The historic comeback by Enugu Rangers International on their road to winning the 2018 AITEO Cup final against Kano Pillars has rightly dominated the headlines and created worthy talking points. However, what transpired at the Stephen Keshi Stadium in Asaba on Wednesday night goes beyond the spectacle and dramatic finale to the tournament.
There were goals and there were fireworks in the end but there were also uncertainties bothering on not too ideal organisation at the start, and also chaos in the end.
I hereby highlight four of the factors which punctured a glorious spectacle with its telling imperfection as Rangers produced one of the greatest comebacks of the Nigerian Cup history.
Dramatic! Exhilarating! Pulsating!
The fans have gone wild now.
Rangers win their first Cup title in 35 years – 4-2 on penalties after COMING FROM 3-0 down against Pillars.
Gbenga Ogunbote wins his first major title as Coach.
— Fisayo Dairo (@FisayoDairo) October 24, 2018
Fluctuating kick-off time
Universally, the most sacred part of a football event is the kick-off time. It is not accidental that 4pm has always been the time for domestic football matches in Nigeria from time immemorial while the UEFA Champions League, until this season was known for its 7:45pm kick off for decades. That means, anyone could tune in, or get into the football arenas hosting the aforementioned games even without listening to the news or checking out flyers.
However, this year’s (Men’s) AITEO Cup final kick-off time made a mockery of how a proper final should be. For a game expected to be televised live, the uncertainties which surrounded the time was uncalled for. The times continually changed or were said to change, even until match day.
It is more interesting to note that both teams were told in the pre-match meeting a day earlier that the game would kick-off at 6pm but later in the night, the teams were again communicated with regards to a 4:30pm time. Reporters were made liars, flyers were disappointed all due to varying times. That should be better.
Did you know that Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) match balls were used for the final? Was there anything wrong with that? Yes, I tell you.
The final match ball situation is what properly exhibited the inadequacies of this year’s AITEO Cup tournament, many of which were attempted to be covered by the fanfare finale or by the overused excuse of the turmoil that engulfed Nigerian football after the World Cup.
Throughout the knockout rounds and group stage games of the AITEO Cup tournament, you could hardly know the competition you were watching. NNL balls, NPFL balls, World Cup balls, ball boys donning bibs of State FAs, NPFL etcetera. Branding of pitch panels was also rocket science, among others.
Having the camera zooming into the match ball on final day, with the full inscription “NPFL” alone was a disaster for the minds that appreciate branding. Nigeria’s oldest and most glamorous football competition deserves better.
The Stephen Keshi Stadium is beautiful in its own right. Some well painted designs on the terraces and a well articulated VVIP section gives one the good feeling of being in a Stadium, the rave of the moment. However, the finale was almost ruined by a very little detail – the grass.
The playing pitch is the most important part of a football stadium as that is what qualifies it, regardless of its beauty to host a standard football match. The Asaba Stadium like I said earlier is beautiful – although there still remains some important things to be done such as the electronic scoreboard and perhaps TV screens – but the state of the lush green grass on the day leaves much more to be desired.
The grass especially was too long as the game almost turned to a contest between the twenty-two players and the grass because of how high the grasses were. Also, the decision to have some kindergartens play a match which lasted till eighty minutes before the kick-off of the final, on that same turf was not well thought out.
Unfortunately for all, Nigeria’s Super Eagles is blessed with an expatriate coach whose good comments about the game was to berate the grass and popularly declare none of the players on showcase fit enough to have a sniff at his fantastic national team.
After the pitch, the most important thing in a football game is the security of lives and property. This was the greatest failing of the showpiece event.
I am not oblivious of the fact that we belong to a society where many football fans like to encroach into the key areas after a game, maybe due to excitement or even maybe not knowing what they were doing; but the show in Asaba was a pure case of an invitation to chaos and rowdiness.
The trite process of the use of police policemen in stadiums need to be reviewed to allow for specially trained stewards in special games such as the final on Wednesday and international games involving the Super Eagles. It took a fine from FIFA after the Cameroon game in Uyo last year to knock us to some senses. Must we wait till a fine comes or a stampede that will lead to deaths?
During the musical presentation of invited artistes at half time on Wednesday, I saw one, two or three fans jumping off their seats unhindered to meet up with the artistes and dance with them. That is a security threat! I then looked around, there was no single Steward nor a Policeman in front of the stands. A recipe for chaos.
The moment the game went into penalties, I told a respected journalist Emeka Nwani that the encroachment after the shootout because of the ecstasy that would come from it would be unprecedented. It was that easy to forecast. Yet, no one even tried to take a position to prevent such.
In the end, we were fortunate that the football on the night was enough to provide more talking points which quite easily overshadowed these flaws – which have become a regular feature in our organisation – but we may not be always lucky hence the need to be proactive in dealing with some of the issues raised.
Fisayo Dairo was in Asaba