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Nigerian Football

Shooting Stars: Once Upon A Glorious Past

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BY KUNLE SOLAJA.

As the Nigerian Professional Football League came to an end for the Season 2016/17, it once again claimed a familiar victim, Shooting Stars which shot into its familiar path – relegation!

Founded in 1962, not only is the club the oldest among the elite division clubs in Nigeria, it is perhaps the most experienced, having experienced everything that is a football league – title winning, struggle to win title, losing title, battle against relegation, relegation, battle to get promotion and getting promotion.

For perspective observers, the current relegation was a disaster that waited to happen. It is the fifth time that the club has had to drop to the lower league since its first in 1986 in the then National Division 1 League.

Relegation is therefore not new to the pace-setting club in every aspect conceivable, be it positive or negative.

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Just as it was the first to win continental title of the now defunct African Winners Cup in 1976 and the CAF Cup in 1992, it was also Nigeria’s first league champion to be relegated in 1999 after winning title in 1998.

Among the original clubs that started a national football league in Nigeria in 1972, it has been relegated most. Only Bendel Insurance has stayed longer in the lower division.

It is a sad commentary that a club that had produced some of the best football talents in the country had become a shadow of its glorious past.

When CAF first ranked clubs in the late 1990, Shooting Stars was among the top 10 in the continent. The saga of Shooting Stars is almost a story of once upon a glorious past.

Consider the stars that have been churned out in almost every department of football – goalkeeping, defence, midfield, attack and the wings! The goalkeeper of the Africa Cup of Nations Cup in 1980 was Best Ogedegbe of Shooting Stars.

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Recall defenders like Tunde Bamidele, Samuel Ojebode and Joe Appiah of the glorious era. Who will easily forget the exploits of the inimitable Muda Lawal or the goal scoring exploits of forwards like Segun Odegbami and Rashidi Yekini?

Even Kunle Awesu emerged as the best left winger at the 1976 Africa Cup of Nation in Ethiopia.

This is a club that emerged Nigeria’s double champion in 1995 – carting away the league title and FA Cup. Those were the glorious past. In the past 19 years when the club last won a national title, Shooting Stars are noted more for tribulations than for quest for honours.

Yet, this trend is not restricted to the Shooting Stars. Until last season when Enugu Rangers won the league for the first time on 33 years, the club had been relegated to the realm of anonymity in the continent.

Yet some decades ago, the trio of Rangers, Shooting Stars and Bendel Insurance had fame that sent jitters on various fields in the continent. Insurance had since been lost in the lower league where it appeared to have taken a chairmanship position.

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Lack of proper football administrative structures are responsible for the perennial decline of Nigeria’s hitherto great clubs.

They will not imbibe structures that have seen clubs in Europe and other parts of the world become well sort brands that not just struggle to win titles, but are also profit inclined.

It is not limited to just Nigeria. African football fields are littered with the carcases of former great clubs that have either gone into extinction or barely struggling for survival.

While Europe and other parts of the world boast of time-tested club sides some almost clocking the century or even beyond, clubs in Africa hardly spend three decades before decadence sets in. Few examples are sufficient.

Oryx Douala of Cameroon, founded in April 1907 won the inaugural African Cup of Champions Clubs in 1964 after beaten Stade Malien of Mali.

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They have also won five league titles and the Cameroon Cup three times, most of which came in the 1960s.

They were semi-finalists and quarter-finalists in the continental clubs competition in 1966 and 1968 respectively before fading out of reckoning. Today, the maiden African clubs champions are amateurs in the lower Cameroun league.

Tonnerre Kalara of Yaoundé is another former great club from Cameroon. At its peak in the 1970s and 1980s, the club won national championship five times, the same number of times it won the national cup.

It won the African Winners Cup (now Confederation Cup) in 1975 and runners-up in 1976. Among the club’s notable players was Roger Milla, who was voted the African Player of the Century in 2000.

Others include Rigobert Song and former FIFA World Player of the Year, George Weah.

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Canon Sportif de Yaoundé, commonly referred to as Canon Yaoundé, is another Cameroon football club based in Yaoundé. The club was formed in 1930.

Their most successful period was in the 1970s and 1980s when they were a dominant force in Cameroonian and African football, winning eight national championships, eight Cameroonian Cups, three African Champions’ Cups and one African Cup Winners’ Cup.

Across in West Africa are other former greats like Hafia of Guinea, Asante Kotoko of Ghana and Stade Abidjan of Cote d’Ivoire. Hafia Football Club is based in Conakry.

In the 1960s the team was known as Conacry II, and won three titles under that name. It dominated the African football in the 1970s, winning the African Cup of Champion Clubs in 1972, 1975 and 1977.

By the 1980s, Hafia has faded out of continental reckoning, managing to reach the second round of the competition in 1983. Their city rivals, Horoya even had a shorter time on the continental stage, winning the African Winners Cup in 1978.

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Perhaps the situation is more pronounced in Nigeria where an army of great football clubs have been relegated almost the position of anonymity in the continent. Super Stores, the fanatically supported Lagos club side, the first Nigerian side to feature in Africa’s inter-club competition has gone into extinction.

Enugu Rangers which got to the final of the 1975 African Cup of Champions Club and holders of the 1977 African Winners Cup waited for 33 years before winning a Nigerian title in 2016.

