How to Win The Nigerian Football League circa 2017

Weekend street football in Nigeria, the kind almost every male kid looked forward to while growing up. The same kind where the goalposts are constructed with any shoe, stone or plank available. Usually 3 or 4 talented players with some grit (hint: leadership skills) get to pick their teams and the best flair players always got picked first. In this brand of untimed, hardcore football, breaks occur only when your team concedes two consecutive goals. During the game, if you happened to "balloon the ball" into an impenetrable fortress, forest or "that wicked man's house", the match was abandoned. If there was a debate on the ball crossing the line and neither captain was willing to compromise, the game was abandoned. If the losing team conceded two quickfire goals and still felt energetic? you guessed right.., their (losing team) strongest and most intimidating player would seize the ball, sit on it and proclaim "agbachaa!!" loosely meaning "gameover!!" The fastest on this defeated team, usually also possessing the guile of an NFL runningback, would be waiting by his side to receive the ball when necessary and make a run for it, homeward of course... this is the DNA of Nigerian football.

So perhaps it's the nostalgia that took hold of FC IfeanyiUbah management and players as they decided to abandon the curtain raiser for the Nigerian league season. The start of the 2016-2017 league season here in Nigeria was met with great anticipation by football loving Nigerians, as it coincided with the start of African Cup of Nations (AFCON) 2017. The first game was meant to be a huge event between northern giants Kano Pillars and self-described giant killers FC IfeanyiUbah; Insomuch as it was scheduled a day before the rest of the opening match-ups. In attendance, were football dignitaries from across the nation, for whom this AFCON was a constant reminder of what we were missing out on in Nigeria. Supersport 9 would be beaming the game live from the Sani Abacha stadium, Kano, to the rest of the world. Kano Pillars had started brightly, opening the scoring through Gambo Mohammed and FCIU's response to the goal, while commendable, was not enough to turn the tide of play completely. Following a disallowed goal, and expulsion of a petulant team manager, the management thought it necessary to direct the players to walkout on the game, fans and Nigerians during the early part of the second half; an act which now questions the legitimacy of the league.

Abandonment of games has occurred with varying frequency in Nigeria's top leagues over the past few years. Most notably the league deciding game between Kano Pillars and Enyimba in 2013 which was abandoned after Kano fans had encroached onto the stadium. Pillars went on to win the league after the replay a few weeks later. Other games include the FA cup quarterfinal between Enyimba and Rivers United, as well as final game of the now relegated Heartland FC against Plateau United last season.

Why would any reputable company want to sponsor such a league, where clubs can simply abandon a game if they are not enamored with the officiating. Had the recent incident involving FCIU occurred a few years ago, you would have probably seen the second half of the game replayed on a future date; but it seems a new era is upon us as the NPFL League Management Company (LMC) saw it absolutely necessary to come down with full force on the blatant show of disrespect flung in their direction by FCIU. If the LMC had failed to do this, the winning strategy for IfeanyiUbah or any team in the Nigerian League for this season would have been simple: abandon the game when one goal down in the second half...and hope to continue another day with fresh, rested players and a robust strategy. Thankfully we now have a better run league! Kudos to the LMC.

- by Matt Ajianu

Related: Framework and Rules of NPFL 2016
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