By Dr. Ugoji Egbujo
Rivers once had a great football team. The Sharks of Port harcourt was a household name. Sharks had bite. Adokiye Amiesimaka , the chief justice , was as sharp as a tooth can be, on the wings. Sharks played in the deep waters of national football. They played in the elite division. They were FA Cup finalists three times, most notably in 1979. They won the WAFU cup in 2010.
Sharks later found themselves in the shallow waters of mismanagement. They suffered decline and gradually sank, fell off national reckoning. They were relegated in 2016 and got swallowed by city rivals the Dolphins in 2016 to become Rivers United
So there were the Dolphins too. They used to be known as Eagle Cement FC. They were finalists in CAF Confederations cup in 2005. They won the FA Cup 4 times. They won the elite football league three times. The last time they won anything was 2011.
After they escaped relegation on the last day of the 2015-2016 season, they swallowed city rivals and became Rivers United in 2016. Some would say they got married and became one. Rivers United finished second in the elite league that year. But since then the union has been stuck in the swamp.
Sharks FC used to have crowd problems at the sharks stadium. Rivers United use the liberation stadium but they have no following. And this is despite that fact that the crest of the United of Rivers has a shark and a dolphin.
The story of Rivers and the decline of its darling teams and its football, is not peculiar. Across the country the rubbles and grave stones of football teams abound.
Once school sports was neglected, the supply line to teams dried up. But when Rivers started building wonderful public schools with lush pitches, football fans began to nod and smile. it appeared someone had decided to tackle the problem from its roots. But in Nigeria polices come and go with their initiators. A new governor came to rivers and came with new ideas. The building of primary schools with lush pitches took a back seat.
In Nigeria we don’t like the basics. The country is possessed by a miracle mentality.
So recently the Rivers governor whom it would appear has given up on Rivers United and the lush pitches in the primary schools, came up with a magical idea. He headed to Santiago Bernabeu. There he looked around the stadium, and losed for pictures with Christiano Ronaldo and with Sergio Ramos. He must have had some tea too. He had meetings with some Real Madrid soccer development staff. When he came out, he announced the birth of Real Madrid Academy in Port harcourt. He milked the cheers for his great vision. He emphasized his desperation by visiting Real Madrid a second time in a few months
When he came back the last time, he appointed a special adviser to the governor on Real Madrid affairs. Yes a real special adviser for Real. Who will blame him? He has only claimed to be the only workaholic governor in the country. He has never claimed to be an expert in Real Madrid affairs. He is really workaholic. You can see that 8 months after he was re elected he has been so busy he has not found time to appoint commissioners. So don’t ask why no one else can go to Santiago Bernabeu to sign some papers. He has no sports commissioner yet. He deserves praise.
Real Madrid academy is coming up in Port harcourt. The governor has announced that 1500 applications have been received. We don’t know exactly how many children will be admitted. But we can expect that very soon Port harcourt will be full of football stars which the state will ship to Spain. If you care to know, the state has not been able to run some of the magnificent secondary schools built by the previous state government. I wonder why Real Madrid wasnt just given those schools to run at state expense.
You know politicians. They like monumental ideas. Mr project will build a Real Madrid academy project. The governor can say that the academy will create thousands of jobs and earn the state millions of dollars. The governor has already said that the academy will revolutionize sports in Nigeria. We will hear more.
But we know that revolutions, true revolutions, happen at the grassroots. They are not engendered by single elitist endeavors. Cathedrals are good, but they are not where souls are won and nurtured. That is why small sunday schools and house fellowships are more important. The Real Madrid academy is not a bad idea . But after Sharks and Dolphins sank, Real Madrid and its academy in Port harcourt could be crocodile waters . A new governor will come one day. We have to pray he doesn’t see it like another mono rail project.
If Gov Wike wants football developed in Rivers he should go to the basics. He must take care of the pitches in the primary schools first. He must train and retrain school sports coaches . He must revitalize school sports competitions.
Sports is big business . But it’s a painstaking business where profits are reaped through hard work. Real business requires more than photo ops and grandiose ideas. Rivers must find partners in the private sector to resurrect or birth teams like Sharks and Dolphins.
Real Madrid Academy project is good, but the reality is that it could turn out a beautiful white elephant project .