By Ben Udechukwu
Nigeria Premier League match between indomitable champions Enyimba Intâ€™l FC Aba and CAF champions league runners â€“ up Heartland FC Owerri promises to be the moral equivalent of war. Not so much because there is an immediate title chase, but that the two clubs are sworn clannish enemies going by events of the last years.Enyimba is still nursing the scar inflicted on them by Heartland last season. Heartlandâ€™s draw with Enyimba and the fans eventual merciless beating of match officials cost Enyimba so much. Their banishment to Ilorin and unimpressive slide to the third position are still fresh in their memories. Heartland too would recollect with painful nostalgia, how on two different occasions their reaction to Enyimba in Owerri resulted in their banishment and by implication their slide. The stage is set for another war in Aba.
Enyimba looks good already, getting to the summit of the table with a 3-2 bashing of Sharks at their Liberation Stadium home soil in Port Harcourt. This is in addition to the fact that they are yet to lose any match in the six-week-old Premiership. Heartland are still ruing the painful loss of the Championship Cup and their unfavourable placing on the league table with a paltry six points, though from four games against Enyimbaâ€™s six games.
Over the years, both teams have not hidden their disdain for each other. Though this phenomenon is common in local derbies, there seems to be an unusual bad blood between the two teams who were in the old Imo State. When Enyimba was Falcons, Spartans (later Iwuanyanwu Nationale) then ran them over like an abnormal vehicle against a car. The story changed as the fortunes of Enyimba changed in 2000.
Since then, Enyimba has maintained an overall lead against the Naze stars, causing them untold and unprecedented pain severally. At the peak of Vincent Enyeamaâ€™s career and close to his movement to his club in Israel, he stayed briefly on loan with Heartland. His visit to Aba with Heartland against his darling Enyimba registered an endemic mark both in his mind and that of his Heartland teammates. Enyimba scored three times against him to humiliate Heartland. Painfully, Heartland is yet to record such convincing victory against Enyimba in the last ten years.
At Aba or Owerri, none of the teams could be said to enjoy an overwhelming support. Either by reason of geography or some other combined factors, the stadium is usually on 50-50 scale as supporters of both teams jostle for notice.