Goodfaith Chibuzo Etuemena is chairman of Heartland Football Club of Owerri. In this chat with Buchi Junior, the football administrator speaks on the innovations he has brought to bear on the Owerri club. He also speaks on the struggle with relegation and the pressure he is under as a result of the club’s poor run. Excerpts
Chairman, how has it been steering the ship of Heartland Football Club in the last couple of years?
It has been very rough. I have passed through lots of difficulties and challenges. But then, I see it as attributes of a real man, a learning curve and of course in life there must be some sort of rough edges before the smooth part surfaces. Like a real man, I have to weather the storm and make a mark. I’m here to make a positive mark in Heartland so I can’t complain. I have to face reality and fix things up which is what I’m doing at the moment.
How have you been able to record some innovations despite the challenges you said you met on assumption of office two seasons ago?
I know football is big business. I also know that for the football enterprise to thrive, it requires huge money. And I also know such money cannot come entirely from government because government has other social responsibilities to carry out for the citizens. So this is where sponsorship comes in. Immediately I came in, I set out to work on this, that is, massive sponsorship drive. In this regard, I have to express gratitude to the management of Dana Airline for accepting my proposal to partner with Heartland FC. Today, Heartland is one of the few NPFL clubs that have this kind of sponsorship or partnership.
Can you tell us the details of this Heartland/Dana Airline partnership agreement?
First, for every away match that is up to four or five hours, Heartland players would be flown to the match city by Dana Airline. Secondly, Dana airline has instituted Heartland Player of the Month Award in which the winner goes home with N200, 000.00. In all of these, Heartland, as a club, do not pay a dime. So I am glad about it and I thank them and equally appreciate them. We at Heartland will keep to our own side of the deal and ensure they get the mileage for their investment in the team. It is not only about Heartland . I know all the football stakeholders in Imo State and Nigeria also appreciate them too.
We also understand you have a kit sponsor. How did that happen for a club that is struggling in the domestic top flight?
Coming to our kits, Heartland wear “Wetless” jersey. It is the same quality with those worn by professional clubs in Europe. For instance, Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham, Real Madrid, Barcelona, PSG, Bayern Munich and the rest. It is called ‘wetless’ because of the technology used in producing it. In Europe, it is believed that after 90 minutes, players jerseys tend to get soaked and this affects their movement on the pitch. So this technology was advanced to mitigate the effect. I’m happy to be a part of this innovation, a positive one for that matter.
It singles Heartland out as in their smart outfit of great quality. When I came on board, I saw the need for this. I had to travel to Europe, particularly Turkey where I held talks with Boluspor FC. We struck a kit and technical partnership deal for them to become our kit sponsors. We signed the deal last year when we were in the lower (NNL) league. At that time, it was a 50-50 kind of arrangement with a proviso that if and when we get promoted back to the NPFL, they will kit us 100% and that is what we are enjoying at the moment.
So what do they stand to gain from the deal?
That is in the area of players exchange. They can take players from us and as well give us technical assistance which we have exploited with them giving us coach Mehmet Tayfun when we asked for technical assistance. Tayfun is here absolutely free of charge. To be honest with you, we are not paying him any dime except that we always appreciate him so long as he is here on the ground we place him only on allowances.
Welfare of players go a long way in motivating them to give their 100% services to the club….
(Cuts in) I also realised that Heartland players always complain about unpaid salary arrears. But under my leadership, I try to ensure they are paid as at when due. We have tried to rectify things such that we do not owe any player his salaries and match bonuses. We are trying everything possible to make them happy and feel so important because without the players to do the playing, football, as an object, cannot play itself and the management or administrators won’t be there too without the players. I’m also trying to create the impression that these players are always happy. In all of these, their welfare is my priority.
What inspired you into this huge sponsorship drive knowing fully well the club is wholly owned by government?
I spent most of my time in Europe where I studied while growing up. I also have passion for football and I used to go to stadiums to watch matches When I see how players are being treated, it touches my heart so much so that I begin to dream of being involved. And as God would have it, my dream has come true. So it is an opportunity for me to fulfil my dream. In this regard, I must commend the governor of Imo State, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, for inviting me home to take up this responsibility.
As a matter if fact, I was the Foreign representative of Heartland FC in Manchester where I’m based. For me, it is the opportunity I’ve been waiting for to actualise my dream of modernising, advancing and commercialising football administration with a view to attracting corporate organisations to put their money into the game and for players to enjoy rewarding welfare package. I am driven by the passion to do my best for the club so dear to all Imolites and the country by extension. And how can I do my best without introducing new things to the system ? That is what I’m doing right now in Heartland FC.
How are you coping with the pressure associated with Heartland’s poor run in the league?
It’s terrible, very terrible indeed. But the good thing is that I have never experienced a situation where the people would come to embarrass me. In this regard, I must commend the fans and the good people of Imo State for their patience and understanding. Most of them know me and they know what I have dropped on the table for the club.
They are aware of the transformation I have brought to the team, the innovation I have introduced and most of them know that my desire is to take the club to the next level irrespective of the position of Heartland on the NPFL table. I would commend all football administrators in the country. I never knew this is what they saw or what they are going through. To run a football team in Nigeria is not easy because the pressure is just too much. It is a job you must have to please everybody because all that they want is winning. Anything short of victory game in, game out does not appeal to them.