Why we must look beyond getting new fans for the Nigerian League


I wrote an article in 2019 on my football blog, www.NigerianFootballer.com regarding new fans for the Nigeria Professional Football League and I am forced to go back to it, with an addition.
That article was inspired by my many years of watching the league and being involved or present at the scenes of scores of violent clashes. I also had series of interactions, especially on twitter with Biola Kazeem, a football enthusiast, who hardly watches the league these days, but has a lot to say about it.
Biola would insist then the league needed new fans and I began to see reason with him.
In that piece I wrote three years ago, I cited the incident at the Sports Complex in Maiduguri on Saturday, May 4, 2019 that shocked not just Nigerians but most people on social media space that saw the videos.
It was in the aftermath of the game between home side, El Kanemi Warriors FC and Go Round FC that ended 2-2. But as far as the fans of the home side were concerned, no club had the right to take a point off them at home, hence the incident.
The video showed football players (Go Round FC) sitting on the ground on the stadium football pitch with match referees standing close to them. There were soldiers and police, all armed, as though protecting them from present or imminent danger and there was a mob about thirty or so metres away, apparently baying for blood.
The one minute and thirteen seconds video, probably shot by one of those sitting on the ground had the players of Go Round discussing the game, most of them in Igbo language and suddenly there were gunshots renting the air as the players’ bodies shook with each shot.
The video (unless after forensic analysis) did not show if the mob shot first and then the soldiers replied leading to an exchange of gun fire, or if it was just the soldiers shooting to scare off the advancing crowd, but there was gunfire, in the stadium, in the midst of professional football players and referees, yet they were not in a war zone.
Let that sink in.
Who are these people?
One thing I know from the forty one years I have followed the Nigerian league is that these people are not fans of the teams. They are hired hands who know their duties at the stadium. And their duties are simply to intimidate referees and visiting teams. They do not buy replica jerseys, neither do they buy tickets to get in nor contribute to the club in any way. But, yes, they have an assignment at the grounds every day and that would be to ensure the referees and the away team players are intimidated enough to get the home team to win easily, and when it does not happen, mayhem and carnage!
These people exist in every stadium in Nigeria that has a club playing in the league. Every stadium has them. Some are regular salary earners at the clubs, some are on allowances, others just get paid per match day depending on how aggressively they intimidate the referees.
For some, they get special perks like travelling with the team for certain choice games within or outside the country as reward for hard work; hard-work done helping the club win via untoward means, thus destroying the reputation of the league.
Here we go again
Three years after I wrote the original piece, it seems that little or nothing has changed.
Before this season I had experienced it first hand, at least a dozen times. In Kano in 2011 (Kano Pillars v Dolphins), in Jos in 2004 (Plateau United v Dolphins) in Ilorin in 2004 (Kwara United v Dolphins), in Owerri in 2009 (Heartland v El Hadood). I was there in Nembe in 2017 (Bayelsa United v Go Round FC) when the boys suggested they were going to harm me real bad if I do not leave the stadium. They noticed I had seen what they were doing to the referees in the dressing room at half time. They had various weapons in their hands and they were telling the referees that the home side had to win or else everybody will be harmed.
Any Nigerian League football follower reading this knows it has been a recurring decimal in our football, local football, that is.
I know a lot of people want to blame the organisers of the football league, the League Management Company (LMC) and I wouldn’t begrudge them if they do that. While the LMC have tried to sanitise the league, it is a case of them either not having the will power to go all out; the forces against change are too much for them; or they just got tired of the mess and have decided to leave the clubs to their own devices. But the LMC have done their part under the circumstances.
So far this season, and we are just in Match Day 15, there have been a couple of incidents:
Gangster assistant coach
I will always try to imagine things like these happening in leagues we watch in Europe. Imagine after a league game, say Liverpool versus Chelsea at Anfield and it ends 1-1. Liverpool’s assistant coach, Pepijn “Pep” Lijnders walks up to the referees, slaps one and walks away. Wow!
But this happened in Uyo, just after a league game between Dakkada FC and Remo Stars.
Sunday Efefia, walked up to the referees and slapped Sani Baba, one of them.
The LMC fined Dakkada FC, the sum of more than Three million naira (N3, 000, 000.00), and announced the immediate expulsion of Sunday Etefia. They also banished the club to play their next three home games at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin, a city at least eight hours from their home ground.
More club officials go rogue
After their home game against Rivers United, two officials of Niger Tornadoes physically assaulted the match referee. That game ended 0-0. The rogue officials were Bello Mohammed, a goalkeeper trainer and Umar Farouk, the coach.
The LMC slammed the erring club with a fine of five million five hundred thousand naira (N5.5m) and banished them to Abuja for their next three home games. Abuja is about three hours from the home base of Niger Tornadoes.
All-out war between Remo Stars and Shooting Stars
There were reports of physical combat between fans of Remo Stars and Shooting Stars. Though there were no incidents during the game and in the stadium, reports have it that fans of both sides went at each other outside the facility and some had machete cuts.
It was just a football match and not a medieval battle between warriors from three hundred years ago. The LMC shut down the grounds of both teams from fans and then called both parties for a peace meeting in Abuja.
Other ‘gbege’ that have happened already
The LMC ruled last week that Lobi Stars and Gombe United will play their next home fixtures without fans.
This may not be unconnected with what happened after Gombe United forced Plateau United to a draw at home. We saw videos of a vandalized Plateau United team bus and blood streaming from the body of a club official, said to be the team doctor.
Abia Warriors and its General Coordinator, John Kalu were also sanctioned for security related breaches in their match against Rivers United.
Kalu, the Abia Warriors Coordinator was said to have championed the harassment of match officials in that game.

The c
lub was fined a total of two million five hundred thousand naira (₦2.5m) for failure to provide adequate security, failure to ensure restriction of access to unauthorised persons to restricted area, encroachment on the field of play and harassment of Match Officials.
Gombe United in addition to playing their next home game without fans, was fined a total of two million naira (₦2m) for failure to provide adequate security cover for the visiting team at the end of the match to ensure they departed the city without obstruction and safely.
For Lobi Stars, in addition to closure of Aper Aku Stadium to fans for their next home game, Lobi Stars was fined a total of one million five hundred thousand naira (₦1.5m) and ordered to provide before their next home game, adequate lighting within the precincts of the stadium, particularly, the tunnel leading to the dressing rooms. The club was also ordered to reinforce security arrangements for its remaining home fixtures to avoid stiffer sanctions.
To be continued. You don’t want to miss this

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