Nigeria, A country blessed with natural and human resources embraced football as was brought by the British prior to our attaining independence. We, as a country, have grown to love and play the game with so much passion which led us to glory days at some times but we have also mustered some degree of failure. We want to look at where we came from, since we gained independence and where we should be headed.
UK Tourists, Red Devils, Green Eagles and The Super Eagles have been the nominal metamorphosis of Nigeria’s male senior football team. At the point of independence in 1960, Nigeria had a national football team, The Red Devils, which picked their name from the red colour of the Union Jack, the flag of the colony, and a Challenge Cup which started in Lagos prior to independence and was a competition for clubs.
Independence brought us the Green Eagles made up solely of players who were based here in Nigeria and playing for clubs like IICC Shooting Stars, Julius Berger, Stationary Stores, Leventis United, to mention but a few. These clubs were run not by government which had better businesses than doing business and their success on the home front led some regional governments and other government parastatals to set up clubs which were aimed at bringing the football entertainment to their people and ultimately leading to forming a football league to accommodate all the clubs.
Then came the glory years of the 1980s which started with the all conquering team that won Nigeria’s first ever continental glory and also there were also glory days in the age grade competition at the world stage, something that we seem to be versed in until recently, as we seem to struggle to qualify for competitions. Also Nigerian clubs went to continental tournaments and though they never won, they made a relatively good account of themselves.
If the 1980s were termed successful, the 1990s seemed to dwarf it on the national stage. There was glory again 14 years after the first and then we got to the grandest stage of all and making a really bold statement on our first outing. We rose to rub shoulders with the best of the best in the FIFA/Coca Cola rankings. This was sadly followed by a boycott of the next African Cup of Nations which brought suspension from the next edition. Despite winning our first gold medal in the football event at the Olympics and also a ticket to represent Africa at the world cup again but the team and our football was never again as we plunged into the deep. Women’s football came along in the 1990s too, Nigeria dominated Africa but the world stage was more difficult for success.
The turn of the century came with near successes and yet another dismal outing at the world cup but respite came from the home front when a club from Nigeria won Africa’s most prestigious club competition twice in a bounce which sadly heralded the dark days of our football with succour coming from our women football team who kept dominating the continental stage but never the world stage.
Nigeria won in Africa again after 2010 but there was little to jubilate about as everything kept taking the wrong turns. Age grade competitions brought a few bright lights but our football never rose again. People lacked interest to follow teams, as stadiums went empty. Infrastructure went derelict, grassroot development went from very important to neglected. Court cases and power tussles kept our football in the dark. The geese that lay the golden eggs in our football have been relegated and almost forgotten. Almost all teams protest to get their allowances irrespective of the results they get.
Today, with the present board of the football house guaranteed their stay in office for the next four years, it is time to turn our football on its head again. There are a lot of wrong things going on in our football and we believe that beyond financial self-sufficiency, our football needs revival that will touch all facets. Our female football and age grade teams are not properly taken care of, our infrastructure is decaying as we struggle to cultivate a robust maintenance culture. As we celebrate our independence, we implore our football administrators to use this moment to formulate a working strategy to take our football higher than it has ever been.