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A season of football tragedies

At the risk of incurring a Chief’s wrath, let me add the word tragedy. I have to bring in tragedy to replace the word ugly…

At the risk of incurring a Chief’s wrath, let me add the word tragedy. I have to bring in tragedy to replace the word ugly because in my opinion, anything that is worse than ugly is tragic. The 2008-2009 Globacom league season has come and gone leaving behind some tragedies which will linger for a while in the minds of the immediate victims. All the same it was not all about tragedies as there were some developments that deserve commendation.

One of such areas where the league organizers can be commended was the manner in which the season ended. Once again it was photo finish as the eventual winner was not known until the last matches were played. This is indeed a drastic departure from the old norm when league winners emerged right from the beginning of the league. In the days of the professional league under the then Nigeria Football Association, there was so much corruption in the league such that referees brazenly awarded points to their favoured teams without anyone challenging them. Like I said earlier the present body handling the league has shown commitment to eradicating some of the vices that bedeviled the league in the past.  This no doubt is the good story about the football season just ended.

The bad story remains the bad influence of some of the club officials who are part of the board.  The league as usual witnessed almost all the problems that have continued to rubbish it. The players and their coaches still had a raw deal in the hands of club managers. Most clubs are heavily indebted to their players and coaches not for lack of money to pay for such claims but lack of transparency and accountability on the part of those whose responsibility is to collect such money from the state governments for disbursement. While chairmen of clubs continued smiling to the banks, those who labored for them to make the money lived in penury. Funny enough clubs in the English premier league which Nigeria is trying to copy are never associated with such embarrassing acts. There is no season you will hear that either Manchester United or Chelsea is owing players sign on fee and salaries. It was only once that I heard of players pay cut due to clubs’ financial crises but that was in the Italian league. But here in Nigeria, players are promised so much but are paid so little. And the little they are paid gets to them only after several battles with club officials. The season just ended had these problems in full dosage.

Numerous incidents which are not good for the game were witnessed but few deserve to be mentioned here. The season recorded tragedies in the untimely deaths recorded as teams travelled to match venues. I remember with pain today the death of Ocean Boy’s supporters who were murdered in broad day light in their own backyard, the death of Warri Wolves goalkeeper Orobosa Adun in training due to injuries allegedly inflicted on him by irate fans believed to be supporters of Rangers FC and most recently the most tragic of all, the brutal murder of the captain of Bayelsa United Abiel Tador few hours after he collected the 2008-2009 league trophy on behalf of his club. His family and the entire football family in Nigeria are yet to come to terms with the reality of his death.

Besides the harvest of death, what sealed the season of tragedies was the Zamfara United and Kaduna United “arrangee” match which has kept tongues wagging. The club being managed by the first vice-Chairman of the league board, Shehu Gusau, (it’s possible he may disown the team at this moment), needed to win its final match by at least seven goals to escape relegation ahead of Akwa United. In the end, Zamfara United pumped nine solid goals into the net of their opponents which everybody knows is not a walk over club any day. Already Coach Alhassan of Kaduna United has resigned from the club to make way for uninterrupted investigation but that is not enough for those who believe something crooked transpired between the two northern clubs. Let us not dispense too much energy arguing over a criminal case which is so glaring. It is a tragedy.

And to further cement the tragedy was no other person but the “owner” of the league himself, Chief Oyuki Obaseki, the ‘moving train’ who said categorically that Akwa United deserves what it got in the hands of the two clubs. Remember two seasons ago, Akwa United recorded a scandalous 13-0 victory over Calabar Rovers, a sister club side to gain promotion to the premier league ahead of Bussador. It was broad day light robbery but the probe panel set up by NPL did not find any culprit for appropriate punishment. So now the league boss has said he will not expend any money and energy on another investigative panel that will end up with nothing to justify the huge expenses. Many have risen in condemnation of the Chairman but that is his own style. He speaks his mind without caring whose ox is gored. Remember he called a South African referee a monkey and nothing happened.

Well, Akwa United have lodged complaints but as it is said what goes round comes round. Last time they were beneficiaries of the corrupt system but this time around, they are on the receiving end. Akwa United, please take heart.

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