Kano Pillars’ campaign in the ongoing Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) moved from bad to worse on Saturday, April 16 when their first home match after over two seasons of ‘nomadic’ life ended in chaos with dire consequences for the former Nigerian champions.
The week 23 match between Kano Pillars and perennial rivals, Katsina United, was aborted at the 79th minute when unruly fans, believed to be supporters of the home team, invaded the pitch, attacked the visiting team and the match officials.
Although no life was lost in the melee, the visiting team’s official bus wasn’t lucky as it was completely vandalised by the irate fans, who attempted to wreak more havoc, if not for the intervention of the security personnel at the match venue.
Without a doubt, the act of hooliganism was triggered by the inability of Kano Pillars to break the deadlock as the match was heading to a barren draw against the expectation of the supposed supporters who wanted the maximum points for their darling club.
It will be recalled that for more than two seasons, Kano Pillars had adopted the Ahmadu Bello Stadium in Kaduna as their home ground for local and international matches. The need to seek an alternative venue became necessary following the bad condition of the playing surface of the Sani Abacha Stadium.
So at the start of the current NPFL season, the League Management Company (LMC) turned down the request of Pillars to return to their traditional home ground. Therefore, Pillars remained in Kaduna where they prosecuted almost the whole of the first round of the 2022 NPFL season before they were relocated to the Muhammadu Dikko Stadium in Katsina after they had breached some of the NPFL rules.
After playing two matches in Katsina, the management of Pillars informed the LMC through a letter on April 1 that the Kano State government had made funds available for the bad pitch in the Sani Abacha Stadium to be replaced.
Consequently, the LMC in a letter dated April 12, 2022, signed by the Chief Operating Officer, Salihu Abubakar, granted the provisional clearance for Pillars to return home pending the commencement of replacement works on the playing turf.
Following the temporary approval granted Pillars to return to Kano, there was wild jubilation among the club’s teeming fans that had been starved of topflight football for more than two years.
Speaking on the return of the ‘Sai Masu Gida,’ the Chairman of Kano Pillars Fans Club, Bashir Idris Mu’azu, expressed gratitude over the decision of the LMC assuring that the club will surely rise again against all odds.
“It was not easy playing away from home for nearly two years. We thank God and the government that has met the LMC conditions and we are now back home.
“Our teeming supporters are really happy because most of them who were not privileged to follow Pillars to other states to watch their matches will now have the opportunity to do so at home.
“We also hope that the state government will do the needful by ensuring that the Sani Abacha Stadium is fully upgraded to meet up with the requirements of the LMC,” said Mua’zu.
Also speaking, a die-hard supporter of Pillars,’ Abdulkadir Bello ‘Black Fagge’ said it was a positive development that the ‘Masu Gida Boys’ were back home because home fans play a key role in the performance of the players.
“We didn’t find it easy for the over two years that Pillars were playing away from home. At a point, some of us began to suspect that we were being punished for an offence we didn’t commit.
“We are indeed grateful to everyone who made it possible for our darling club to come back home,” he said.
It was against this high optimism that the fans of Pillars eagerly looked forward to the week 23 fixture with Katsina United who were their team’s last ‘landlords’.
The setting was, therefore, perfect for the North West derby, which usually brings the best out of the two clubs. There was no sign of danger as past efforts by the LMC to reconcile supporters of both clubs appeared to be working. While the supporters cheered from the stands, the gladiators exchanged friendly tackles on the crumpy Astro-turf pitch of Sani Abacha Stadium.
However, tragedy struck towards the end of the match when the fans of Kano Pillars noticed that the visitors were bent on sharing the spoils with their team. Rather than display the spirit of sportsmanship, the disappointed fans threw caution to the wind as they poured into the pitch and began to unleash mayhem.
Although players of Katsina United disappeared quickly into the dressing room, the match officials were pelted with harmful objects and sachet water before they were finally shepherded into their dressing room where they took refuge for several hours as their attackers refused to leave immediately.
When the fans were done with the destruction of the Katsina United team bus, they dispersed in groups not minding what would become of the club they claim to be supporting.
In his reaction, Kano Pillars Media Officer, Alhaji Rilwanu Idris Malikawa, blamed the ugly incident on those he described as saboteurs who do not mean well for the club.
“The management of Kano Pillars is suspecting that the condemnable behaviour was premeditated by a gang of saboteurs who do not want the progress of the club.
“What happened on Saturday was beyond football because nothing happened before the unfortunate incident. Both teams and the match officials were playing according to the rules of the game,” said Malikawa.
The statement by the media officer also noted that Pillars didn’t expect such unsporting behaviour from their fans because of the existing cordial relationship between the two clubs as they had just played three of their last home matches in Katsina.
The management of Pillars and the Kano State Football Association, therefore, said they won’t fold their hands and allow anyone who would be found culpable in the acts of hooliganism to go unpunished.
However, it didn’t take long before the big hammer fell on Pillars as the LMC on Sunday night slammed them with a hefty N9 million fine for breach of the NPFL rules.
In addition to the fine, Pillars were banished to the MKO Abiola Stadium, Abuja where they would play their remaining home matches. The LMC also deducted three points from the points that had already accrued to them.
And there was another three points deduction, which was suspended till the end of the season in case of further breach of the rules. The venue of the match wasn’t spared either as the LMC banned the Sani Abacha Stadium indefinitely from hosting NPFL matches.
Moreover, LMC ordered Pillars to repair or replace the damaged Katsina United team bus and foot the bills for the aborted match to be concluded in Abuja at a future date.
Pillars, however, have 48 hours within which to submit to the summary jurisdiction and the sanctions or go on appeal.
When contacted, the Chairman of Kano Pillars FC, Alhaji Surajo Yahaya Jambul said they are relocating to Abuja as directed by the LMC but would appeal the sanctions meted out to them by the league organisers.
However, for the first time since the club was established in 1990, Pillars may be relegated at the end of the 2022 NPFL season. The deducted three points will hurt them badly as they are now left with a miserable 24 points instead of the 27 they had managed to pick from 22 matches, which leaves them languishing in the 16th position, one place above the drop zone.
To add salt to injury, Pillars will be playing their home matches in Abuja, which NPFL clubs like to refer to as ‘no man’s land’. This means, there may be no home advantage to aid them in their relegation fight.
It is against this background that it will be apt to say Pillars fans have become their albatross in one of their most difficult seasons in 32 years.