The rate at which clubs go into oblivion in Nigeria since organised football began in 1942 has become a source of worry for stakeholders. Taking a look back, ADEYINKA ADEDIPE looks at the exploits of some of these clubs and what can be done to make football viable in the country
Rivalry, enthusiasm, speed, power, dribbling skills are some of the attributes that make football the king of sports all over the world. The teams, made up of enterprising players, are also integral parts of the razzmatazz associated with the beautiful game.
Most teams are named after their cities where they draw their fan-base from. The clubs in return hold their allegiance to the cities where they enjoy massive followership as fans, most often, turn out en mass at games and passionately support their teams no matter the outcome of games.
In Nigeria, the emergence of the teams and the rivalry between them dated back to 1942 when the War Memorial Cup debuted in Lagos. The teams that held sway at that time were ZAC Bombers, Services, Lagos Marine, RAF, Lagos Railways and Lagos United.
Even when the competition took a new name – Governors Cup – more teams like Corinthians, Port Harcourt FC, Warri (Mid-West), Mighty Jets of Jos, Lagos UAC, Lagos Pan Bank, Kano Pillars and Lagos Dynamos joined the fray adding to the rivalry already in existence among top clubs while new ones tried to upstage the established team.
The likes of Zaria FC, Federal United, Ibadan, Nigeria Police, Lagos ECN, Stationary Stores, Ibadan Lions, WNDC Ibadan and Alyufsalam Rocks of Ilorin also added colour to the competition. For instance, Alyufsalam Rocks of Ilorin actually stunned all the big teams in the 1976 edition of the glamorous competition by qualifying for the final only to lose 2-0 to the dreaded Enugu Rangers. It brought them to national limelight but it wasn’t easy to keep the team together thereafter as the team went under.
However, the commencement of the National League in 1972 threw up more top teams like Rangers, Bendel Insurance, Racca Rovers, Shooting Stars FC of Ibadan, Leventis United, Abiola Babes of Abeokuta, Iwuanyanwu Nationale of Owerri, Rancher Bees, BCC Lions, Julius Berger and many others.
This teams were rivals but had mutual respect for one other while keeping the fans on the edge of their seats during tension-soaked games. However, most of these traditional clubs have either gone under or taken new names thus bringing up the question of how sustainable it is to keep a club afloat in the country.
In other climes, football is big business with the team posting humongous profits at the end of each season. These teams invest heavily on acquiring the services of top-class players who they pay heavily, while the players, in turn, do their best to win titles for their respective clubs thus generating more money in the process. These clubs also make huge cash from transfer fees of their stars who are in hot demand, while sponsorship, merchandising are also avenues for making more money. It is also a trend in Europe to see banks give out loans to clubs to finance the acquisition of a new star player with such move generation money to offset the loans.
These clubs also present annual financial reports to sponsors, financiers and fans that will show how monies were spent and this gives the club credibility and enable them to attract more sponsors. Incidentally, some of the clubs are also owned by fans who pool funds together to run their darling clubs.
However, in Nigeria, the reverse is the case.
Most of the teams are attached to states government or their agencies and are run in unprofessional manners. Few ones owned by individuals give up their slots after making no profit from their investments. Some players are not tied to any contract but are only registered to play, which means they can walk away from the clubs when they deem fit. Even those who have a contract are on short term deals and are also at liberty to move to other clubs at any time, while clubs declaring their players missing during the season have become commonplace in the country.
The inability of the clubs to meet the financial obligations to their players have also made it possible for players to walk away at will. In Nigeria, It is normal for teams to owe their players allowances and salaries with some players embarking on protest to government offices or residence of the governors before they can get paid.
On what can be done to make football more financially viable to ensure that teams do not suffer disbandment, Solaja noted that football clubs in the country needs a proper structure to thrive.
He offered: “One thing is clear, football clubs in Nigeria lack proper structures unlike what is obtained where football thrives. In Nigeria, football is a political tool. In other places, football is not just business, it is big business.
“It is for this reason that someone like Aliko Dangote will be making great efforts to acquire Arsenal instead of investing in his native, Kano where Kano Pillars are based. It is simply for business reasons. Hence, his businesses thrive.
“Despite that professional football is supposed to be a business venture, there are some questions begging for answers. How many Nigerian clubs have audited accounts? How many can lay claim to making profits? How many declare financial implication of selling or signing on of any player? “The cost of running the clubs far outstrip the returns. Virtually all depend on a government bailout. The clubs are mainly about the appointed chairman and the coach, whose voice may not be heard, even on technical issues.
“Elsewhere, you read about interviews of coaches, not club chairmen or administrators. Until we have proper structures in clubs where boards exist and financial returns are made, the clubs will remain in their present state,” Solaja added.
