I can testify that something good is happening to domestic football in Nigeria. If there was any doubt in the past about the possibility of Stationery Stores Football Club of Lagos returning to Nigerian football, such doubts evaporated two weeks ago when the re-born club played its first match at the Onikan Stadium in Lagos.
There could not have been a better and more authentic setting than the one put together by fate – a match at their famous old ground (the King George V stadium), against one of their oldest and fiercest but friendly rivals (Shooting Stars Football Club of Ibadan).
Stationery Stores FC, aka ‘Flaming Flamingoes’, ‘Adebajo Babes’, was not your ordinary football club when it existed from the 1960s to the 1990s. This phenomenal movement of the people and inhabitants of the city of Lagos was destroyed by the internal squabbles that plagued the team between the children of the founder.
Every effort through the years to revive the club failed and it was left to rest-in-pieces for several years until the restless bones of founder, late Chief Israel Adebajo, could take it no longer and ‘woke up’ through one of his children, Tilewa Adebajo, to resuscitate the club. Until it’s demise, Stationery Stores FC had, perhaps, the most fanatical football supporters in the history of the game in Nigeria! They could do anything for the club.
At a point in those days, fans of Stationery Stores went as far as raising funds to pay players’ wages and allowances, travelled everywhere with the team at their own expense, and even supervised training and players conduct outside the field of play. Their return to the league is creating ripples already, even though they are not in the Premier League that has still not resumed in Nigeria.
Stationery Stores FC are in the league just below that – the Nigeria National League! That league, which ordinarily played second fiddle to the Premiership in previous years, and largely went on unnoticed by the public, in the past three weeks since it resumed, is attracting unprecedented attention, media followership and spectatorship largely due to the participation in that division of some extremely famous clubs in the country, including, particularly, the incomparable Stationery Stores FC.
This was manifested by the unusual return of football followers and the fanatical army of Stationery Stores FC supporters to their original home ground. Two weeks ago, on a Thursday evening, Onikan Stadium hosted an unusual turn out of people from all walks of life, including many that had not visited the former King George V Stadium for decades. There was also a large turn out of sports writers and others that set aside the frightful stories of molestation by thugs, plus the filth and unfriendliness of the Onikan Stadium environment in order to check out the veracity of the return of their beloved club.
The good news is that it happened. Stationery Stores, as reported extensively by Mumuni Alao in his pre-and post-match reports, came back to the limelight of Nigerian football in their full yellow and maroon regalia, their now-ageing but faithful followers, and their battalion of singing fans. The stadium terrace was full of spectators and was decorated in the flags, banners and buntings of their old club. On top of all that, their return was marked with a well-celebrated victory over one of their fierce rivals from the past – Shooting Stars Football Club of Ibadan. It was indeed a great match to herald a new dawn not just for the club but also for Nigerian football!
The return of Stationery Stores FC also portends new prospects of a major football revolution in Nigeria.
I admit that all of this optimism may go up in smoke, but in the past two weeks in particular, even though the on-going league is not the Premiership, stadia around the country have been ignited by the reputation and history of Stationery Stores and several other clubs presently in the Nigerian National League. There is the real possibility that the second-tier Nigerian league would attract greater attention and interest than the Premiership this season. The signs are there already.
The two major stadia in Lagos, Onikan Stadium and Agege Township stadium, have been increasingly filling up every week since the league began with old and a new generation of spectators. Last week a few people actually brought their children to watch the match played in Agege, involving an also rejuvenated First Bank Football Club of Lagos. It was a great sight to behold – children in the stadium watching football heroes!
For the first time in a long while, Lagos, once the home of Nigerian football, with a 12 to 15 million population of football ‘crazy’ and ‘hungry’ fans, now has 4 clubs in the National League vying for promotion to the elite Premiership in the next season.
Apart from the competition between the clubs within Lagos, other visiting clubs include some of the well-established clubs from the early days of Nigerian football.
The list is long and impressive – Shooting Stars FC of Ibadan, a club that used to represent the movement of the Yoruba people worldwide and one of the most celebrated in Nigeria’s football history; Bendel Insurance FC, one of the great historical teams of Nigeria that represented the entire people of the former Mid-Western region; Gateway United FC of Abeokuta, an off-shoot of the great Abiola Babes F, UNICEM Rovers FC that metamorphosed from Calabar Rovers FC, the great team of old representing that part of the country and so on.
Even the northern conference of the National league Division A, is populated by teams such as Mighty Jets FC of Jos, Wikki Tourists FC of Bauchi, Niger Tornadoes FC of Minna, Ranchers Bees FC of Kaduna, amongst others. These are all teams with a deep and rich history in Nigerian football, now playing in the Nigeria National League that Stationery Stores FC have ignited with their flamboyance, their passionate and colourful followership and their effervescent attitude.
So far, I am told, several of the matches have been truly exciting, free of hooliganism, with a level of fair officiating that gives some hope that some morally upright officials still exist in this climate of extreme poverty and perpetual struggle for economic survival.
One tree definitely does not make a forest, but Stationery Stores FC have shown already that they can make a huge contribution to the fortunes of Nigerian football. The signs are already in the air