BY KUNLE SOLAJA.
Today is another anniversary of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), but as in the past, it will pass unacknowledged. No thanks to the lack of documentation which has robbed Nigerian sports of major landmarks.
On the official crest of the NFF is the inscription: “Founded 1945”.
This is a fallacy that has long been held by the various regimes of the Nigerian football governing body. The situation has been like this for the simple reason – lack of record keeping and the dearth of research.
This is so in many African countries where proper documentation, record keeping and quest for social and historical researches are still huge challenges.
Before now, the true origin of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), which until 2008 was known as Nigeria Football Association (NFA), had been foggy.
The foundation date of this association has for a long time been taken to be an unknown date in 1945, giving the impression that the body clocks 75 this year.
But no fact exists to back up this claim, except that the Governor’s Cup, which changed to Challenge Cup and now known as Aiteo Cup, began in 1945.
This is yet another historical fallacy in Nigerian football. The truth is that the maiden Governor’s Cup competition was not organised by the then NFA. It was the Lagos and Districts Amateur Football Association (LDAFA) that ran the competition in its first three editions.
Entries for the Governor’s Cup were invited by the LDAFA in the advert placed in the Nigerian Daily Times of 30 July 1945.
This is further corroborated by a response to a critical editorial in the Daily Times edition of 1 November 1946, the LDAFA chairman, Frank G. Lloyd who wrote on 6 November 1946, that the Governor’s Cup presented in the previous year was in the custody of the LDAFA.
“This season, as an experiment, invitations were issued by the LDAFA to numerous provincial associations. It is also intended that the Nigerian 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 had not been revived. It was in 1947, when Captain Donald Holley became the LDAFA boss that the NFA was resuscitated, not in 1945. Captain Holley also emerged the chairman of the NFA. It was then the NFA began to organise the Governor’s Cup competition.
At the annual general meeting of the LDAFA in March 1948, Captain Holley announced the transfer of the Governor’s Cup to the NFA. The Nigerian Daily Times edition of Saturday November 8, 1947 announced the revival of the NFA which had been in doldrums for 13 years.
The newspaper did not give the specific date of the reconstitution of the body but announced that the NFA had assumed its function as the ruling authority for football in Nigeria.
An historical research has revealed that the governing body of football in Nigeria is older than the age it is claiming. Documented and verifiable evidences show that it was founded at 7pm on August 21, 1933 at 42 Broad Street, Lagos.
The building, which number has not changed, houses the Lagos Island Local Government Primary Health Clinic. In the 1930s, it was simply known as the Health Office.
The building in the 1930s up till the 1950s, according to newspaper reports of the era, hosted many football enthusiasts, especially the meetings of the LDAFA every February.
It was also in this house that the referees’ association used to have its meetings when Dr. Isaac Oladipo Oluwole, a football enthusiast and administrator, was the Medical Officer of Health at the council.
From 1931 to 1948, Dr. Oluwole was the general secretary of the LDAFA, a record 17 years by any sports association scribe in Nigeria. Before he died on 4 May 1953, at age 61, Dr. Oluwole had made the facilities of the Health Office available for meetings of the LDAFA.
The Health Office hosted many football-related meetings. But the most important, perhaps, was that of Monday, 21 August 1933 when at 7 in the evening some 30 football enthusiasts gathered. They were on the threshold of history. Earlier in the day, The Nigerian Daily Times (as the later year Daily Times was then known) had carried an announcement of the meeting.
It was to discuss the formation of the NFA and to pass its rules. It called on all interested people to attend. In the circulars sent out, it was suggested that provincial clubs might either arrange to send delegates to the meeting or appoint someone in Lagos who was familiar with conditions in their districts to represent them.
Among those that responded were officials of the registered 18 clubs in the Lagos Amateur Football League and a representative from Abeokuta. It was like re-creating the Tarven Manson meeting of 23 October 1863, which gave the world the oldest football association in London.
Nigeria was joining the League of Nations with football associations. Before the 21 August 1933 foundation date, some ground works had been done.
Proposal on the central football association was received with keen enthusiasm in Lagos where two meetings were held for the preliminary arrangements. The meetings were reported in The Nigerian Daily Times of Thursday 27 July 1933 under the caption: “Proposed Football Association.”
The theme was to establish an NFA whose functions were to include the organisation of matches, leagues, the formulation of cup rules and the management of football affairs generally.
