David Ngobua, Haruna Gimba Yaya, Gombe, Hassan Ibrahim, Bauchi
As the 2023 Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL) season enters week four this weekend, El-Kanemi Warriors, Doma United, Gombe United and Wikki Tourists, all from the north-east, are among some of the clubs that are already gasping for breath.
Without doubt, the performance of the north-east clubs has left unsavoury taste in the mouth of their teeming supporters. NPFL returnees El-Kanemi Warriors have managed to record one win and one draw out of three matches. They lost their opening match 0-2 at Remo Stars. With only four points, they are placed sixth out of 10 teams in Group B.
On their part, Gombe United without a win have drawn two and lost one match. After their opening day 0-0 draw at Sunshine Stars, they returned home where they were shocked 1-0 by Remo Stars. However, in their Week Three fixture at El-Kanemi Warriors, they picked a point in a 0-0 draw. They are presently seventh in Group A with a paltry two points.
Newly promoted Doma United have fared even better than Wikki Tourists as they have in their kitty four points to place sixth in Group B. After Doma United are called were forced to a 1-1 draw by Sunshine Stars in their opening match, they suffered a slim 0-1 loss at Niger Tornadoes but bounced back to a historic 1-0 home win over Dakkada FC.
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But the most pathetic of the north-east clubs is no doubt Wikki Tourists who have lost all three matches. The ‘Bauchi elephants’ first stumbled at home when they lost their opening match 0-2 to Niger Tornadoes. They then travelled to Uyo where they were beaten 2-1 by Dakkada before losing by the same margin at Bayelsa United in their third match.
Their poor run has left them glued to the basement of Group B without a single point. They share the same ignominious record with fellow northerners Nasarawa United who are also last on the Group A table.
From the foregoing, it is clear the four clubs are not living up to the expectations of their teeming supporters. Expectedly, pressure has begun to mount on the management and technical crew of these clubs, especially Wikki Tourists who have emerged as early candidates for relegation.
However, one intriguing thing that has continued to baffle most football stakeholders is the massive support these clubs still enjoy despite their lackadaisical performances in the 2023 NPFL season.
While more successful clubs like Enyimba FC, Rivers United, Plateau United and Enugu Rangers play in near empty stadiums, the stadia where the struggling north-east clubs play their home matches are usually filled to capacity.
Interestingly, even El-Kanemi Warriors which just returned to the Nigerian topflight after some years in the lower division are enjoying massive support from their vociferous fans. The El-kanemi stadium in Maiduguri is filled to the rafters with enthusiastic fans who troop out to watch their warriors battle opponents.
Some of the fans of these clubs who spoke to our correspondents expressed disappointment in the performances of their respective clubs in the ongoing season but vowed to continue to support them no matter the degree of pains they may have to endure.
The chairman of Gombe United supporters club, Adam Magaji, said “Our love and support for the club is total, it is unconditional. For many of us, Gombe United is like our ‘national team’ that must be supported in all circumstances.
“We always appeal to our members to be patient even when the outcome of a match does not favour us. And people have been cooperating with us as we rarely experience acts of hooliganism at the Pantami stadium.
“We are lucky to have passionate fans who understand the implications of violent acts on their darling club,” he said.
Another supporter of the ‘Savannah Scorpions’, Sani Umar, said he has been supporting the club for over 25 years.
“I have been a supporter since during the Pro-League era before the advent of the Premier League. I have been using my own money to purchase tickets for other supporters to cheer the team to victories.
“I have hired vehicles from my pocket to sponsor our fans to go and cheer Gombe United at away matches. That is to show our deep love for the club,” he said.
Despite the poor start to the season, Umar expressed optimism that after Gombe United’s double home, they would improve on their position on the table.
On his part, the Chairman of Doma United supporter’s club, Abdullahi Isa Balayi, who is a blacksmith by profession, said his passion for the club made him spend his hard-earned money to hire vehicles and sponsor other supporters to attend the club’s away matches.
“So, it was this dedication that the club management noticed that made them decide to appoint me as the chairman of the supporters’ club, when we got promoted to the Nigeria National League some years back.
“There were supporters of the club, but they weren’t under one umbrella. But when the club started making waves, it was decided that the supporters club needed a leader for proper coordination.
“So, in all residential areas of the state, we have local chairmen who manage Doma United supporters in these particular areas. So, through them, we know the dedicated supporters that will get gate passes when we are playing at home and those to be sponsored when we are playing away matches.
“Most of the supporters who follow us outside the state are those that were with us for a long time. So, the time a supporter joins the club determines his ranking in our register,” he explained.
Another fan of Doma United, Ibrahim Yakubu, a resident of Gandu quarters in Gombe metropolis, said proximity to the club and players endeared them to keep supporting the club.
“In fact, I prefer watching local clubs than watching European football. I preferred them because we are watching them physically to cheer them on and we have a stake if they win or lose, because we share many things in common,” he said.
The chairman of Wikki Tourists supporters club, Garba Idris, also explained reasons behind the unwavering support for the club despite their shambolic performance in the ongoing season,
He said “The truth of the matter is that the people of Bauchi love football and Wikki Tourist FC has captured the minds of the people that is why when Wikki is playing the stadium is filled to capacity.
“The fans always want to watch them play because in the past the team did very well especially under the current coach who has taken Wikki Tourists away from relegation worries.
“Whenever we win or secure a draw in our away matches, fans of the club become eager to watch the next home game because the away result naturally dominates discussions in town. It is for this reason that you see mammoth crowds at our home matches.”
The chairman also said genuine fans of Wikki Tourists are hardly associated with acts of hooliganism because the spirit of sportsmanship is inculcated into them. He said even when they suffer defeat, the fans don’t lose self control.
“When I was made the Caretaker Chairman of Wikki Tourists Supporters Club, I organized a meeting with the leadership of the supporters club of neighbouring clubs like Gombe United, Plateau United and Kano Pillars and I was lucky that we arrived at long lasting solutions to incidents of violence among our supporters.
“If you would remember, last season we defeated Plateau United 2-1 but there was no violence at the end of the match. If it were before, when Plateau United scored the first goal, the tension would have degenerated into full blown violence at the end.”
“Bauchi state has teeming youths who are ardent football fans. They love and adore Wikki Tourists. Any time the season is on, Wikki Tourists become the most topical issue among the residents of Bauchi,” he said.