By Paul Bassey
The NFF calls it the Federation Cup, yet I have come across thousands who prefer to remember it as the Challenge Cup, that competition that ignited football in this country and brought out the best in our clubs thanks to its knock out, no second chance format.
Memorable finals of this exciting competition are still subjects of animated conversation in football circles and those in their sixties and seventies are still pleading for the “….return of the glory days of the Challenge Cup”
Depending on your support base, pray take a pick of the memorable encounters of the past. Will it be 1984, when Leventis United a Division 3 outfit shocked Abiola Babes in the final?
Perhaps you want to recount the epic match of 1971 when WNDC beat Rangers 2-1?
There are those that will prefer the 1978 humiliation of Rangers, 3-0 by Bendel Insurance. This is a scoreline that none could forecast except die hard Insurance fans who had no respect for statistics and current form…
Then the cup took a plunge. Even the change of name and perceived re-branding to FA Cup and lately Federation Cup has not helped to match feats and excitement of the past. How can such an illustrious competition stay for so long without sponsors and partners?
The last edition was particularly pathetic as less than five thousand spectators turned up to watch Enyimba and Dolphins, despite the muscular attempts of the Lagos State Government to revive the competition.
This year, something new and exciting is happening. Some prefer to call it the BJ Eartquake. Incidentally despite all efforts to track and place this team that has been the scourge of the finest in the land, I do not seem to get a favourable headway.
That BJ Foundation is a club named after Benson Johnson( Late) who spent his life in Benin providing a life for youths who could not make it into big time clubs. No definite structure, supported by Ex Internationals who benefited one way or the other from the club…….
That the club has been around for some time, engaging mainly in youth tournaments until this year when they contested and lost the Edo State Federation Cup final to Kukuruku Dragons, enough to give them a ticket to the National play offs. (Before I forget, let it be on record that it is Kukuruku that ousted the mighty Giwa FC from the competition )
Back to BJ and their first match, a 3-1 victory over Kurmi Market, a clash of unknowns. Next was Spotlight of Katsina, a club that held Keshi’s Eagles to a stalemate. BJ came out tops 3-1 and started attracting some media attention and mention.
It was when BJ was drawn against Heartland of Owerri that the forecast came out, that of the luck of the draw for Heartland in a culture where the Premier league clubs will always pray to avoid their counterparts. When the news filtered out that BJ had hammered Heartland 3-1, Veteran football administrator and LMC Match Commissioner Arthur Kwame took over the story. He watched BJ against Spotlight and liked what he saw. He saw a team of very talented young boys, mobile and happy to play, he saw a team that had about five players naturally at ease with the use of both legs .
I quickly put a call through to Chief Anyansi, Chairman of the NFF Technical Committee on the need to watch BJ’s next match and exploit the discovery of left footers who are in very short supply presently in the National teams.
The BJ story is that of Tornadoes Feeders. As the name implies it is the junior side of Niger Tornadoes of Minna (who have since exited the cup) Today the ‘Feeders’ are in the Quarter finals after showing past winners Dolphins the way out. Before Dolphins, Wikki Tourists had fallen to the giant killers from Minna.
The story of the Federation Cup this year is one that should attract attention, one that makes me believe that we have an exciting tournament in our hands going forward. Let us rewind.
Defending champions Enyimba and League defending champions Pillars fell same week end in the round of 32. After drawing byes as the big boys they came in and were sent packing, beaten by Remo Stars and Plateau United respectively.
Before then, Nigeria’s team of the moment Sunshine Stars had kicked the dust in the round of 64, beaten by a certain Julius Atete (?) this is also the round that saw the elimination of Shooting Stars by Plateau United, Gombe United by Papillo FC and Giwa FC by Kukuruku Dragons.
More shocks were to follow in the next round, when Heartland fell to BJ, and Nasarawa United had the better of Abia Warriors.
This competition is about giant killers, about upsets and shocks. In 1976 a certain Alyufsalam Rocks shocked all in her path to the final where they succumbed to the firepower of Rangers. In 1988, it was the turn of Flash Flamingoes to confront Iwuanyanwu Nationale in the final where they lost 0-3. What about Katsina United who in 1995, 1996 and 1997 proved that their capacity was no fluke, confronting Shooting Stars, Julius Berger and BCC lions in the final?
This is the Challenge Cup for you, this is the FA Cup, this is the Federation Cup. Throw into the mix the continental opportunity of the CAF Confederation Cup and you get a war on your hands. Now the competition is in the quarter final stage, throwing up very exciting fixtures as BJ is up against Lobi Stars ( Lobi needed penalties to overcome Remo Stars after the match had stalemated at 1-1 at regulation time) Ifeanyi Uba will play Nasarawa, Akwa United against Tornadoes Feeders ( Some fears in Uyo?) while El Kanemi and Rangers complete the fixtures that expectedly holds promises of upsets and tradition moving into the final.