By Paul Bassey
I have been mandated by the Government and good people of Akwa Ibom State to ask that the Federation Cup, in the true spirit and character of the Cup be handed to Akwa United FC.
Even Journalists have joined in this honest appeal. According to them, should Lobi win the cup, God forbid, there will be no news. They have won it before, appeared in the final and semi final so many times and are guided by Dominic Iorfa, an astute administrator and former national team star.
There will be lots and lots of Cinderella and refreshing news if Akwa United, debutants, a bunch of relatively unknowns, get to the final and win it at first attempt. The victory of Akwa United will mean CAF will have no problem whatsoever approving that magnificent edifice christened Godswill Akpabio International Stadium, “The Nest of Champions” for CAF Confederation Cup matches next
Jokes apart, I write my column today with a lot of pride as an Akwa Ibomite, one who has a lot to cheer and to expect. Historically, I feel fulfilled. It was the Government of Retired Captain Joseph Adeusi that thought Akwa Ibom should have a football team in the national league. I was entrusted that responsibility alongside the late Christo Davies, then Sole Administrator of the State Sports Council.
The search landed us in Lagos, where another top football son of the state, Ini Edoho alias Amama, was in charge of Vasco Da Gama football Club as Team Manager. Vasco wanted out of the league and we went into a bidding process and astute negotiations that finally landed the club and the change of name to Ibom Stars Football Club, dexterous management under the guidance of Captain Adeusi and the eventual promotion to the elite cadre
19 years on, there has been a lot of near misses, a semi final qualification, relegation, back to back promotion and now this……. treshhold of a Continental ticket.
When I appeared at the MKO Abiola stadium for the semi final match, most of my friends and colleagues appeared surprised. What, they said has dragged Paul Bassey to Abeokuta? They said they thought I was a CAF and FIFA Official, how come I had come to watch a “local match”?
I said to them that even in FIFA and CAF, you are designated with your country in tow and we laughed. I could not allow the opportunity to pass me by, history making opportunity.
When therefore coach Baraje obliged me the opportunity of talking to the boys before kick off, I told them to go for it. That this was one chance in a million, they should grab it with both hands ( and legs…) That I was aware they were owed some salary, some bonuses not paid etc, but that today was not a day to remember all that. “ “……Today is a day to launch yourself into the history books of the state as the first set of players since the club were founded, to play to the final.
“ Today you will be playing for yourselves and your families, today you have a pedestal to climb to greater heights and I implore you to climb and excel……”
They did. What a difficult match. Nassarawa United gave it their all. Probed, shot, dribbled……yet they met a brick-wall in a determined bunch of history seekers who stood their ground till the final blast of referee Adigwe’s whistle.
I don’t remember the last time I was so tense watching the dying minutes of a football match.
Let me digress a bit to talk about my disappointment about a semi final match that did not attract up to five hundred spectators. I was told since it was mid week, with a 3pm kick off time it was difficult attracting spectators, even as the two teams did not possess names that could make you deceive your boss and sneak out of the office.
What about the decay that the stadium befittingly named after one of Africa’s greatest sons had undergone? The lights were not on, ( The First Vice President of the NFF, Barrister Akinwunmi who was the guest of honour could not use the State Box because of heat) dressing room facilities not available, toilets not functional.
Before now we have written and written about the need to return the Federation Cup to its former Challenge Cup glory. I saw this year as a realistic beginning of that call, given the surprises that heralded preliminary matches with the elimination of top clubs in the country due to good officiating and an improved organization.
As we pause for the final date and venue, we pray for the best.
Meanwhile, let us return to Uyo where there is so much expectations and dreams. Akwa Ibom is pregnant with expectations, of Governor Udom Emmanuel stepping out to receive the cup from the Skipper after he had been handed over to him by the guest of honour……the triumphant landing of the trophy at the Ibom International Airport, triumphant entry in a motorcade into Uyo, grand reception at the Banquet hall, presentation of the glory boys and the board of Akwa to his Excellency by Chairman Akparawa Nse Ubeh…..
The Governor’s speech, well written, delivered and full of a reward package, applause unlimited……glory…glory….glory…
Before then, we must get to work. The board of Akwa United in collaboration with the sports ministry must ensure that the players are fully prepared for war . welfare packages and incentives are to be put in place to motivate them and their handlers. Buses must be hired to transport as many supporters as possible to the final to cheer the team to victory.
This belief is best captured by Amos Etuk who in an articulate article entitled “ Federation Cup Final, Gov Udom Emmanel must cheer Akwa United to Victory”, wrote “Your Excellency, you are the number one supporter of Akwa United Football Club and this feat is coming at a time when the Nest of Champions has also become a fortress to this darling side of Akwa Ibom State.
The team have vastly improved so far and the fans have thronged out to cheer the team to victories in all their home matches. The dynamics of the success story of Akwa United today also fall in line with your vision to make sure that the private sector has a strong investment status in almost all the sectors of the state and despite your landmarks so far in less than a hundred days in office, the final of the 2015 Federation Cup will be the first unique selling point of your success story to Nigeria and a strong message to Africa that Akwa Ibom State has arrived.
Your Excellency, this is obviously a new dawn in sports renaissance in Akwa Ibom State and you are the face of this history and expected victory. Your presence at the final of the 2015 Federation Cup will be a defining moment as you hopefully sit with your counterpart from Benue State, Samuel Iortom and the host Governor waiting for ninety minutes as the Stadium will erupt in the BLUE colours of Akwa United Football Club and millions of fans at home watching on television the victory of our first national trophy for Akwa Ibom State, a feat achieved in the first one hundred days of your administration.” Amos argued.
I want to believe that my long standing friend Dominic Iorfa will share my emotions and sentiments, and take it easy ( Don’t laugh)
See you next week.