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Nigerian Football

Flashback as Shooting Stars -Bendel Insurance match leaves 24 dead in Nigeria’s worst stadium tragedy

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BY KUNLE SOLAJA.
This Sunday, August 13, 2023 marks the 44th anniversary of what is easily the biggest football tragedy to have ever befallen Nigeria.
Yet it is hardly recalled as the death of Samuel Okwaraji 10 years later eclipsed the saddest scene that Nigeria ever witnessed in a sports arena.
On the night of August 13, 1979, television viewers got more than they expected. Results and analyses of the presidential election held two days earlier were just trickling in.
It was on this night that legal luminary, Chief Richard Akinjide propounded his infamous twelve two third theory that later became the clincher for Alhaji Shehu Shagari to become Nigeria’s first civilian president in a hotly contested election with Chief Obafemi Awolowo.
But the sports-inclined were awaiting the outcome of the epic encounter between IICC Shooting Stars and Bendel Insurance in the semi-final of the Challenge Cup, the exciting national football cup competition that has since gone through series of name change and now called Aiteo Cup.
Both Shooting Stars and Bendel Insurance had met the previous year at the same stage and Bendel were not just surprise winners of the match, but also of the Challenge Cup.
Moreover, both were hot contenders for the National League title that Bendel had just won in 1979, great thanks to the collaboration with Water Corporation FC, the Ibadan city rivals of IICC Shooting Stars.
Within the regulation time, the Shooting Stars had become victorious, winning 2-1. But there was no time for the expected celebration.
Their moment of joy had turned to become national grief. Sports Village Square recalls that 24 fans had died in a stampede that ensued minutes after the match when the floodlights were suddenly switched off.
The tightly packed crowd made frantic and hurried rush towards the 72 exit points of the main bowl where iron gates had just been mounted.
But unknown to the rushing crowd, the exit points at the northern end of the stadium, the gates A and B were still locked. Early arrivals to the locked gates were trapped to the barrier in the ensuing stampede.
The gates collapsed under the weight of the surging crowd and the early arrivals were trampled upon.
The unlucky fans were pressed upon the iron gates, which later fell under the weight of the surging crowd.
Some of them died of suffocation. Worse still, the National Sports Commission (NSC) medical centre was not opened.
So, there was no immediate medical attention. Ambulances at the sports complex could not also function for lack of personnel. About 50 others in convulsive conditions were rushed to hospitals.
By the time calm was restored, 24 fans were confirmed dead. Almost 30 others were seriously wounded.
The death toll was relayed in the late news announcement on television where viewers were possibly just awaiting electoral results and that of the classic Bendel Insurance /IICC Shooting Stars clash.
Two medical personnel, Dr. Alaba Efunkoya, a former chairman of Nigeria Table Tennis Association and Commander Sojinrin, a naval doctor who had come to watch the match and who was to become chairman of National Sports Commission some years later, assisted in offering first aid to some of the victims.

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

Nigerian Football

Relief for continental ticket-seeking Enyimba

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Enyimba FC who are desperately seeking a return to the continental fixtures next season have been relieved of a little financial burden by the Disciplinary Committee of the Nigeria Football Federation.

 The initial N10 million fine imposed on the team has been reduced almost by half.

 In the ill-tempered match with Enugu Rangers three weeks ago, the Nigeria Premier League fine Enyimba N5 million as part of the disciplinary measures taken, claiming that Enyimba disrupted the live telecast of the match.

The NFF committee disagrees with the decision and therefore set aside the fine imposed.

Enyimba will this Sunday host Plateau United in a potentially volatile match as both teams have varying chances of picking continental ticket to feature in either the CAF Champions League or the Confederation Cup.

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Nigerian Football

All eyes on Aba, Ibadan and Ikenne as battle for continental tickets goes down to the wire!

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A stroll in the park to be followed by victory parade are the anticipated spectacles in Jos when Enugu Rangers face ‘home’ sides, Gombe United this Sunday.

But elsewhere, it could be ‘thunder and blood’ battle as four eligibles fight for two obtainable continental tickets in three venues of Ikenne, Ibadan and Aba.

Remo Stars, Shooting Stars, Enyimba and Plateau United are aspirants jostling for continental tickets.

On the other side of the struggle is also the battle to evade relegation. Coincidentally, Ibadan  provides the venue for both dreams where the hosts, Shooting Stars, will be hoping to pick a ticket to any of the two CAF inter-clubs competitions while the debuting Premier League sides, Sporting Lagos are expected to play the game of their life.

Coincidentally, Shooting Stars were expected to give the Lagos sides the succour last weekend when they faced Bayelsa United.

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 Had Shooting Stars won the match, Sporting Lagos which upstaged Enyimba 2-1, would have been in comfort zone, making Sunday’s duel at the Lekan Salami a ‘merry-making’ venture for both sides.

But a twist of fortunes which saw Bayelsa fighting back to a 2-1 win means Shooting Stars will have to spare no weapon on Sunday to beat Sporting Lagos.

The visitors on the other hand have a mountain to climb to avoid the looming drop.

 Ikenne provides another battle ground, though with lesser gravity than what is expected in Ibadan and Aba. A win of any margin secures CAF Champions League ticket for Remo Stars as they host Katsina United who stay without threat in the middle of the league log.

But the battle will be fiercer in Aba where both hosts, Enyimba and visiting Plateau United have arithmetical and conjectural chances of making the top three and obtaining a continental ticket.

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While the battle at the top of the log is for two teams to join Enugu Rangers in getting continental ticket, so also it is at the bottom as both Gombe United and Heartland await the two others that will escort them to the lower league.

 Battling to avoid the drop are Sporting Lagos, Doma United, Akwa United and Bayelsa.

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Coronation day for champion-elect, Enugu Rangers

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Enugu Rangers can afford to lose 56-0 this Sunday to Gombe United and erase the record negative goal difference of the already relegated side. Such a scoreline will not change the destiny of both sides as Rangers will merely enter the pitch to fulfill the fixtures for formality sake. They will be more interested in the post match event – their coronation as the new king of Nigerian league.

 A win will only add icing to the celebration cake, taking their points to 70, just three short of 73 obtained by the defunct Dolphins in the 2010/2011 season.

 But it is taking nothing away from Enugu Rangers who will be presented with the league trophy this Sunday by the NFF president, Ibrahim Musa Gusau.

The NFF chieftain headlines a choice list of eminent guests expected at the occasion, which will see the champions, who will be crowned for the eighth time since a national football league was introduced in 1972.

Their success this season was confirmed last weekend when they beat Bendel Insurance 2-0 at home while their three rivals – Remo Stars, Shooting Stars and Enyimba lost their respective away games with identical scorelines of 2-1.

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