By Desmond Ekwueme
Everywhere in the world or do we say every league in the football world has traditional teams. They make the domestic league of a country tick. They are crowd pullers. Season in season out, they are favourites to lift the shield. They are rich in tradition and synonymous with the league. They are the face, identity and ambassadors of the league of a country. They produce some of the finest players for or in the national team. Take them away and the league becomes a glorified grassroots tournament. Take them away and the stadia become empty….Take them away and the league sponsors run away.
Without Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United among others in English Premier League, football may be dry in England. Same in Spain without Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Espanyol and Atletico Madrid.
In Nigeria, clubs like Stationary Stores FC, Enugu Rangers Int’l, IICC Shooting Stars (now Shooting Stars Sports Club), Mighty Jets, Sharks and of course Bendel Insurance FC are traditional clubs that made the domestic scene exciting. At some point, three clubs (Rangers, IICC and Bendel Insurance) produced 95% of players in the then Green Eagles. That shows how solid these clubs were traditionally then.
The relegation of Bendel Insurance FC took some shine off the NPFL. For close to a decade or more this great team have been swimming in the murky waters of the lower cadre. At some point, Bendel Insurance FC was almost going into extinction. It was indeed a threat to football in the country given the followership that this great team command.
If not for any other factor, the 1978 FA Cup sweet victory which Bendel Insurance FC secured even as underdogs against almighty Enugu Rangers who were roundly beaten 3-0, keeps a great memory of a club with a rich tradition of producing some of the best crop of players and coaches Nigerian football has ever had.
From that famous ’78 FA Cup winning squad which had Agwo Nnaji, David Adiele, Kadiri Ikhana, Felix Agbonifo, Leotis Boateng, Francis Monidafe, Ebenezer Badger, Peter Egharevba, Henry Ogboe, George Omokaro and Prince Afejukwu to the latter generation of Rowland Ewere, Alhassan Mohammed, Baldwin Bazuaye, Wilson Oruma, Gabriel Adejo, Onome Akporotu, Pius Ikedia, Julius Aghahowa, Anthony Emedofu, Charles Okonedo, Charles Omokaro, Stanley Okoro and Osaze Odemwingie among others Bendel Insurance FC is renowned for great stars who left their footprints in the sands of times.
True League lovers must salute the return of this great club to the elite class of Nigerian league cum football. Big THANK YOU must go to His Excellency, Gov. Godwin Obaseki for his concern and passion for sports. His appointment of Barr. Godwin Dudu-Orumen as Chairman, Edo State Sports Commission few months ago is a clear sign of the governor’s commitment to reviving sports in the state which is known for her leading role in sports in the country especially in the area of production of talents.
Today, the governor’s gesture has paid off with the return of Bendel Insurance FC to the elite league. Recall that the club was rebranded few months ago which was an indication of the dream and target of His Excellency. The return of this great club will bring fun back to Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia stadium. Football loving Edolites will have the opportunity of watching top flight league games again especially when Bendel Insurance FC play host to traditional rivals like Enugu Rangers or Shooting Stars Sports Club.
One can only hope that other governors invest in sports to pave way for the return of clubs like Mighty Jets. It is hoped that the family of Late Chief Israel Adebajo will also do something positive to bring back Stationary Stores FC especially now that Onikan Stadium has been revamped by the Akinwunmi Ambode administration in Lagos.
Perhaps the return of the traditional teams could help inject top class football managers and administrators back into the domestic league to further attract goodwill and sponsorship. Of course, the standard of the league could also improve given the knack of the likes of Bendel Insurance FC for quality players and great results at the end of each season.
Let’s celebrate the return of Bendel Insurance FC, the team once coached by Alabi Aissien, Godwin Izilien, Lawrence Akpokona, Solomon Ogbeide and Austin Eguavoen among others.
Congrats Bendel Insurance FC….Congrats and welldone Gov. Godwin Obaseki….Congrats local league fans….Congrats teeming fans of Bendel Insurance FC …Congrats NPFL….Congrats Nigerian football..