Top football administrators in the country have been reliving great memories of the Federation Cup (formerly Football Association Cup), which 66th grand finale will hold in the nation’s commercial and and industrial capital, Lagos on Sunday.
Enyimba FC of Aba, contesting for this year’s CAF Champions League trophy, wll take on regional rivals Heartland FC of Owerri in the final match at the Teslim Balogun Stadium, Surulere. The third place match will be between Ocean Boys and Bayelsa FC, both of Bayelsa State, and starting from 2pm.
The FA Cup started in 1945 – same year as the foundation of the football-governing body in the country – and has packed extensive excellent moments and memories over the decades. It is the most glamorous football championship in the land.
On Sunday, Lagos, which has hosted most the of the grand finales in the history of the competition, again stages what should be a landmark show as two strong South-East region teams with great ability and capacity trade tackles on the inviting turf of the Teslim Balogun Stadium.
Railways FC won the first FA Cup competition in 1945, and there were so many excellent finals from then on to the 1970s and 1980s, when some of the most memorable final matches were played.
President of the Nigeria Football Federation, Alhaji Aminu Maigari, himself a notable ex-player with mesmerising skills, remembers most vividly the 1972 final, which brought to the fore the amazing skills of Sam Garba Okoye and a number of other ball jugglers.
“It was Mighty Jets against Bendel Insurance, and the first match ended 2-2 at the King George V Stadium (now Onikan Stadium), Lagos with Sam Garba Okoye showing magnificent touches. He scored the two goals that tied the game for Mighty Jets late in the match, and the two teams had to go for replay.
“In the replay, Insurance was able to edge Mighty Jets 3-2”. Maigari also recalls the talented Ismaila Mabo and the Atuegbu brothers, most prominent of them being Andrew and Aloysius.
Chairman of the NFF Technical Committee, Barrister Chris Green, the son of a former referee, also recalls lovingly the same 1972 final. “Sam Garba Okoye was untouchable. He dazzled endlessly and captured the imagination of everyone”.
For NFF’s Acting General Secretary, Barrister Musa Amadu, the 1984 final, between Leventis United and Abiola Babes, which Leventis won by a lone goal, sticks to the memory.
“That was a huge match. You know, in those days, Leventis United and Abiola Babes were about the biggest names in domestic league football. They gave it their all but Leventis won the day”. Leventis United and Abiola Babes again met in the final in 1986, with Leventis winning by the same margin.
NFF’s Director of Competitions, Dr. Mohammed Sanusi, said he recalls the 1987 final with sweet music in his heart.
“ It was between Abiola Babes and Ranch Bees of Kaduna, and a very tough match at that. The previous year, Abiola Babes had lost to Leventis United in the final and they didn’t want to take chances again. Remember also that Abiola Babes lost the 1984 final 1-0 to Leventis United as well, before they defeated BCC Lions on penalties in 1985. But they met their match in Ranch Bees, though Abiola Babes eventually won 7-6 on penalties”, said Sanusi.
Sanusi also remembers very well the group phase competition of the 1991 competition – that which was hosted by Sokoto. “Shooting Stars of Ibadan was one of the teams in the group, and there were also Stationery Stores of Lagos and ABS of Gombe. Chief Taiwo Ogunjobi (who is the Match Commissioner for Sunday’s third place match between Ocean Boys and Bayelsa United) was the chairman of Shooting Stars at that time.
“But the match that I can’t forget was the one between Stationery Stores and ABS of Gombe. It was all-action from the beginning to the end. The centre referee awarded an undeserved penalty against Stores, due to great pressure from the fans of ABS, and that led to his early retirement”.
The Personal Assistant to NFF President, Nasiru Jibril is an ex-international who dazzled in the midfield for Nigeria. He played in two Final matches, in 1991 and 1996.
“ I have wonderful memories of the FA Cup, now called Federation Cup. I played in two finals. in 1991, I was with Kano Pillars and we played against El-Kanemi Warriors of Maiduguri. After 20 minutes, we were three goals down. But we fought hard and scored two goals, with my humble self scoring one of the goals. But it ended 3-2 and El-Kanemi were champions.
“ In 1996, I was with Katsina United when we played against Julius Berger FC of Lagos. I scored a beautiful goal but the referee disallowed it; I don’t know why. We lost 0-1 to the Bridge Boys”.
Some others recall the 1971 final, between the then WNDC (later Shooting Stars and now 3SC) and Enugu Rangers. WNDC had a lion-hearted goalkeeper in Amusa Adisa, and he stopped Enugu Rangers’ forays with incredible ease and agility. WNDC won the match 2-1.
In 1978, Enugu Rangers thought they were in trance when they got pounded 3-0 by Bendel Insurance at the National Stadium, Lagos. But Rangers got its revenge three years later, when it defeated Insurance 2-0 at the same venue.
Enyimba FC has won the Federation Cup twice in the last six years. In 2005, the club defeated Lobi Stars of Makurdi 6-5 on penalties, and in 2009, edged Sharks FC of Port Harcourt by a lone goal. Heartland, formerly Iwuanyanwu Nationale, won the 1988 final by defeating Flash Flamengoes of Benin 3-0, but then lost 0-1 to BCC Lions in 1989 and by the same scoreline to Plateau United FC of Jos 10 years late.