BY KUNLE SOLAJA.
Officially, the 2017/88 Nigeria football season comes to a close on Wednesday when the final of the national competition, the Aiteo Cup is played in Asaba. Since last year, the competition, which since 2009 had been without a sponsor received a fillip after Aiteo acquired the title rights.
Even though the Aiteo Cup is just in its second edition, the national competition had its origin in 1945 and had held every year except in 1973. The national cup is therefore in its 73rd edition.
There was no competition in 1973 due to the congested football calendar in Nigeria as a result of the hosting of the football events of the 2nd All Africa Games, the qualifying matches for the 1974 Africa Cup of Nation and the introduction of the National Sports Festival in which the existing 12 states had three categories of football teams – junior, intermediate and senior.
Due to the congestion, Mighty Jets who represented Nigeria in the then African Cup of Champions Clubs competition had to forfeit their quarter-finals fixtures to CARA of Congo as the entire team also represented the then Benue Plateau State in the senior category of the football event of of the National Sports Festival.
Thanks to Aiteo for restoring rewards to the competition. But greater thanks to Lord Milverton, who was formerly known as Sir Arthur Fredericks Richards.
He was Nigeria’s fourth Governor General. He left a footprint that has endured in the past 73 years.
Even though Milverton who died 40 years ago on October 27, 1978, 20 days after Bendel Insurance upset the form books by beating Enugu Rangers in the final, has long been forgotten, his mark will continue to exist for as long as association football is played in Nigeria.
He was governor-general from 1943 to 1948, presented the trophy that rekindled interest in a national football governing body and the establishment of the most enduring football competition in Nigeria.
That competition is still on and would almost certainly be on fore-ever. The history of the Nigerian premier cup competition which has gone under various names is intertwined with that of the football governing body, which like the competition itself has changed nomenclature from NFA to NFF.
It is the oldest national competition in Africa after that of Egypt, which began in 1920. The national cup began as the “All-Nigeria Governor’s Cup” in 1945. It soon surpassed the preceding knock out competition of “Lagos War Memorial Cup”, competed for by Lagos top club-sides.
Marine FC, first winners of Nigeria’s national cup in 1945
The Lagos War Memorial Cup changed to Mulford Cup in 1950 in honour of the Englishman who passed on the previous year and had been a moving force behind football organisation in the country.
Later in 1964, the Mulford Cup was renamed as Oba Cup and therefore the oldest football competition in Nigeria before it went into extinction.
The Governor’s Cup hastened the formation of regional and district amateur football associations, which were forerunners to today’s state associations.