By Martin Odiete

 

I remember with nostalgia the glory days of LEVENTIS FOOTBALL CLUB, ABIOLA BABES, IWUAYANWU NATIONALE FOOTBALL CLUB of  Owerri, STATIONERY STORES of Lagos and a few others.

These were professional league clubs owned primarily by private individuals and private companies. The Nigerian league was a delight to follow and watch.

Fast forward to recent times when the Nigerian league suddenly nosedived and only the government-funded clubs form majority in the NIGERIA PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE.

And since their emergence, the few private clubs have found it extremely difficult to cope as the government clubs brought with them the unholy hunger to win at all costs. The few existing private clubs lasted for few seasons and then faded out of the scene.

Some of them however fought hard for survival but were somehow forced out of the league through high level politicking which saw them relegated to the lower league.

It is however pertinent to note here that the emergence of government owned clubs gave rise to high level bribing of referees in the Nigerian league, a situation most of the private clubs owners could not cope with.

Most of the administrators would rather not pay their players for months but would use the money to pay referees and top NFF officials in the referee’s appointment committee to influence the choice of officials to their matches and the outcome of the match, all to justify the huge funds they have received from their governors to run the clubs.

 

We have heard a governor state it categorically that he knows how much he spent to win the league. Such is the level the NIGERIA PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE (NPFL) has degenerated to.

The situation has gotten so bad that the highest bidders win the league and any club owner who does not do the bidding of the powers that be, will have their clubs pencilled down for relegation.

This worrisome situation has made the terrain very tough for private club owners to thrive. Though, private club owners like IFEANYI UBAH, and before now CHRIS GIWA did try to compete, they could never aspire to win the league, as the title is always ‘reserved’ for state governments who have demonstrated enough ‘commitment’ to get it.

In the midst of these came a beacon of hope called KUNLE SONAME, the owner of Bet9Ja.

He stormed the scene when he led his team, REMO STARS to gain promotion to the Nigerian elite division. Though, this is not the first time his club is playing at this level, their first missionary journey was a disaster as they suffered the same fate that most private clubs did in the Nigeria elite league- relegation!

REMO STARS however came back stronger and were more determined to compete for the trophy which seemed like a tall order though.

But no sooner had they arrived the scene that the ‘system’ took its toll on them. Just few weeks into the season, the news came that the proprietor was slammed with a three-match ban for comments he made after their league match at home to BENDEL INSURANCE.

Being human, he apparently could not have stomached the frustration he felt seeing his club robbed in broad daylight and the result of his comments after the match was a ban.

 

While I do not want to delve into the arguments of situation, I can only plead that the ‘system’ should please not frustrate SONAME to the extent that he loses interest in Nigerian football. This is because the league needs his likes, if not for anything, but for the fact that he has invested and is still investing so much in the Nigerian league. Methinks he does not deserve the system’s malicious treatment.

It is widely known that this SONAME loves football so much that he abandons his private business to follow his club wherever they have their league matches.

More so, his company, Bet9Ja is the sponsor of the NIGERIA NATIONAL LEAGUE, NNL. A true football lover, he understands the game and can only vent his frustration when he feels apparently cheated by the ‘system’.

KUNLE SONAME is the first Nigerian to own a club in Europe, a second division side, CLUB DESPORTIVO FEIRENSE in Portugal. This further buttresses the extent he loves the round leather game.

Managers of the Nigerian league should pray for more of his kind to take over our clubs in the country if actually they are indeed sincere in moving the league to where it actually should be. At least his case is totally different from a certain ALIKO DANGOTE who despite being the richest man in Africa only desired to buy ARSENAL FOOTBALL CLUB in England instead of investing in Nigerian football.

I am not saying that SONAME should be given any preferential treatment, but I’m rather appealing to the powerful forces not to frustrate him, because the outburst that led to his suspension was caused by the Nigerian league system.

It cannot be said enough that the likes of SONAME are direly needed in the Nigerian Premier League so as to move away from this government-owned domination where professionalism does not exist.

 

Martin Odiete is the publisher of http://www.theajasanews.com

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