It’s no weekend or Sunday, but Hardball, a football zealot, is especially excited — excited at another innovation in grassroots football.
The excitement is not only about the DAWN — Development Agenda for Western Nigeria — Commission, which has mid-wifed the proposed Western Nigeria Football League (WNFL). It is also because that great idea is getting quality attention from the apex of Nigeria’s football house.
As in other sectors, it is applying the credo of regionalization (read decentralization) to football, both as sports and as business. You can never lose on that score, for it follows the federalization of football and its management.
Amaju Pinnick, Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) president, on March 2, said it all, at the inauguration of the Western Nigeria Football Forum Office, domiciled at the iconic Cocoa House, Ibadan, the same regional historical monument that also houses the DAWN Commission.
Ibadan was capital of the pace-setting Western Region, in the Awolowo glory years: first university, first television in all of Africa, first modern stadium then named Liberty
Stadium and of course, tallest building in all of Nigeria, the Cocoa House, in which the epochal event was taking place.
Amaju also relayed how the West produced iconic footballers in the likes of Segun Odegbami, Muda Lawal, Felix Owolabi and Sam Ojebode, still leaving out other greats like Teslim “Thunder” Balogun and of course, ace winger and hero of the 1976 Nations Cup in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, Kunle Awesu, of blessed memory.
But what Amaju didn’t trace was the decay of the once luxuriant sports garden where all those came from, now parched; and almost desert-like.
Proof? 3SC, Shooting Stars Sports Club (formerly Investment and Industrial Credit Corporation, IICC of Western Nigeria, also earlier known as Western Nigeria Development Corporation, WNDC) has fallen into hard times.
The first Nigerian club side to land any continental laurel, winning the African Cup Winners Cup in 1976, it has faded from among the top performers of yore. It now always languishes among the laggards of the Nigerian Professional League (NFL), if not completely taking the drop to the lower division, as it did after the 2016/2017 league season. That simply means the ready streams of the Ojebodes, Lawals, Odegbamis and Owolabis are drying off.
If the new WNFL addressees that alone, then it would have done a vital task for this generation, bring back some Renaissance on the football pitch.
But it should be more than that really: that league, if it plumbs the grassroots, has the prospects of fully turning football in that part of Nigeria into an integrated business, spanning the local manufacture of soccer boots and other foot wears, jerseys, club merchandizing and allied businesses, from which young football talents, coaches, sports doctors, lawyers, other ancillary professionals and even local musicians are gainfully employed.
That is the way to go, for every part of the country.
Can you now see why Hardball is excited?
The NATION Newspaper