On Sunday June 12, two of Nigeria’s biggest clubs in the last four decades, Shooting Stars a.k.a 3SC and Rangers International, contested a league game in Abeokuta.
Forty years ago, after the country’s Civil War, it would have been the match everyone talked about. The media would have been awash with the fact that the two clubs that represented different philosophies and regions in the country were about to rekindle their rivalry having won 11 championships between them.
However, during this recent face-off, the players traded tackles in front of a near empty stadium. Apart from those who watched on television because there was no competing programming from Europe on that fateful day, there was little interest. The game, like many things in local Nigerian football, has lost its sheen.
In the past decade, the Nigerian league has suffered a demise of colours. Fans have kept away from the stadiums and a coterie of them can now be found on Saturday evenings watching European league football in television viewing centres.
In Lagos, the commercial capital, over a thousand shops screen the English Premier League. A report by TELL magazine in 2008 estimated that more than 500 outlets sell jerseys of major European clubs while viewing centre entrepreneurs make at least $200,000 monthly from screening live games.
In all this, the Nigerian league has gone to sleep. Lagos has no representation in the Premier League, as it’s most supported side, – the Stationery Stores, have been battling with ownership issues for the better part of two decades. And without the impact of Lagos, the support base of the league has nosedived.
Adebayo Olowo-Ake, a Stores supporter who is leading a revival of the side, told Goal.com “SSFC supporters would charter all the buses in Lagos in those days and head for these Nigerian cities a day before the game, and residents would know that ‘The Lagos people had arrived.’ SSFC took on the might of governments, for these other clubs were government-owned, unlike Stores, that was wholly private and even better supported than them.”
In the past, all the major clubs were owned by business people and as such ran as profit-making ventures. Today, they have all been taken over by state governments and are run as political tools. This has brought about a lack of checks and balances and a lackadaisical attitude towards the sport. “They’ve taken the soul out of football and that’s why fans do not come out anymore,” Oluwashina Okeleji of BBC Sport told Goal.com.
It was a sentiment echoed by former Nigeria international Segun Odegbami in his column last week. “In Nigerian football everything is about government. Until the economic and political situation changes, proper professional football, the sort that will bring up a private organisation as defined by the FIFA statutes, cannot exist in most of Africa.” he wrote on the SuperSport website.
Also, spurious refereeing decisions that ensure home teams have the upper hand with the award of scandalous penalties are a bane of the league. A penalty is gifted to home sides in virtually one out of every two games played in the season and this makes sure that fans keep away from the stadiums. Many say there’s no joy knowing that your club will always win their home clashes, even when they play badly.
Poor pitches also reduce the beauty of the game. Many of the stadiums, except a few that were repaired during the country’s hosting of the FIFA U17 tournament two years ago, do not have playable surfaces.
Pundits have called for retiring Nigerian stars abroad to return home to play for a few years in order to ignite fans’ desire and passion for the league. The country’s highest scoring player, Rashidi Yekini, did that a few years ago when he featured for Julius Berger. The stands were packed again, even if it was short-lived. Imagine Kanu or Okocha in the jersey of Enyimba or Kano Pillars – the fans would go crazy. No other stars followed Yekini’s footsteps because pay conditions are poor. Signing-on fees are rarely delivered and local players chase after the Golden Fleece in Europe.
The Nigerian Premier League board has a great deal to do to rediscover local interest in the top flight. First, the league must be given back to private hands and clear its stables of corruption. Then try to bring Lagos back into the picture; it is, after all, where the bulk of the fans exist.
Aisha Buhari Cup: FIFA, CAF Presidents Grace Kick-Off, Falcons Win 2-0
Substitute Gift Monday handed Nigeria a sweet 2-0 victory on the opening day of the maiden edition of the Aisha Buhari Invitational Women’s Tournament in the City of Lagos.
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State led eminent political big-wigs, and FIFA President, Gianni Infantino and CAF President, Patrice Motsepe led football’s top echelon, including President of NFF and FIFA council member, Amaju Melvin Pinnick, to the showpiece at the Mobolaji Johnson Arena, Onikan.
