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Lagos agog as football fans celebrate resurrection of grassroots soccer

The recent promotion of Mountain of Fire and Miracle FC and Ikorodu United FC to the 2015/2016 NPFL was received with jubilation across the state. Daily Times sports check found that football fans around the country are already regrouping to storm league matches to cheer their teams to victory, especially in football-starved Lagos ahead of the kick-off of the upcoming season in 2016.

Boss of the Lagos State Football Association (LSFA), Mr. Seyi Akinwunmi, said that the promotion of the two Lagos sides to the NPFL would once more ignite league followership in the state.  He said further that the remarkable development will spur the growth of grassroots football in the state, and assured that LSFA would assist in preparing the clubs ahead of the new league season.  “I keep on telling people that if you allow me to jump and roll and scream, I will.  “This is because I have been hounded for the past four years by the press over the absence of Lagos clubs from the Nigeria Professional Football League.

“I told people that when the time comes, it will happen. Now, it has happened in a big way and we’ve been proved right.”  The important thing, the VC said, is that Lagos clubs are prepared.  “When we were talking about that, all we wanted was for them to run the clubs properly. And between now and the beginning of the season, we are going to do a lot in terms of preparing the clubs by teaching the people exactly what to do to ensure that football returns fully back home,’’ he said.

The lull in Lagos soccer  It would be recalled that Lagos used to be the Mecca of Nigeria football in the past on account of the number of clubs that once ruled the nation’s thriving league scene.  At the height of football splendour in Lagos, colourful sides like Stationery Stores FC, NEPA FC, ACB FC, Julius Berger FC and First Bank FC at one time or the order held their football fans spellbound with their magical displays.  But eventually the eminent status that Lagos had in Nigerian football petered out because of challenges culminating in poor performance that saw the high flying Lagos clubs relegated to the lower rung of the Nigerian league.  Fans hostilities during national football team matches and national league matches also aided in dousing the flame of football in the state.  Because of the unruly nature of the football fans, the then Nigeria Football Association (NFA) now known as the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), had to stage matches involving the Super Eagles in Port Harcourt and elsewhere.

The ensuing development gradually turned the National Stadium Surulere into a ‘Ghost Town’ of sorts, in addition to the relegation of the once flamboyant clubs like Stationery Stores et al into obscurity.  Reacting to the restoration of professional league soccer in Lagos, former Super Eagles midfielder, Mr. Friday Ekpo, said that the return of Lagos clubs to the Nigeria top league would spice up football in the state.  Ekpo, who plied his trade with the defunct Abiola Babes FC in the late 1980s, noted that it would redeem the image of football in Lagos.  His words: “It is a great development and also good for football growth in Lagos. I vividly remember as a player, how fans usually troop out to watch league matches in the past.

“Football is back to its main arena and I know Lagos fans are happy with the development,’’ he said.  Also, Falade Oyekan, a board member of LSFA said that the clubs’ promotion will boost football momentum in Lagos.  Oyekan said that it would also impact on the grassroots development of soccer, adding that the league had returned to its place of prominence.  “Lagos used to be the home of league football in the past and for a very long time we were starved because of the absence of clubs from Lagos.  “We are happy with this development and we know it will have positive impact on football in Lagos,’’ he said.  Reflecting on the new development in Lagos also, Mr. Nduka Ugbade, who played for the defunct Niger Dock FC of Lagos, said that the newly promoted teams should be given the much needed support to thrive in the league.

Ugbade said that the task ahead of the clubs should be seen beyond gaining promotion to the NPFL, adding that the sustenance of the clubs in the league was vital.  “There was a time when we had more clubs from Lagos State in the league before everything went bad for most of the clubs.  “The promoted clubs will only remain in the league if they are adequately prepared and well funded.”  By so doing, he concluded, more clubs from Lagos will be elevated to the league and reignite passion for football in the state.

Ugbade would be remembered for his captainship of Nigeria’s sensational team that won the maiden edition of FIFA U-17 World Cup in 1985 at China. The tournament was sponsored by Kodak (when it was known as the U-16 tournament).  For the records, Nigeria first won the U-17 in 1985 when Major General Muhammodu Buhari was the Military Head of State, and Nigeria won it for the 5th time when Muhammodu Buharia is the Civilian President.  On the part of the teeming football fans in Lagos and its environs, expectations are high but stakeholders caution that the fans must learn to curb their unbridled exuberance and to make the Teslim Balogun Stadium, Surulere a veritable Mecca for NPFL matches.

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