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Disquiet about Doma, Gombe United relegation from NPFL

Without a doubt, one of the talking points in the just concluded Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL) season is the relegation of the two clubs…

Without a doubt, one of the talking points in the just concluded Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL) season is the relegation of the two clubs from Gombe state, Doma United and Gombe United from the elite division of Nigerian professional football league.

The other clubs that have been relegated along with the ‘Savannah Tigers’ and Savannah Scorpions’ are Sporting Lagos and Heartland. The case of Heartland is most pathetic because the ‘Nazi millionaires’ as they are called, returned to the topflight last year after they won the 2023 NNL title.

As a matter of fact, Gombe United was the first club to be relegated in the 2023/2024 NPFL season. After romancing relegation for several weeks, they were finally relegated after the Matchday 34 defeat to Sunshine Stars who beat them 2-0 in front of their fans at the Pantami Stadium.

Shortly before they were relegated, their Technical Adviser, Coach Mohammed BabaGanaru quit his position and was replaced by Coach Bala Nyiku who also abandoned the club before the end of the season.

The next club to be relegated was Heartland before the eventual relegation of the duo of Sporting FC and Doma United on the final day of the season. A look at the final standings on the 2024 NPFL table shows that Gombe United finished last on the log with a paltry 25 points from a possible 114 having won eight, drawn seven and lost 23 matches.

Doma United ended 18th with 44 points from 11 wins, 11 draws and 16 losses. Even if the relegation of Gombe United didn’t come to many as a surprise, the fall of Doma United shocked many football fans, especially the teeming supporters of the club.

In the first round, the privately owned club was among the title contenders. In fact, they finished the first stanza in third position after nine wins, five draws and five losses for a total of 32 points. But in the second round, the ‘Savannah Tigers’ capitulated and suffered embarrassing results which included three home defeats to Rangers, 3SC and Sunshine Stars.

They also shared the spoils at home with Sporting, Gombe United, Remo Stars, Kwara United and Abia Warriors. The 1-1 draw with Abia Warriors in week 36 actually sealed their fate.

Due to the relegation of the two ‘Savannah’ clubs, only El-Kanemi Warriors who just returned to the elite league will represent the north east in the NPFL in 2025. Therefore, the relegation of Gombe United and Doma United has left football fans in Gombe rueing the misfortune that has befallen their darling clubs.

A former chairman of Gombe State Sports Commission and proprietor of FC Yarmalight, Malam Farouk Yarma, said the relegated clubs lacked adequate financial support and motivation.

He said “Doma United led the standings at a point but their form dipped, leading to a decline due to poor pre-season preparation, lack of a quality technical bench, an overcrowded backroom staff and a poor relationship with their sister club, Gombe United FC.

“As for Gombe United, they faced a myriad of challenges, including a lack of political will from the owners, managerial ineptitude and vendetta and political interference in football affairs. Regrettably, these factors eroded our shared heritage and tarnished the symbol of our collective passion for football.

Yarma, however, appreciated the proprietor of Doma United, Alhaji Umar Sulaiman for sacrificing so much to sponsor a premier league football club despite the difficult terrain.

“I appreciate the challenges he has faced as a club owner. It is certainly not an easy task. The sacrifices he has made for the team and football in Gombe are huge, and I truly commend him for his dedication and hard work,” he said.

The Chairman of Gombe State Football Association, Hon. Yakubu Sarma said “Disappointment is the least adjective that we can use to describe how we feel about the relegation of Gombe United and Doma United to second tier football league.  It is a setback, a very very unfortunate situation but it is part of the game.

“So many factors caused the relegation of Gombe United and Doma United. One of the reasons for this setback is obvious, which is the issue of finances. You know football is capital intensive. Finances have actually affected the performances of the two clubs.

“And management is not something that you do anyhow. So, I can also attest to the fact that lack of experience might have also been a factor. There was also a lack of commitment towards the end of the season from players and coaches.

“They didn’t show enough professionalism in dealing with the situation. In Nigeria, once the league enters the second round that is when a lot of things happen.

“In all, I think it is about time we devised a means to make the league truly independent and the league body should ensure that the players also act professionally or are sanctioned.”

On his part, a fan of Gombe United, Shehu Mohammed, said the misfortunes of the ‘Savannah Scorpions’, should be blamed on the government that allegedly starved the club of money.

“Most times, Gombe United left for their away matches less than 48 hours to the matchdays. In fact, sometimes they arrive on match days. So, their relegation didn’t come to us as a surprise because we saw the fall of the club right from the beginning of the season,” he said.

A football analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity said the fortune of Doma United nosedived in the second round when the management stopped paying the players on time.

He alleged that the club owed the players and backroom staff months of match bonuses and salaries which affected their performance.

“Players can bear non-payment of salaries even for months, but they cannot endure unpaid match bonuses because that is what sustains and motivates them to put in their best.

“As you know, most of our players are not from Gombe state. They only came to play for money. As such, when the management started to default on their monthly salaries and match bonuses, they became reluctant to give their best,” he said.

Another fan of Doma United blamed their relegation on the road accident they suffered while travelling back to Gombe after their match with Heartland in Owerri.

“The accident that hit the team hard on their way back to Gombe after a week 35 match in Owerri also affected their chances. If not for that accident, they would have won their last three matches and escaped the relegation,” said Salisu Abdullahi.

As both clubs prepare for life in the lower division, another football enthusiast, Shehu Adamu, has said the state government should show more interest in the relegated clubs.

He also said the government should use the power of football to address some of the social vices that are associated with the youth.

“Personally, I want the government to be more committed to the affairs of Gombe United and even Doma United which is privately owned. The Gombe State government should emulate its counterparts like Enugu, Rivers, Kano and Katsina State which ensure their clubs enjoy adequate funding.

“Apart from funding, the government should entrust the running of Gombe United into competent hands. Those who have run the club for so many years now should give way for other people to come in with fresh ideas,” said Adamu.

While Gombe United are not new to relegation, this is Doma United’s first as the season that just ended was their in the Nigerian topflight. The ‘Savannah Tigers’ which came into existence in 1994 made their NPFL debut in the 2022/2023 season.

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