By Paul Bessy
Last week end, the Nigeria premier league clocked three weeks.
After all the back and forth, the wrangling and disagreements, it was quite pleasing to see chairman Owumi on Lagos television say all was well. Also instructive is his assertion that fellow board member Baribote was flowing along and that he “ has so far attended two matches as an assessor”.
After DSTV advertised the Nigeria league no end, the South African television concern that is very popular in Nigeria, did not know what to say anymore. Their promos became a laughing stock as kick off dates so mentioned were either not realistic or stale.
Then came near resolution. Dates fixed, clubs contacted and ready to roll only for another logjam, this time from the NFF which claimed that since there was no organizing and disciplinary committee in place, even the referees committee, the league could not start.
Before league admirers could descend on the NFF which many love to hate, ( even for the sins of their fore fathers ) new committees were quickly set up, including the technical committee and the league kicked off.
A week into the league and things started happening. Sanctions were promptly announced. A FIFA referee got embarrassing low marks from his Commissioner. Things were no longer business as usual.
Before the league it was definitely very pleasing to see media houses receiving the full fixtures in advance. Also, all the registered players of the teams were published together with their registered numbers.
A clear departure from the past is also the availability of league pictures. The league is now making available, real time, pictures of matches across the country and all you have to do is to acknowledge the source.
Then comes the most salutary aspect of them all, the playing of matches on TV friendly venues. The NPL has gone ahead to publish venues were league matches are to be played. That Zamfara, state club of the Vice Chairman of NPL has relocated to Kano, I wonder which club or official will not fall in line in the current dispensation.
I was thrown into the affray two weeks ago, and I arrived Owerri to the excitement of an Heartland team that was at the bottom of the table not helped by the biggest loss of the opening week, a 0-2 loss to Gombe united.
I arrived Owerri to the realization that a new management under Fan Ndubuoke was trying to turn things around in a government set up still infested with mines of titles and bloated personnel.
The story of Heartland is the story of nearly all the clubs in the country, where government that has no business running football ( to the detriment of other sports ) still clings to power albeit maladroitly, infesting management with political appointees who end up as burdens to the clubs especially in the areas of financial disbursements.
Yes finance. I do not know whether the chief executives of Enyimba, Sharks, Tornadoes, Pillars, Warri Wolves, Rangers……. have been able to break protocol and see their governors to explain why their subventions, allocations or whatever they call it has to be released. Most of the clubs will tell you that they will have to rely on the overdraft of their banks to prosecute the league, because their governors are so much in the thick of second term and other political concerns that football can wait.
Davidson Owumi and co could not afford to wait, that is why the league has to start without a sponsor. However, If you make your own private investigations, you will discover that there is a sponsor waiting to be unveiled. Why that sponsor has not been unveiled is the puzzle that is starring all of us in the face.
Because there is no sponsor, a referee who leaves Akwa Ibom for Owerri can only go back with a miserly forty thousand naira for his services. Because there is no sponsor, the pitch is devoid of pitch panels, publicity is nearly non existent and the crowd is apologetic.
The new management is jittery. This is their first match and anything short of victory will be a calamity. The opposition is not a pleasant one. According to Owerri ball watchers Tornadoes is yet to lose on Owerri turf, three seasons running.
What about the Heartland team, how good are they. Not very good. “…. We are in a rebuilding process. Some players have left, but others have joined and we intend to get back to our rightful position very soon” an official obliged.
Back to the match. Heartland officials arrive the stadium for the pre match meeting Sunday morning to see the NTA crew frantically setting up shop. “Are they taking the match live? But nobody told us.” In the last dispensation the fear of live broadcast was so palpable that clubs were ready to block TV, pay fines as long as they won their home matches.
How? When TV comes to town, everything is correct. Referees are on top of their game, spectators fall in line and club officials behave.
Now you can hardly block TV. If you do you pay 15 million naira fine and have three points and three goals deducted from your already accrued points! Yes.
When TV comes visiting, the better sides win. How come TV arrived Owerri without the knowledge of Heartland? “ I thought it was decided that a schedule of airing was to be drawn to guide clubs? This is a question that needed no answer. As club officials “mourned”
The “worse” was to come. Few hours to kick off, news came in that chairman of the NPL Davidson Owumi was expected in town to watch the match. First it was TV, now Owumi?
All the fear was however dispelled when the young Heartland team took to the field and led one zero at half time. Came the second half they added another, but anxiety returned when Tornadoes pulled one back, but Hearland held on till the final whistle.
The league will however be greatful to the presence of Chairman Owumi whose Eagle eyes noticed that the Tornadoes goalkeepers had flouted league rules by wearing Super Eagles jerseys and the club was duly fined. This is how it should be if sanity must return to our football, if Siasia must make good his promise of making use of league players.
See you next week.