BY KUNLE SOLAJA
Nigeria’s direct affiliation to FIFA which was initiated in 1951 came up again in 1959. There was the need for Nigeria to enter for the football tournament of Rome 1960 Olympics. So, it had to join FIFA.
On February 7, 1959, the bid to join FIFA was renewed when the NFA secretary, Mr. Allen, wrote the FA in London for advice regarding featuring in the football event of the 1960 Olympics in Rome.
The English FA secretary replied two days after saying he was pleased with the Nigerian decision to feature in the Olympics. He advised the NFA to apply for membership of FIFA through the secretary of the world body, Kurt Gassmann, promising that the English FA would support such application.
Sports Village Square’s investigation reveals that on Valentine day on 1959 (February 14, 1959), the NFA formally applied for membership of FIFA. Signed by Reginald Allen, the application was addressed to Kurt Gassmann, the Secretary General of FIFA.
The full text reads: “The Nigeria Football Association wishes to apply to the Federation of International Football Associations for membership, and I have been advised by Sir Stanley Rous to write to you on this matter. Would you please be so kind as to send the necessary form of application at your convenience.”
The response was prompt. Kurt Gassmann replied on February 18, the same day the letter got to FIFA headquarters. In the reply, FIFA requested for three copies of the NFA’s Statutes and Regulations as well as information regarding summary of NFA’s activities, competitions and championships.
The world body also wanted to know whether the NFA was the sole association governing football in Nigeria. Other information sought before the NFA’s application was examined included the status and number of players, clubs and referees in Nigeria. FIFA asked further that NFA’s formal application for membership must contain an undertaking that it would conform to the statutes and regulations of FIFA. The NFA was also to observe the laws and game in force and to include in its rules, provisions of Articles 8, 9 and 10 of the then FIFA regulations.
A copy of FIFA’s statutes and regulations was sent under a separate cover to the Nigerian FA. Allen set out gathering the necessary information.
He wrote to Basil Stallard, secretary of the Nigeria Referees Association (NRA), to get the list of referees who were of international status.
Allen was confident that the NFA would meet other requirements except that of referees. He noted that his idea of Nigerian international referees was about 16.
But he did not consider it too small since the NFA only organised about eight important matches yearly.
Stallard on his part remarked that there was no standardisation in the classification of Nigerian referees. “That made it difficult to know the actual number of referees who could be called first class”, he remarked.
The argument was that a first class referee in one part might not measure to the same grade in another part of the country.
To further support NFA’s application, Allen who in March became the association’s chairman, sent copies of NFA’s balance sheet to Sir Stanley Rous, secretary of the Football Association, England, and also to FIFA to support Nigeria’s application.
The association’s account was considered good, having had a record gate-taking of £4,742 in the Nigeria versus English Tourists duel the previous year. Next to that was the £4,406 realised in the Ghana/Nigeria match.
The NFA’s response to FIFA letter was sent on February 25, 1959. Three copies of the association’s constitution as contained in its Annual Handbook was attached to the reply.
Mr. Allen affirmed that the NFA was the only controlling football association for the entire federation of Nigeria, pointing to the association’s constitution which covered all creeds and tribes, including African and European teams.
It was also pointed out that the Nigeria Challenge Cup competition was entirely national and was run on similar lines to the English Challenge Cup (now The FA Cup). Mr. Allen also wrote that for the 1959 season, there were 81 regional, county and district associations which were affiliated to the NFA.
“These, together with the federal senior league (10 teams) and military forces, make an entry of nearly 100 teams in the Challenge Cup. The NFA also informed FIFA that it had nearly 1,200 recognised teams involving 35,000 players, all of whom are amateur, in its fold.