From Grace To Grass …Whither Sharks, Dolphins?

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Since the early days of organised sports competition in Nigeria, Port Harcourt has always been in the mix for glory. In terms of result, talent and achievement, the City has had its fair share of euphoria, especially, in football.

It is on record that the oldest football competition in the country, known then as the FA/Challenge Cup in 1954, has been celebrated seven times in the city, second only to Ibadan, which has had it for about eight times in the hay days of 11CC Shooting Stars FC.

Those were the days of Port Harcourt Red Devils and Port Harcourt FC, which won the FA Cup three times beating Warri X1 4-1,  Federal United 6-0 and Mighty Jets 1-0 in 1955, 1958 and 1963, respectively.

Those were the times when about six out of every 10 Port Harcourt youth would have the capacity to thrill with football skills or display indepth knowledge of the game.

However, since the days of present day Sharks and Dolphins FCs, solely sponsored and motivated by the Rivers State government, the fortunes of the city in the game have been swinging back and forth.

Despite the proven desire of successive administrations in the state to make the clubs the best in the land, it has been one celebration today, despair tomorrow.

Football fans in the state have yet to be served the consistent performances and achievements they once knew and still crave for.

According to one ardent football fan, Worlu Chimene, the clubs, considering the enormous resources put at their disposal by the government ought to be the Manchester United FC of Nigerian Football, by consistently winning laurels and being in the mix for titles year in year out.

Perhaps, Dolphins FC, which became an adopted son of the city after being acquired from the then Eastern Bulkcem company as Eagle Cement FC in 2000, has truly returned rewards on investment.

Two-time League winners in 2004 and 2011, Dolphins have also become FA Cup champions four times.

They were champions in 2001, 2004, 2006 and 2007. Indeed, Dolphins have been there  in virtually every race for titles more times than not. But the favourite club in the city, Sharks FC has been the bigger disappointment.

Since inception in early 1970s, the brilliance and promise of its early days have gone into a jinxed history of just completing the number of clubs in competitions every season.

Apart from the triumph in the regional WAFU Cup of three years ago, the Blue Angels succeeded in harvesting a tale of woes, including suffering relegations to the lower division of the league. Within touching distance.

On two occasions, Sharks came to glory in 1996 in the league and 2009 FA Cup, fate conspired to deny history from its grasp.

The Blue Angles was on the verge of winning the league in 1996 but Udoji United usurped the title via the boardroom while the club in 2009 failed to break the jinx of winning a national title, when against expectations, it succumbed to Enyimba in the FA Cup final in Lagos.

The clubs, especially, Sharks, may have been suffering from self-inflicted nemesis or the myopia of successive administrators of the club. Indeed, Sharks FC, has been carrying serious excess baggages that have clogged its wheel of progress. And it is on when such loads are shed, that the club would begin to progress as expected.

According to the Secretary of Sports Writers Association of Nigeria, SWAN, Rivers State chapter, Olalekan Ige, until Sharks and Dolphins are run like business enterprises that they are supposed to be, they would continue to underperform, while different interests at play would continue to exploit it.

He calls for a functional management board to be set up for the clubs for efficient and effective day-to-day operations.

More importantly, the Secretary believes that the state government ought to collapse the two clubs into one entity or dispose one to concentrate effective on management of a viable club side.

A board member of Rivers State Football Association, who is also a retired referee, Chief  Omineokuma Kile sees Dolphins FC as the orphan who does not feed well but works very hard, with determination to succeed while Sharks remains the opposite.

Both clubs have not been able to perform  well as they should because their administrators have not done what they should do to put them in good stead.

In the days of old, recalls Chief Kile, recruitment of players was done systematically, but getting gifted and committed players from within and outside rather than concentrating on players that would suit selfish interests and at the end of the day remain on the bench.

Also, absence of conscious youth development policy has robbed the clubs of a sure nursery bed for the supply of fresh talents.

“Let us see the schools, just live in the days of Richard Owubokiri, Kuruye, Pastor Sarawinyo (Benbella), as the supply line for talents that will endure rather than focusing on already made ‘stars’ that may twinkle for a few moments”, said Chief Kile.

Indeed, the potentials to make Sharks and Dolphins succeed as per the passion and vision of the sports loving governor, Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi abound in the city and beyond. But it must not be business as usual, especially, for those interests that see the clubs as a means of survival.

Most stakeholders would rather explore ways to milk the clubs, and not contribute towards making them brands that can stand on their own. That’s the plight of our darling teams, once beheld as two of Nigeria’s best in the local league. Shall we ever get there again?