NPFL players berate bumpy pitches | Dailytrust

NPFL players berate bumpy pitches

 Action recorded in the Nigeria Professional Football League match between Heartland FC and Wikki Tourists of Bauchi on the patchy and bumpy pitch of Dan Anyiam stadium in Owerri
Action recorded in the Nigeria Professional Football League match between Heartland FC and Wikki Tourists of Bauchi on the patchy and bumpy pitch of Dan Anyiam stadium in Owerri

As the 2022 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) trudges on, players and officials of the 20 clubs that are participating in the elite division of the Nigerian league have continued to lament over the poor standard of football pitches.

This is not coming as a surprise because it is a known fact that among the myriad of problems militating against the growth of the domestic league is poor infrastructure as exemplified by sub-standard playing pitches.

Unfortunately, efforts made over the years by the League Management Company (LMC) to ensure that players have good playing turfs to exhibit their talents have failed to yield the needed results as matches in the NPFL are still played on pitches that are more of cattle rearing grounds than football pitches.

And due to poor maintenance culture, most of the stadiums in the country have artificial turfs. The MKO Abiola national stadium in Abuja, Godswill Akpabio International stadium in Uyo, Ahamdu Bello stadium Kaduna, Late Stephen Keshi stadium Asaba, Samuel Ogbemudia stadium Benin City, Teselim Balogun stadium Surelere Lagos, Dan Anyiam stadium Owerri, FC IfeanyiUbah stadium Nnewi, Adokie Amasiemaka stadium Port-Harcourt and a few others have natural grass as playing turf.

One of the reasons given for the preference for artificial pitches is said to be ease of maintenance. Unfortunately, in terms of maintenance, even the artificial pitches have not fared better than the few with natural grass.

It will be recalled that before the commencement of the current season, the LMC rejected even some of the venues with artificial pitches. For this same reason, both Nnamdi Azikwe stadium Enugu and Sani Abacha stadium Kano are not hosting NPFL matches this season. Their artificial playing surfaces are in deplorable conditions.

So, both the artificial and the few natural grass pitches in the various stadiums are said to have fallen far below the standard of football pitches available in the top leagues in Europe. Consequently, players in the NPFL literally struggle to play on the uneven surfaces. Even talented players struggle to string a few good passes on such furrowed pitches.

The conditions of most of the pitches are worse now that the dry season has set in. There was a show of shame recently when Heartland played against Niger Tornadoes on the Dan Anyiam stadium Owerri pitch.  It was dust everywhere as if a horse racing contest was going on in the Sahara desert. Each kick of the ball on the patchy pitch threw up voluminous dust into the atmosphere.

As it is, the players are the ones suffering as a result of the appalling conditions of the natural and artificial pitches used for the NPFL matches. Some of the players who spoke to Trust Sports called on the league organisers to do more in the area of pitches.

The captain of Wikki Tourists of Bauchi, Idris Mohammed Guda, said there has been a slight improvement on the pitches as compared to what was obtainable three seasons ago.

He, however, said playing turfs like the one in Adokie Amasiemaka stadium in Port-Harcourt and Dan Anyiam stadium in Owerri need serious improvement.

According to him, it was really hard to play against Rivers United and Heartland because of the poor nature of the pitches.

“I can say there has been a little improvement as compared to what we had in the past three to four years. However, there is always room for improvement.

“Some of the pitches are not up to standard. It is always very difficult to play when the turf is not smooth. The worst of the pitches are the ones with natural grass.

“I remember when we played Rivers United and Heartland. The pitches were in terrible conditions. Pitches like that should be upgraded.

“I, therefore, call on the League Management Company to make sure that the clubs have good pitches to enable us play good football,” he requested.

Nasarawa United attacker, Mohammed Shammasu, also observed that some of the pitches are good but some are not good enough for even amateur matches.

He said “Playing on some of the turfs is not funny. Most of the pitches that have natural grass are not smooth and that makes it difficult for the ball to roll smoothly.

“Sometimes you expect the ball to come to you but it will bounce awkwardly and leave you stranded. You will think the ball is coming this way but it will go the other way.

“And synthetic pitches are usually very hot. You can’t feel comfortable playing on it when it is like 2pm. I prefer natural grass to synthetic. Unfortunately, most of the pitches are artificial,” said the young striker.

In the same vein, Dakkada FC player, Solomon Kantoma said poor pitches don’t help in the free flow of football.

He noted that when teams visit the Godswill Akpabio International stadium in Uyo, they play on lush green natural turf but when they are visited, all they offer is sub-standard pitches.

“Good pitches help the players to play better football just as we see in European leagues. Some pitches are good in Nigeria while some don’t allow for free flow of football.

“The truth is that when the pitch is not in a good condition, even Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo will appear like a bad player. Every player needs a good turf to perform optimally,” he said.

And former Adamawa United captain, Tunde Adams, said most of the pitches are so bad that they don’t help in the marketing of the league.

According to him, potential sponsors who are needed to help improve the league can only come in, if they see good pitches.

“Bad pitches make the game less attractive as fans are denied the opportunity to watch good football.

“In addition, the image of the league is poorly marketed and it will not bring in the needed sponsorship for the league,” he said.

When contacted for his reaction to some of the observations made by the players in the NPFL, the Chairman of the League Management Company (LMC), Alhaji Shehu Dikko, said having a few poor playing pitches is nothing to lose sleep about as he maintained that most of the turfs are of high standard.

In a terse remark to our reporter’s question, he said “Mention the bad pitches. You have mentioned one and that is not too bad.”

Although the LMC boss promised to call back to explain what he meant by one bad pitch is ‘not too bad’, he didn’t do so as at the time of press.

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