For former International, Waidi Akanni, the government should provide the enabling structure for teams to strive in the domestic scene, while noting that the structure must be right to ensure that clubs get returns for their investments. He also advised that states government wishing to own clubs should provide take-off grants for them (the clubs) and charge them to source for sponsors and improve the teams’ fortune.
According to him, a corporation which owned big clubs in the past should be encouraged to do so again, noting that once they see that floating a club in the domestic league is profitable, they will all key in.
“Sports is big business everywhere and that is why athletes toil day and night, waiting for their breakthrough. They hope to also become stars and benefit from the huge investment in the sector. You see that athletes still engage in their favourite sports despite not making money and the same goes for footballers who are hoping to get better clubs. But all these cannot happen under a weak structure.
“There must be a way to bring back these corporations. The government must ensure that those who finance football clubs get returns for their investment by laying a good foundation. In that way, the clubs will become self-reliant and won’t run into a shortage of funds that will threaten their existence.
“If the local football scene is vibrant, a beneficial ecosystem will be created, while players and club owners can reap the benefits of taking part in domestic competitions. For example, if a local club develops good players who are eventually transferred abroad for a good fee, the money would be ploughed back to the team, which enable everyone in the club to be happy, from the owner to the remaining players as well as the coaching staff.
While admitting that the economic problem bedevilling the country might be a hindrance to bringing in investors into football, Akanni stated that the ability of investors to make a profit on their investment would be a big incentive.
“I believe that the government needs to encourage this company to fund clubs or get their sports department in place again. All the government needs to do is provide an enabling environment to them to thrive instead of what is obtainable where states government-run clubs like agencies. Here, states dish out millions of naira to clubs every season but don’t get anything in return. But abroad clubs are run professionally, football clubs must be viable.
“For instance, if the government of a state sets up a club, what it needs to do is provide a certain amount for the club as take-off grant with the expectation that the club management would be able to generate funds and keep the club afloat. But that is not the case in Nigeria and that is why everything is going wrong and you see teams running to government cap in hand and asking for funds always instead of generating funds, which is the only way for the club to survive. And when the funds dry up, there will have no other option than to disband the club.
Going back memory lane, the former Flying defensive midfielder stated that the rivalry between teams brought out the best in the players who are guaranteed a place in the national teams if they perform well in their clubs.
“Back then, the local league used to be the main competition that earns you a call up to the national teams. There were many teams in Nigeria, particularly in Lagos. Lagos also had the LAFA league from division one to three, while we also had non-league sides. Corporations set up football clubs for the purpose of employing players and coaches and give them a means of livelihood. In Lagos alone, we had NEPA Football Club, ACB, First Bank, IBWA, Union Bank Nigeria, Societe Generale Bank, Agip Oil company (NAOC), which I played for as a secondary school student before moving to NEPA of Lagos. These clubs were owned by corporations but sadly they are no longer investing in the game
“Unfortunately, no one knows about these clubs anymore because they have gone under. To be honest, football was what every youngster wanted to be part off because we all enjoyed playing the game. I remember that I got noticed at NAOC and I moved to NEPA.
“I was also part of the Lagos United team where all the best players in the state converged. It was like being invited to a second national team. And we toured the country playing many games,” stated the structural engineer who studied at Yaba College of Technology (YABATECH) before travelling to the U.S.A to complete is tertiary education and play football.
He continued: “Football is all about progression. You move from a smaller club to a bigger one based on your performance, then you can become part of the national team if you become brilliant. But now a lot of things have changed. The economic situation is bad while security is in a poor state. Back then safety was guaranteed at stadia though we had skirmishes by supporters of some rival teams. Lagos was viable, the teams were popular and the like of Leventis United, Abiola Babes and Iwuanyanwu Nationale all added colour to the local scene as they became some of the best clubs at some point.
Akanni, who is also the former boss of the Lagos State Football Association, gave an insight into how the FA tried to help clubs while he was in office.
“When I was the Lagos FA chairman I had a good rapport with First Bank Football Club and they were always receptive to ideas on how to move the club forward. It was a well-structured team and you could see it in the way the club was run.
“But after discussing with the FA, the management of the team still had to go to their board where the decisions are made. It is difficult for the FA to be involved in the day-to-day running of the teams but the best the FA can do is the advice the teams, especially on what to expect at away league venues and how to prepare. When the teams that are being run professionally see that they don’t get results and see what other teams do to get results, they will be discouraged
“We have to bring all stakeholders together and ensure that people can make a profit from investing in football or else it is the ones funded by the government that will continue to survive because they get massive financial backing from the government.
“My take is that the government should lay the foundation, provide take-off grants and let the team run themselves. The era where chairmen get heavy funds from government and cannot account for it will be over while they should be sanctioned if they cannot attract sponsors to the club,“ Akanni added.