite winning the Conference National title with Stevenage Borough, the club was denied promotion to the Football League due to insufficient ground facilities. Regardless, Efe stayed at the club for another season before joining Macclesfield Town.
Efe also played six times for Yeovil Town as the Glovers won promotion but he didn’t feature enough to warrant a winners medal. He also played the first half of the 2007/08 season with Gillingham but had spent the second part of the season on loan at Bury, missing the Gills’ relegation. It was the same story with Bury when they were relegated 2012/13, although Efe suffered the same fate while on loan at Barrow.
Sam was convicted of match-fixing after the defender was sent off for punching Oldham Athletic striker Jose Baxter. Reports suggested that Sam intentionally got himself sent off to receive a cash payment with the defender later admitting to the incident.
In 2007, Akpo became the first Port Vale player to score four goals in an away league match since Lewis Campbell in 1893 as they won 5-1 at Rotherham United.
In 2017, three of the Sodje brothers were found guilty and jailed for fraud after they syphoned money from their own charity set up to help African children. Efe, who was the face of the charity, was given 18 months in jail for receiving £7,500 from the SSF (Sodje Sports Foundation), Steven was sentenced to two years and six months in prison for receiving £30,000 in charity funds and Bright was jailed for 21 months for receiving £3,000 from the charity and signing cheques to other family members totalling £18,000. A separate trial two years later involving Sam found the former defender not guilty of two of the 14 counts of money laundering. Other brother Akpo moved to Dubai and refused to return to the UK for questioning while a European Arrest Warrant was issued.