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Evaluating the domestic league then and now

Earlier this month, the Nigeria National League (NNL), the country’s second-tier league, staged its eight-team playoffs for the top teams to battle for promotion slots into the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL). Niger Tornadoes and Gombe United qualified to move back to the elite class in the Northern zone that also had El-Kanemi and DMD as competitors while in the Southern zone, it was Shooting Stars and Remo Stars that earned slots to the NPFL in the zone that also had Insurance and Ekiti United. Enugu was the venue but shamefully the overall organisation was very bad from the start.

The eight teams were meant to play four games in four days in the same venue but due to rains and pressure, another venue, University of Nigeria, Enugu campus pitch, was used for the last two match days after rain also disrupted proceedings.

We frown on the fact that the organisers did not prepare for rest days from the start while there was also no plan to play the last round of games simultaneously. We believe despite the shortcomings, it was great to have Shooting Stars back in the elite class because the Ibadan club apart from having a huge following all over the country, they were the first to win a continental trophy, the Winners’ Cup, for Nigeria in 1976.

‘Mathematical’ Segun Odegbami and the late Muda Lawal were some of the players in the historic squad. Because of their rich history, we are delighted to have this team back in the elite division because Shooting Stars will surely spice up the NPFL in the new season. It was a good run for the team in the full season and also the playoffs. We congratulate club administrators and coach Edith Agoye. However, the administrators must work hard to get quality players to boost the team in readiness for the season so that Shooting Stars will not drop back to the lower cadre.

They should also go for sponsors who will bring in money to ensure issues of welfare are taken care of. We also congratulate Remo Stars, Niger Tornadoes and Gombe United. Incidentally, the three of them are not strangers in the NPFL.

Tornadoes and Gombe have featured in the elite class over one decade in the past. And now, the stage is set for an interesting season, so the League Management Company (LMC) must ensure the new term goes without a hitch in all aspects. For a start, the LMC should create a regular calendar that can be relied upon from now on. Going down memory lane, domestic football was a massive crown puller because it was very interesting. In the 80s and 90s, football in the home front was so interesting that people travelled far and near to watch their darling teams play.

There were traditional teams that people looked up to in the league, FA Cup and also continental competitions. Enugu Rangers, Bendel Insurance of Benin, Stationery Stores of Lagos, Shooting Stars of Ibadan, Spartans of Owerri, Mighty Jets of Jos, Alyufsalam Rocks of Ilorin, Abiola Babes of Abeokuta, Leventis United of Ibadan, BCC Lions of Gboko, Julius Berger of Lagos, Iwuanyanwu Nationale of Owerri, Ranchers Bees of Kaduna, NEPA Lagos, Udoji United, New Nigeria Bank of Benin and Concord of Abeokuta were some of the traditional teams making waves back in the day.

We recall that at the time, there were tough nationwide rivalries. A Shooting Stars versus Rangers match was a headline grabber because each club competed for supremacy over which was the best in the land. Insurance versus Shooting, Insurance versus Rangers were games that would attract big crowds to any stadium. Local derbies like Shooting versus Leventis, Stores versus NEPA/Julius Berger, Rangers versus Nationale and NNB versus Insurance were other top games that generated huge public discussion and attendances at the venues on match days.

It is important to state that there were foreign leagues that time Nigerians followed but the domestic league was just interesting. Most of the matches came live on television while radio commentaries also took the game to the homes of followers of the ‘beautiful game’. It is always nostalgic to recall the exploits of these teams in the domestic league in those good old days because despite the love for Italian and Brazilian football on television that time – the domestic league was top on the bill for fans. Seeing some of these teams in the elite class is always a thing of joy for those who follow their exploits in the past. It is important to stress that the league at the time had sponsors while many of the teams enjoyed full backing of their management (both private and government) such that there were no cases of welfare issues.

Sadly many of the teams have gone under. We urge the LMC and the NFF to put machinery in place to make the domestic league tick again. Nigerians are distracted with the EPL, La Liga, Serie A, Bundesliga and French Ligue1, but with proper organisation and marketing, the domestic league could be at par with fans’ favourite leagues which will no doubt go a long way in enhancing the quality of the product so much so that more home players will be able to break into the Super Eagles.

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