Monday, interestingly a player of FC Robo Queens of Lagos, spurned in the air to meet a cross by Captain Asisat Oshoala in the 83rd minute and nodded past goalkeeper Fatoumata Karenta, six minutes after coming into the fray for Francisca Ordega.
The goal put the Super Falcons in the lead after a rather turgid day on Lagos island, with the Malians showing greater zest and desire in the opening half and returning after the recess with the same impressive fighting spirit.
The visiting Female Eagles had survived a raid on their area in the 5th minute as Nigeria looked to go into the lead with a corner, but the defence cleared. Nine minutes later, Ordega sidenetted from another quick dash upfront, and in the 18th minute, Ageusissa Diarra tested Goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie from a 30-yard free-kick.
In the second half, Uchenna Kanu sidenetted in the 67th minute, before Oshoala, who should have scored with only the goalkeeper to beat, failed to get past Karenta. In the 74th minute, Karenta again saved from Kanu.
In the 83rd minute, Monday rose highest in the box and nodded past Karenta, bringing so much excitement to the arena.
One minute into added time, Monday was again at the end of an Asisat’s assist, and looped the ball over an advancing Karenta to put huge smiles on the faces of Nigerians.
Enyimba Appoints Finidi George As Head Coach
The former Ajax and Real Betis winger, George Finidi, who replaces Fatai Osho whose contract expired at the end of August, has joined the eight-time Nigerian champions, Enyimba FC, on a two-year contract.
George, a legend of Nigeria’s men’s senior national team, made 62 appearances for the Super Eagles in an illustrious playing career that lasted up to fifteen years.
He was a key member of the glorious era that won the Africa Cup of Nations in 1994 and represented the country at two FIFA World Cups, the 1994 and 1998 editions.
Tidesports source reports that at club level, George won the UEFA Champions League with Ajax in 1995 and went on to play for Real Betis, RCD Mallorca, and Ipswich Town.
His first official game as Enyimba head coach will be the CAF Confederation Cup’s second preliminary round fixture against Senegalese side, Diambers FC in mid-October.
Speaking to Enyimba’s media immediately after putting pen to paper, George said, “I have to say it’s a great opportunity for the club to have this confidence in me.
“I want to thank the chairman, the members of the board, and the supporters for even thinking about me. On my own part, I will be here to just work and do the job. It’s never going to be easy but I’m here to work and make the team win.”
Chairman of Enyimba, Felix Anyansi Agwu, stated that the arrival of George represents a new chapter for the club.
“I believe that the time has come for us as a club to open up a new chapter, a chapter that will showcase the many hardwork that has been going on behind the scene and usher in lots of success.
“For us to have engaged a coach like Finidi George who is coming from Europe is a clear statement of intent about our aspirations,” Agwu said.
Arteta Sees Light For Arsenal
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta says he sees a bright future for the club despite suffering their worst start to a season for 67 years.
The Gunners climbed off the bottom of the Premier League table with their first goal and first points of the campaign by beating Norwich 1-0 last weekend.
However, Arteta’s position is still under scrutiny ahead of tomorrow’s trip to Burnley after spending £150 million ($207 million) on new players during the transfer window.
The Spaniard claimed after beating Norwich he had enjoyed the “best 10 days of his career in this industry” during an international break when his side was rock bottom of the table.
And Arteta was equally optimistic on where Arsenal are headed with all six of his summer signings aged 23 or under.
“I’m telling you I’m very positive most of the time. I’ve seen the light and I can see bright lights,” he said at his pre-match press conference on Thursday.
“There can be bumps in the road within that light, but I can see a lot of light.”
Arteta is also hopeful the criticism his squad suffered after defeats to Brentford, Chelsea and Manchester City will only serve to make them stronger.
“It’s tough because it hurts, because you want to see something different. But what you want is not always what happens,” he added.
“Things happen for a reason and maybe what is happening had to happen and it’s going to be really good for the club and really good for myself and everybody experiencing that situation. We have to believe that.”
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