Sunday, November 5 will remain indelible in the minds of football fans in Gombe, especially the teeming supporters of Doma United, because it was a day that the first-ever ‘Savannah derby’ or call it ‘north-east’ derby between the two Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL) clubs, Gombe United and Doma United was staged.
Before the mouth-watering Week 7 fixture at the Pantami Stadium, there were concerns that the vociferous supporters of the two clubs may allow their emotions to get the best of them. Such apprehension was based on past experiences involving city rivals.
However, in the ‘Savannah derby’, there were no such ugly incidents as the match organisers did their best to ensure the safety of the fans, and the supporters of the two clubs were said to have conducted themselves in an orderly manner before, during and after the match.
Although the more illustrious Gombe United, a club sponsored by Gombe State hosted the match, it was Doma United, one of the three privately owned clubs in the NPFL that won the tie in an emphatic manner to earn the bragging rights.
After a barren first half, the feisty encounter came alive in the 51st minute when Emmanuel Ekpenyong broke the deadlock for the ‘Savannah Tigers’ before Emmanuel Jesam scored his brace in the 54th and 86th minute for the historic 3-0 win.
The victory for Doma was a historic win because both clubs were meeting for the first time in the NPFL. All their past matches were in the State FA Cup where Doma United always proved to be a handful.
It will be recalled that even as Doma United made their debut in the NPFL in the 2022/2023 season, the two clubs didn’t meet because they found themselves in different groups. While Gombe United were in Group A, Doma United found themselves in Group B.
Well, beyond the result, what caught the attention of many was the massive crowd that watched the ‘Savannah derby’. The 12,000 capacity Pantami Stadium Gombe was jam-packed as some spectators had to climb poles and trees around the stadium to watch proceedings.
Something similar to what was witnessed at the Pantami Stadium had happened at the Sani Abacha Stadium when Kano Pillars hosted their neighbours, Katsina United in the Week 2 north-west derby on October 7.
Speaking to Trust Sports on the outcome of the match, the Technical Adviser of Doma United, Coach Akinade Onigbinde, expressed joy over the win. He attributed the victory to God and the teeming fans of the club.
“The victory didn’t come to me as a surprise because we worked for it. We played with everything to win. With the three points and three goals, we have moved up the log. We are not going to rest on our oars. Our target is to record more away victories.
The former Road Safety FC of Abuja coach also commended fans of Gombe for their good conduct which he said contributed significantly to the success of the match.
“I am also pleased with the behaviour of the supporters of the two clubs. I am happy with the supporters of Gombe United who didn’t resort to violence despite their defeat. After all, we are all one. All of us are working to lift football in Gombe,” said coach Onigbinde.
Also speaking Jesam who scored a brace for Doma United said “I feel very happy. It’s God’s doing and it’s by His power because God is always God. Without Him, I wouldn’t have scored the two goals.
“It was a joyous moment for us but considering the tense atmosphere, we decided to be magnanimous in victory. We celebrated with caution,” said Jesam
Speaking on the success of the derby clash, the pioneer chairman of the Gombe State Sports Commission (GSSC) and proprietor of Yarmalight FC, Malam Farouk Yarma said the massive turn out at the match showed that Gombe is now the Mecca of football in Nigeria.
“The match between Gombe United and Doma United now known as ‘Savannah derby’ is a message to football enthusiasts that Gombe State is now the Mecca of football. Since its inauguration, the Pantami Stadium was filled to the brim for the first time.
“The attendance was unprecedented and breath-taking. The security, the State FA, the fans and the two clubs showed professionalism throughout the match and should be commended.
“The match portrayed Gombe State in a positive light and the home grown talents were brought to limelight. It is now time for the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) to reward the government and the sports loving people of Gombe State with a national team match or the Federation Cup final.
“Similarly, it is high time the government extended financial support to both teams and other clubs in the lower leagues. This support will contribute to their growth and development.
A football pundit and radio analyst, Mark Malele, also commended the high standard of the match as he said it was entertaining from the blast of the referee’s first whistle to the last.
“The most important thing in that match was the fact that the fans of the two clubs behaved in an orderly manner. They were peaceful all through. Many thought the match would witness ugly scenes but the reverse was the case,” he said.
Success didn’t come on a silver platter- Gombe FA
Meanwhile, the Chairman of the Gombe State Football Association, Mr. Filibus Yakubu Sarma, has said the success recorded in the ‘Savannah derby’ wasn’t accidental as he maintained that the football governing body worked hard before and during the match to forestall any ugly incidents.
“At the beginning of the season, we had a meeting with the two clubs, the leadership of their supporters clubs and security agencies in the state. We adopted some strategic security measures to have a hitch-free season.
“And a week to the match, we also foresaw some challenges coming. For that reason, we had to meet with the Commissioner for sports and the top management of the clubs. We discussed how to control their supporters during the match.
“On the day of the match we had enough security personnel at the stadium. We also banned the sale of food and drinks within the stadium premises. We didn’t want fans to have objects to throw into the field.
“In addition, I was at some of the radio stations to enlighten the supporters that it was a Gombe affair. Football is a sport that encourages fair play. And thank God, the supporters adhered to that and it was a successful match,” said Sarma.
While commenting on the turn out of the fans, the FA Chairman also said since the stadium was built, there was never a turn out like what was witnessed on November 5.
“There was never a time this stadium was filled to capacity. I can bet you, one of the clubs that has huge followership is Kano Pillars but they can’t boast of the crowd we recorded.
“But to manage such a crowd is not an easy task. Like everybody saw during the match, all the goals scored were clean so there was no basis for anyone to cause problems.
“Even officiating was top-quality and that helped a lot. Since there was fair officiating, there was no cause for the fans to come into the field to complain. When you are beaten fairly, you have no reason to fight,” he explained.
Sarma, therefore, hailed the management of Gombe United and Doma United for their unflinching cooperation that led to the spectacle at the Pantami Stadium Gombe.