By Onochie Anibeze
This is the story of two governors, one serving, one out of office. In 2008, barely a year in office, Delta State FA selected Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan for a football award in their FA Cup final. The governor thanked the state FA ably led by Amaju Pinnick.
But he would not receive the award. He saw nothing to celebrate. Yes, he had supported the FA but there were no remarkable achievements and he didn’t feel a show should be made of his support when it had not yielded the expected result. He subtly rejected it.
“We are no where in football which is still the king of sports here in Nigeria. We are no where in the league and didn’t get close to the FA Cup,” Uduaghan explained his position on the award.
It was a huge message to the Delta FA who immediately swung into action. They secured sponsorship for their league, started sponsoring state coaches to coaching courses at home and abroad. State Referees were not left out. Amaju and his team that included hard working Friday Onotoja pulled all strings to change the face of the game in Delta. State FA Cup finals were more glamorous than that of the nation.
They had sponsors in Oceanic Bank now Ecobank. The efforts started yielding results as Delta United improved. More players came on board. But the state decided to bankroll one football club and NPA transformed to Warri Wolves. Soon, they were to play in the CAF Cup. They didn’t go far but the experience has been worth the while and today, Wolves are playing in the FA Cup final, the biggest cup final in the country. Uduaghan’s challenge has been the inspiration.
They face Enyimba, a club that was transformed by Orji Uzor Kalu when he was governor of Abia State. Kalu did everything to make Enyimba great. He pumped money into the club, took their affairs personal and sometimes was involved in the signing of players. On some match days, he sat on the bench with the coaches. His passion knew no bounds.
Enyimba won the league six times, the FA Cup two times out of the five times they reached the final. In 2003, they won Africa’s Champions League and successfully defended it in 2004. No Nigerian club had won this cup. They, thus, became Nigeria’s most successful football club of all time. Kalu was the pillar. It has never been the same for Enyimba since he left office after his two tenures.
Today, Enyimba will be counting on experience to beat a more inspired Warri Wolves who will be doing everything to win not only to justify Uduaghan’s investment in them but also to make the man happy and possibly get rewarded. Uduaghan rewards excellence. And he is into many sports. Tennis, Wrestling, Swimming and Track and Field.
He is just a sports man, a motivator and a player himself. Wolves players should know better. Only on Friday, he announced a reward of $360,000 for Blessing Okagbare who won two medals at the last World Championships. He hosted Eagles when they won the Nations Cup and rewarded them handsomely. And last December, each gold medallist at the National Sports Festival got a million Naira. Winning the FA Cup will definitely earn Wolves players more, going by Uduaghan’s standards.
“Wolves can surprise anybody. They have the spirit but we have the experience. It will not be on platter of gold. It will not be easy but we have what it takes to win the cup,” award winning chairman of Enyimba Felix Ayansi Agwu said on today’s final.
“Surprise element is the key factor in the Challenge Cup. Truly, Enyimba have the experience. But having come this far, we are determined to win the cup. We respect Enyimba a lot. They are a reference point when it comes to trophies in Nigeria especially their Champions League feats. But this is a match that we have done everything required of us in terms of motivation, training and prayers to win. If they, therefore, beat us, I’ll congratulate them. And if we win the match, I expect Anyansi Agwu to congratulate us. It is football and one side must win,” Delta FA chairman, Amaju Pinnck said.
Uduaghan had something to say about today’s final.
“Lagos is becoming a home to Delta in sports. We won the sports festival here and the U-13 Soccer Cup too. Our athletes are always at home in Lagos. It’s that feeling that we will take to Lagos on Sunday when we expect to win the FA Cup. God help us do so.”
The other story is that on Babatunde Fashola, the governor of Lagos State who started hosting the FA Cup final just to re-enact the glamour that once made it prestigious and a final all Nigerians looked up to. The spectacle begins in the Teslim Balogun Stadium, a stadium interestingly named after one of the great names in the Challenge Cup history of Nigeria. Let the fireworks begin.
Enyimba have the experience and tactical organisation to win. Wolves have the aggression to surprise them.