BY KUNLE SOLAJA
Professional football league may be 33 years old in Nigeria, but the history of a national league in the country dates back to 50 years, making 2022 a milestone.
Sports Village Square recalls that a football league on national basis kicked off in Nigeria on unceremoniously on 8 January 1972. But the date is never reckoned with in Nigerian football.
It involved eight clubs. The NFA at the time called for entries from the then 12 states. Zonal league and Challenge Cup zonal winners were registered.
Lagos State had Leventis Ido Tigers while Midwest had Vipers (later Bendel Insurance), From North was Raccah Rovers of Kano, Wunti of Bauchi while Enugu Rangers, the only Nigerian club never relegated, represented the then East Central State.
Also in the inaugural National League were Mighty Jets, Octopus of Port Harcourt and New Nigeria of Kaduna.
With 13 matches per club, Mighty jets emerged champions in a photo-finish contest. It remains the club’s only national success in 50 years.
In winning the inaugural league, Mighty Jets tied on 16 points, with runners-up Rangers, but had a better goal aggregate of 31. Rangers had 26 goals. An 8-0 defeat of visiting New Nigeria F.C. augmented Mighty Jet’s victory. Controversy arose as Enugu Rangers cried foul, positing that the 8-0 win was fixed.
As at 1990 when the league status was changed, only two of the pioneer league clubs remained un-relegated till the advent of the professional league. The survivors were Enugu Rangers, and Vipers (Bendel Insurance).
But in the professional football era, Bendel Insurance had since found a ‘comfortable’ domain in the lower rung.