The working group reportedly got in touch with the Football Association, London that promised valuable trophy for a competition.
The rules of the local organisation of the NFA were based on the recommendation of the Football Association. Clubs were advised to either become members by joining an affiliated district association or by directly affiliating and by payment of annual subscription of five shillings.
The districts were urged to form their associations and affiliate to the newly inaugurated Nigerian Football Association (NFA).
Four days later, the foundation of the new association was reported in the Nigerian Daily Times of 25 August 1933. The newspaper, later simply Daily Times, had its offices on the same Broad Street where the NFA was founded.
It was thanked for the assistance offered at the first Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the association in 1934.
The newspaper’s link with the foundation of NFA probably had to do with the involvement of Sir Adeyemo Alakija, a prominent figure in the foundation of both organisations.
He was the founding chairman of board of Nigerian Printing and Publishing Company, publishers of Daily Times in June 1926 and also founding father of the NFA.
According to the newspaper report, on the NFA foundation day, the rules of the association as proposed by the working group were passed with some minor amendments. In order to secure a wide representation, circulars were sent to some principal provincial centres inviting the clubs to affiliate with the central body in Lagos.
All the registered clubs in Lagos were invited to become ‘parent clubs’. Many accepted on the spot and the nucleus of the NFA was established. The personnel were predominantly from Lagos. But it was hoped that the districts would speedily participate and nominate their representatives.
The new association appointed Mr. Henry A. Porter as its boss. He went by the title ‘President’.
He was also the founding chairman of the LDAFA in 1932 and secretary of the Public Works Department (PWD) Club. Other pioneer officials of the NFA were Vice Presidents: Adeyemo Alakija, Frederick Baron Mulford and Dr. Isaac Oladipo Oluwole. Mr. Wells was asked to act for Mr. Mead as secretary.
The Sunday Times of 4 October 1953 listed some other pioneers at the foundation meeting as Rev. J.K Macgregor, Evan Jones, Messrs Harry Benne, DL Kerr and J.W. Hallam.
The maiden Annual General Meeting of the NFA was fixed for January 1934. But it did not hold until Monday, 19 February. The Secretary, Mead, complained that the response to invitations issued to clubs and districts to become members was poor.
According to the report in Nigerian Daily Times of 22 February 1934, the secretary, read a report dealing with efforts to popularise the idea of a national association. Mead stated that principal centres had been contracted on the aims and objectives of the NFA. But it seemed it was not a popular idea.
The only definite acceptances of invitation to become district associations were from Abeokuta, Lagos Amateur and Lagos European Amateur Associations.
Ijebu Ode intended to inaugurate a district association and league in the following season. In Lagos, nine teams accepted to become ‘parent clubs.’ They were Afric, Olympics, Health, PWD, Muslims, Railway Institute, Marine, Spalding and UAC. Of all these, only Railway and Marines (NPA) existed in the 1990s.
The only definite refusal to become a parent club was from the Police, which argued that a national association was an approach towards professionalism.
At that time, even up to the 1950s, professional football was scornfully regarded. For instance, in an article in the Sunday Times of 22 September 1953, NFA Secretary, R.B. Allen, remarked that professional football was capable of corrupting players.
Apart from the newspapers’ account that reported the foundation of the NFA in 1933 and the reports of the maiden Annual General Meeting of February 1934, investigation into the origin of the NFA was taken to The FA in London to which newspapers of the era reported that the association was affiliated as an associate member.
Upon enquiry from the FA in England, David Berber, the Public Affairs Officer, in a response dated April 2, 1996, 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 prompted a visit to the london offices of The FA. From the archives of The FA in London, the minutes of The FA Council meeting held on Monday 4 June 1934, indicated the existence and admission of the NFA into membership.
The item 10 of the minutes reads: “The Nigerian Football Association was admitted to membership under Rule 5 of The Rules of The Association.”
The Rule 5 allowed associate membership, among other things, for British Empire associations at a subscription fee of five shillings. Another colonial football association admitted around the same time was Uganda in October 1936. CAF records show that Uganda FA was founded in 1924.
However, it was not until 1938 that the name “Nigerian Football Association” first appeared in The FA Handbook 1938/39 as an associate member.
The secretary then was FB Mulford and the address recorded against his name was P.O. Box 809, 14 McCarthy Street, Lagos. The relevant parts of the rules under which the NFA was admitted as an associate member read:
“The council (of The FA) shall have the power to admit into membership any Association within the British Empire…”