By John Egbokhan
When the story of Nigerian football is told, it is incomplete without the contributions of Rangers International of Enugu and Shooting Stars of Ibadan, two sides who have churned out great soccer stars like the late Muda Lawal, Segun Odegbami, Christian Chukwu and Emanuel Okala, to name just a few Nations Cup winners and Nigerian heroes .
Between them, they have won 11 league titles, with Rangers coming top with six league shields under their belt, one shy of Enyimba’s record seventh title triumph.
Founded in 1970, Rangers nicknamed Flying Antelopes won the league title in 974, 1975, 1977, 1981, 1982 and 1984, while Shooting Stars, who were founded in 1950s as WNDC Ibadan won the title in 1976, 1980, 1983, 1995 and 1998
Rangers have won the FA Cup five times in 1974, 1975, 1976, 1981 and 1983 while Shooting Stars with the nickname of Oluyole Warriors have won the same competition four times, first in 1971 when still known as WNDC, then in 1977, 1979, 1995.
On the continent, both sides have had flourishing fortunes, with Shooting winning the African Cup Winners’ Cup once in 1976 and finishing second twice in African Cup of Champions Clubs while Rangers have won the African Cup Winners’ Cup once in 1977.
Only Enyimba have a better record in the country and on the continent than Rangers and Shooting Stars but it can be argued that the duo command greater following than the Aba Elephants, who only shot into the limelight in the early 2000 and walked their way to the Nigerian hall of fame.
The story has been told over time of how games between Rangers and Shooting Stars used to generate enough fireworks before, during and after, with both set of fans adding glamour, fanfare and colour to the action on the pitch.
Match days used to be sold out in those days of yore before the slide but with the seeming resurgence of the Nigerian league, fans would be hoping that such great scenes of explosive fireworks will be aplenty this weekend when these two gladiators of Nigerian football clash as the Nnamdi Azikwe Stadium, Enugu.
Rangers are enjoying a comfort ride at the top of the table, with 27 points after 14 games, winning eight, drawing three and losing three while their opponents this weekend, Shooting Stars are languishing in 18 place, winning five, drawing once and losing eight times.
This weekend’s match makes for an interesting viewing as a Rangers win will see them maintain their leadership position over Kano Pillars and Abia Warriors, who both have 24 points and are playing catchup on the Flying Antelopes.
Coach Imama Amakpakabo knows the high stakes attached to a fixture against Shooting Stars and has told his wards to keep a level head as they prod for the victory that will guarantee their stay at the top for another week.
“Shooting Stars like Rangers have a great heritage and that is why I have told my boys to keep a calm head and not take their lowly position on the table as a sign of weakness because as one of the traditional teams in the league, they can be dangerous and difficult to beat”, said Amakpakabo. His opposite number on the bench, Kadiri Ikhana is wary of the rampant Rangers attack, warning his wards to stay focussed at the rear and make good use of their counter-attacking options.
“Rangers will come out for goals but we have to be stay focussed and hit them on the break when and where necessary, without exposing ourselves to their rampant attackers”, said Ikhana.