LMC grappling with bloody derbies in NPFL

Musa Hassan of Wikki Tourists (L) tackles Cletus Emotan of Rivers United during their match in the ongoing NPGL season.

In its long and rich history of existence, football has seen a lot of rivalries develop between some of the biggest clubs in the world. Some of these rivalries have lasted for over a century.

Interestingly, countless managers and players associated with the clubs have come and gone but the football rivalries have remained unabated and are passed on from one generation to the other.

Teeming supporters of Kano Pillars watching their darling club at the Sani Abacha stadium in Kano

This generational inheritance no doubt serves as the much needed impetuous to keep the rivalries going just as pride and legacies remain the other motivation.

Consequently, other matches played in the same league are not given the same degree of attention the derby clubs enjoy. Derbies are special because the clubs involved have pride and bragging rights to take home.

Although so many derbies exist in world football, some are more pronounced than others. Without doubt, at least ten derbies namely El Clasico (Real Madrid vs Barcelona), the Milan derby (Inter Milan vs AC Milan), Madrid derby (Real Madrid vs Atletico Madrid), North-West derby (Liverpool vs Manchester United) and Derby d’Italia (Juventus vs Inter Milan) lead the chart

Other world-renowned derbies are Manchester derby (Manchester City vs Manchester United), Der Klassiker (Bayern Munichen vs Borussia Dortmund), North London derby (Arsenal vs Tottenham), Merseyside derby (Liverpool vs Everton) and the Old Farm derby (Celtic vs Rangers).

As stated earlier, derbies are not limited to European football as leagues in other countries of the world also boast of their share of such extra-ordinary matches usually played between the best clubs.

Retrospectively, in the continent of Africa, football rivalries existed and have continued to play out between clubs such as Cameroon’s Canon Sportive and Tonnerre both of Yaounde, Egyptian giants, Zamalek and Al Ahly of Cairo, Ashante Kotoko of Kumasi and Accra Hearts of Oaks in Ghana as well as Vita of Kinshasha and TP Mazembe of Katanga in Congo Democratic Republic.

There is also the long-standing rivalry between Asec Mimosa and Africa Sports of Abidjan in Cote D’Ivoire and a host of others.

Even at the level of national teams, Africa has witnessed football rivalry between Egypt and Algeria, Senegal and Cote D’Ivoire, Morocco and Tunisia, Zambia and South Africa as well as Ghana and Nigeria.

Coming closer home, the Nigerian Professional Football League, NPFL, managed by the League Management Company, LMC, also produces local derbies that are unfortunately characterised by violence and bloodletting.

In the NPFL, ‘Oriental Derby’ could mean a match involving any of the clubs in the South-East like Enyimba, Abia Warriors, Enugu Rangers, Heartland and FC IfeanyiUbah.

There is also South-South derby when clubs like Rivers United, Akwa United, Dakkada FC and Warri Wolves and paired.

In the same vein, matches involving Plateau United, Lobi Stars, Nasarawa United and Kwara United are known as north-central derbies just as Northern derby ensues when Kano Pillars, Katsina United, Wikki Tourists, Adamawa United and Jigawa Golden Stars are involved.

As mentioned earlier, while derbies in European football leagues are usually followed passionately by millions of enthusiastic fans who watch some of the best players in the world produce a moment of brilliance and magic, derbies in the NPFL are fertile grounds for acts of hooliganism.

Although even in European football leagues, derbies produce their ugly sides as irate fans sometimes allow their emotions to boil over, in the NPFL, local derbies are often time seen as war because rival fans simply don’t go to the stadium to only watch and savour the beautiful game.

Consequently, in the ongoing NPFL season, the LMC is having sleepless nights as it tries to grapples with cases of hooliganism triggered by local rivalries.

Already there are at least three reported cases of violence at match venues that have staged some of the local derbies.

The first was at the Lafia Township stadium where the North-Central derby between Nasarawa United and Plateau United was staged.

The ignominious train then moved to Katsina where the North-West derby between Katsina United and perennial rivals, Kano Pillars was hosted.

LMC Chairman, Shehu Dikko

The latest in the list of local derbies triggered hooliganism in the NPFL was in Umuahia where all hell was let loose on Sunday, in the Abia derby between Abia Warriors and Enyimba.

It was so bad that a serving member of the NFF Executive Committee and two-time winner of the prestigious CAF Champions League, Chief Felix Ayansi-Agwu who is also the Chairman of Enyimba FC was brutalised by rival fans.

As if stung to life by the unfortunate and ugly incident in Umauhia, the president of the Nigeria Football Federation, Amaju Pinnick on Tuesday convened a meeting of critical stakeholders in the domestic league.

As expected, the meeting attended by Shehu Dikko, the Chairman of League Management Company (LMC) and 2nd vice-president of NFF, Dr Mohammed Sanusi, the NFF General Secretary and Alhaji Rabiu Sharu Inuwa, the Chairman of the NFF Referees Committee, Alhaji Tade Azeez, the President of Nigeria Referees Association (NRA), Barrister Isaac Danladi, the Chairman of NPFL Club Owners Association and Salihu Abubakar, the Chief Operating Officer of the LMC condemned in clear terms the escalating wave of violence at NPFL match venues.

Although the LMC chairman said among the three ugly incidents highlighted above, it was only the one in Umuahia took place right inside the match venue, he nevertheless reiterated the need to cut down to the barest minimum security breaches in and around match venues.

The meeting, therefore, resolved among other things to tighten security at match venues. Clubs were asked to liaise with the Police Divisions within the match, venue jurisdictions to be given at least 100 Police Officers for their home matches.

The meeting also decided that among the Police Officers, some should be assigned to watch over the home and away fans to prevent skirmishes that may lead to clashes.

Furthermore, the meeting endorsed a proposal by the LMC to create a volunteer stewards corps that will be made up of National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) members and officers of Nigeria Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC) who would function to deepen orderliness in the stands.

More importantly, the meeting tasked the LMC to ensure full enforcement of relevant rules of the NPFL at all times and to apply prescribed sanctions on any club and or supporters club found to breach the rules.

However, for most football stakeholders, the last resolution sounded like a cliché due to lack of evidence of execution of previous sanctions meted out to offenders.

A former NFF presidential aspirant, Hon. Lumumba Dah Adeh told Daily Trust that since the LMC is finding it hard to ensure compliance with its laid down rules, nothing is going to change soon.

“It is common knowledge that the LMC has rules for the league. The question remains the same. Are they applying the rules the right way and ensuring that offenders pay the prescribed fines?.

“If those who commit offences are given a mere slap on the wrist, the old order will continue to reign supreme,” he noted.

Apart from the LMC, the 20 clubs in the NPFL are also disturbed by the recurring incidents of hooliganism at match venues, especially when local rivals clash.

The chairman of NPFL Club Owners Association, Barrister Isaac Danladi in a chat with Trust Sports condemned club supporters who perpetrate acts of hooliganism at match venues.

“I won’t talk much on that because we are expecting the final decision from LMC on the ugly incident in Umuahia between Abia Warriors and Enyimba supporters.

“I don’t want to pre-empt the LMC. The truth is that we are not happy about the unfortunate situation. We are hoping such a thing won’t happen again. It is capable of sending sponsors away,” he observed.

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