BY KUNLE SOLAJA
One day, it shall come to pass when the true foundation date of the football governing body of Nigeria, the NFF, will be acknowledged.
Just as the Flying Eagles’ encounter with Burkina Faso in Friday’s African Games football match marked a milestone in Nigerian football, this Wednesday Super Falconet’s duel with Cameroon even marked a greater landmark in Nigerian football history.
The match symbolically marks the 86th foundation date of the Nigerian football governing body, the NFF.
Despite overwhelming and documented evidences, it has been very hard, if not impossible, to get official recognition for the foundation date of the NFF which began as NFA on August 23, 1933.
Till now, the phrase: “Founded 1945” adorns the circular emblem of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF). Sports Village Square asserts that it is a fallacy that the organisation was established in 1945 as even no one could verify the precise date the presumed event took place that year.
No fact exists to back the dateless foundation of 1945 except that the national cup, which is the present day’s AITEO Cup, started as Governor’s Cup that year.
The Governor’s Cup had since changed to numerous names such as the Challenge Cup, Coca-Cola FA Cup and later Federation Cup till the season: 2015/16.
However, Sports Village Square asserts that the link of the establishment of the Governor’s Cup and the founding of what is the NFF today is yet another erroneous belief in Nigeria’s football history.
Documented evidences discovered by Sports Village Square point to the fact that the Governor’s Cup was not a product of the then NFA but that of the Lagos and Districts Amateur Football Association (LDAFA) which is today known as the Lagos FA, the oldest football association in Nigeria having been established in 1932 by Henry A. Potter, the same man who founded the NFA the following year.
The LDAFA, which already had two other competitions –War Memorial Cup and European Cup –, called for entries for the maiden edition of the Governor’s Cup. This can be found in the Daily Times edition of July 30, 1945.
As at the time, football competitions in Lagos were along racial lines. The War Memorial Cup was open to all affiliated clubs and scratch teams affiliated to the LDAFA while the European Cup was for all affiliated clubs of Europeans living in Lagos.
In both instances, the teams paid entry fees of five shillings. The War Memorial Cup later changed to Mulford Memorial Cup to honour the man who did so much for football in Nigeria that he was affectionately called “Baba Eko” (respected elder of Lagos). He was one of the pioneers of the NFA.
Another fact to show that the Governor’s Cup was the creation of the present day Lagos FA can be gleaned from a write up in the Daily Times publication of November 6, 1946 in which the LDAFA Chairman, Frank G. Lloyd wrote that the Governor’s Cup presented in 1945 was in the custody of the LDAFA.
“This season (1946), as an experiment, invitations were issued by the LDAFA to numerous provincial associations. It is also intended that the Nigeria Football Association shall shortly be re-organised in order that it may provide a more effective vehicle for the experience gained in Lagos to provincial association.”
This proves that as at November 1946, the NFA was not organising the Governor’s Cup. It was in 1947, when Captain D.H. Holley became the LDAFA boss and also emerged the chairman of the NFA that the NFA began to organise the Governor’s Cup competition.
At the annual general meeting of the LDAFA on February 26, 1948, Captain Holley announced the transfer of the Governor’s Cup to the NFA.
Another pointer that the NFF was not founded in 1945 was the fact that it was first affiliated to The FA in England as far back as 1934. Reputable FA in England could not have registered a non-existing body.
As stated earlier in another story, the first secretary of the NFA, Joseph Mead told the first Annual General Meeting in 1934 that an application had been forwarded to The Football Association (The FA) in London for affiliation.
That led to another opening in the search for the true origin of what is now known as the NFF. A letter, which was dispatched to The Football Association in England by this reporter was responded to by David Berber, the Public Affairs Officer at The FA.
He wrote in part: “I can advise that the name of the Nigeria Football Association first appeared in the FA Handbook for the season 1938-39 in the list of our affiliated associations. The NFA secretary at that time was F.B Mulford, with a Lagos address.”
That is an indication that the body had existed before 1945. Then a visit to the offices of the oldest football body in the world which will, on October 26, celebrate its 155th anniversary resulted in more startling revelations.
The minutes of the meeting of the council of The FA (England) held at 22 Lancaster Gate London on June 4, 1934 revealed that under item number 10, “The Nigeria Football Association was admitted to membership under Rule 5 of the Rules of the Association”.
The affiliation of the NFA as an associated member of The FA was reported in the Nigeria Daily Times edition of September 14, 1934.
Like FIFA founded in 1904, the then NFA went into coma during the World War II. After the first AGM in February 1934, the NFA was in a state of inactivity, especially in the period of the World War II when according to Daily Times report of November 8, 1947, “all attention was on the Essential Work Order”.
It was 14 years after the formation that the NFA was reconstituted as reported by Daily Times of November 8, 1947. A similar scenario was that of FIFA, founded in 1904 but was inactive for 26 years till the inaugural World Cup of 1930.
FIFA did not alter its foundation year to the commencement of the World Cup. This is also the case with The FA in England, which was founded in 1863 but had its first FA Cup competition eight years later in 1871. Yet, the world’s oldest FA did not claim 1871 as its foundation year.
The first time the phrase: “Founded 1945” crept into the NFA letter head was in a correspondence with FIFA – a letter dated March 17, 1981 when a new executive led by the late Col. Mike Okwechime was announced. Before then, previous correspondences had just the affiliation year.
Last year when researcher and author of ‘The History of Football in Nigeria – A Story of Heroes and Epics’, Dr. Wiebe Boer was unveiling his book.
The NFF president, Amaju Pinnick at the occasion of unveiling of the book at the Freedom Park, Lagos remarked that he was going to table the issue of the actual foundation date at the next General Assembly.
Boer, also made assertion that the ‘Founded 1945’ was a fallacy. He wrote on pages 37 and 38 of the book that NFF was founded in 1933.