Bendel Insurance, winners of the CAF Cup in 1994 are struggling in the lower rung of the Nigerian league. There is therefore an urgent need to have a regulated structure for our clubs. Otherwise, the same clubs that are perceived to be doing well today, will go the way of Shooting Stars and others.

 

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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Nigerian Football

Enugu Rangers hold on grimly at the top as Nigerian league gets to home stretch

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Enugu Rangers may have broken loose from the pack following their comprehensive  3-0 victory over Bayelsa United on Sunday.

As if to aid Rangers’ hold of the top position, their closest rivals, Remo Stars who were initially just a point behind fell like  papers blown by the huricane, losing 3-2 to Kwara United. Their loss dealt a big blow on their title aspirations as they are now four points behind Enugu Rangers and had also narrowed their goal difference.

They are now third having been overtaken by Enyimba who have better goal difference even though both are with 56 points.

Shooting Stars who suddenly peaked in the second half of the season are fast pacing up, getting to the fourth position and three points behind Remo Stars.

They were dealt a blow in the added time as Katsina United’s Michael Okoro got an added time goal against to stalemate scores at 2-2.

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Just as Enugu Rangers are at the cusp of the championship, the fates of Gombe United and Heartland appear already decided as the second tier Nigeria National League are already waiting to welcome them next season.

Akwa United may have navigated their ways out of relegation waters following their 2-1 away win over Lobi Stars. Akwa United are now 15th on the log. In Jos, former champions, Plateau and Niger Tornadoes played uninspiring goalless while relegation-troubled Heartland of Owerri spanked Gombe United 3-0 just as Kano Pillars dimmed Doma United 3-1.

All the results:

Sunshine Stars 0-0 Bendel Insurance

Rivers United 4-1 Sporting Lagos

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Lobi Stars 1-2 Akwa United

Kwara United 3-2 Remo Stars

Katsina United 2-2 Shooting Stars

Kano Pillars 3-1 Doma United

Heartland 3-0 Gombe United

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Enugu Rangers 3-0 Bayelsa United

Abia Warriors 0-1 Enyimba

Plateau United 0-0 Niger Tornadoes

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Nigerian Football

Finidi deserves our support, says former international, Kingsley Onye

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NFF Confirms Finidi George

Ahead of the first press parley that Super Eagles’ new manager, Finidi George is going to have on Thursday in Lagos, former Nigeria international, Kingsley Onye has canvassed for full support for the new coach.

 To him, the time of politicking and pushing for a particular candidate was over. “It is time for all of us to back the chosen one, Finidi George”, remarked Onye who was a left rearguard player in the 1985 class of Flying Eagles who against all odds, upstaged hosts,Soviet Union to clinch the third place in the then World Youth Championships that is now called the U-20 World Cup.

  “Although I canvassed for Emmanuel Amuneke’s candidature, am still happy that an equally good Finidi George got the job”, he said in a phone conversation from his base in the United Kingdom.

  “The fact that some players complained after Nigeria’s second friendly match in March shows that Finidi is a man of his class and cannot be influenced by players’ sentiments.

  “I believe he will take Nigeria to an enviable height, the same way Amuneke too would have done.”

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 Continuing, Onye who played for Enugu Rangers while he was in the country in the 1980s also remarked that he was on the same page with Victor Ikpeba who has asked that Finidi’s assistants should always back him in team selection  and tactical formations.

 “We should be more than 100 per cent behind the coach. If we do, he will perform wonders. He has his own philosophy which we must allow to flourish. He did it will Enyimba, leading the club to success last season and was at the brink of repeating the success before his appointment as Super Eagles’ coach.”

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Nigerian Football

Nigeria’s broadcast icon, Danladi Bako hails NFF on choice of Finidi George

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Nigerian broadcasting icon, Dr. Nasir Danladi Bako has praised the Nigeria Football Federation for settling for former international and ex-Enyimba FC strategist Finidi George as Head Coach of the Super Eagles.

The Kogunan Sakwatto, 66, who created a plethora of famous TV programmes including Morning RideMastersports and Second Chance, among others, and served as Special Adviser to a number of Sports Ministers many years ago, insisted the NFF leadership struck a bull’s eye with the appointment of the two-time FIFA World Cup star, stating that George oozes class and character, and an iron determination to succeed despite his public carapace of a quiet person.

“Finidi George has that cultured, disciplined mien and personality that makes you want to trust him with a big project. He understands the meaning of constituted authority and right from his playing days, has always displayed the attribute of a team player. He has always had that calm, collected nature even in the face of pressure or danger.

“Above all, he is not someone who thinks he is doing the nation a favour. He is grateful for the opportunity and I believe that he has all it takes to succeed. I am calling on the Federal Ministry of Sports Development, the NFF and Nigerians as a whole to support him to take the Super Eagles to brand-new heights.”

Bako, who holds a doctorate degree in development communication from the Ahmadu Bello University and was Director General of the National Broadcasting Commission between 1999 and 2002, says all hands must now be on deck to ensure victories in the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifying matches against South Africa and Benin Republic on 7 June and 11 June respectively.

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“No doubt, the NFF got this one appointment right. Very much on point. Now, they should endeavour to give George all the support he needs to succeed in his task of qualifying Nigeria for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.”

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