Friday, June 26, 2009

Unveiling Nigeria’s New Champion, Bayelsa Utd

Before last season’s campaign in the Nigeria Premier League (NPL), only 17 clubs have won the top-flight division in the country, which started since 1972. The clubs are Mighty Jets, Bendel Insurance, Enugu Rangers, Shooting Stars Sports Club (3SC), Iwuanyanwu Nationale (now Heartland Football Club), Julius Berger, BCC Lions, Dolphins Football Club, Lobi Stars, Enyimba, Ocean Boys and Kano Pillars as well as defunct sides such as Stationery Stores, Racca Rovers, New Nigeria Bank (NNB), Leventis United and Udoji United. That number swelled last Sunday to 18 after Bayelsa United became the newest member of the league winning club.
Bayelsa United is one of the new generation clubs in the Premier League, which was founded in the year 2000. Last season, the Yenagoa-based club suffered the heartache of missing on the same title on the last day of the season. Unlike the just-concluded season, the 2007/2008 season was a four-team race among eventual winner, Kano Pillars, Heartland FC, Bayelsa United and Niger Tornadoes. In its last game of that season, Bayelsa United needed an outright win with three goals without conceding against Kwara United in Ilorin but ended up getting a draw and missed out of the title and only picked a CAF Confederation Cup as a consolation.
But the new Nigerian champion made an amazing run to the winning the Premier League. The club led the chasing pack for 27 consecutive weeks since October last year when it took the mantle of leadership from newcomer, Kaduna United. Chairman of the club, Victor ‘Bari Bote’ Rumson, explained that the side’s nine-month stay at the top of the Premier League was as a result of sacrifice on the part of everyone including the players and officials.
Rumson also disclosed that immediately after the disappointment of the 2007/2008 season, the management met with the players and officials and decided to go straight into camping in preparation for the 2008/2009 season while other clubs went on holidays. The football administrator continued that playing in the CAF Confederation Cup also toughened his side for the rigours in the Premier League last season, adding that the players on their part showed enough commitment worthy of true champions.
“I think the most important thing in football or life generally is organisation. When you have an organised setup, you definitely achieve your goals. Remember when most of the clubs went on holidays at the beginning of the season, we decided to go into camping in Calabar for about 19 days. Then what I had in mind was to prepare the team for the season as well as taking them to represent Nigeria well in the continent. Playing in the continent also helped us in the league and shaped us for the difficult challenges ahead of the season. Apart from that when you have players who are ready to play, even they are injured, they are ready to give their best. These players were ready to sacrifice to ensure that we won the title and that is what has happened this season,” he said.
Assistant captain of the club, Bassey Akpan, who is likely to become Bayelsa United’s captain after the death of Abiel Tabor, reminisced the disappointment of last season in Ilorin when he and his team-mates failed in their bid to win the club’s first-ever league title. The former Nigeria junior international, however, believes that the disappointment of last season moulded him and his team-mates for the tough task of challenging for the league title once more this season.
Akpan told Daily Independent: “Last season was a heart-break for us, the players and the fans too. We had such high hopes of winning the title and the trip to Ilorin came with such expectation but at the end, we missed out and could only pick a ticket to the continent as reward for our hard work.”
The performance of Bayelsa United, indeed, showed that it was prepared for the 2008/2009 considering the amount of points it garnered after 38 matches. Unlike the 2007/2008 season when it had 63 points, the NPL titleholder was nine points better than its previous performance. It amassed 72 points and won the title with a three-point gap over title rival, Heartland FC.
However, the Nigerian champion has set its sight on winning a treble this season. After claiming its first league title, it is also eyeing the FA Cup and the CAF Confederation Cup, according to Rumson.
“At the beginning of the season I did make the statement that we will be going for the treble. Now we have won the league title and we are also in the (CAF) Confederation Cup while we are still in the race for the FA Cup. So, we remain focus in our bid to achieve our target,” he said.
Bayelsa United could be heading back to its original home ground by the start of the next season if construction work at the Yenagoa Township Stadium in completed in earnest. The boss of the club pointed out that Bayelsa United is keen to return home because its expenses is having an effect on its purse. The club has had to pay for the use of the Oghara Township Stadium as well as its Enor Splendour Hotel camp in the same town.
Rumson explained to our correspondent: “They say eats or west, home is the best. We are happy that playing in Oghara has led to our winning the league and we will be happier playing in front of our home crowd next season in Yenagoa. Most of us have left our families back in Bayelsa for some many months and it is not like we prefer playing in Oghara, because it is eating deep into our purse. If that stadium in Yenagoa is ready tomorrow, I can tell you that we will be ready to move down to our original home ground.”
Rumson is, however, confident that this era belongs to Bayelsa United. He believes that clubs like Enugu Rangers, Heartland FC (formerly Iwuanyanwu Nationale) and Enyimba have had their era and that the time of the Yenagoa club has arrived. “Our time is now, we want to savour the period and hope that we can repeat this feat again next season and go on to become one of the top clubs in Nigeria.”

Heartland FC
Heartland Football Club’s Elvis Kingsley barring any injury or trials abroad should be making his sixth appearance in both the CAF Champions League and Confederation Cup. The player has represented Enyimba, Lobi Stars and Bendel Insurance in the past in club continental competitions. The first time he featured in a club continental competition was in 2000 with Lobi Stars when it competed in the CAF Champions League. In 2003, he won the CAF Champions League with Enyimba before joining up with Bendel Insurance for the CAF Confederation Cup in 2005. But it was disappointment in 2006, when he could not help Enyimba qualify from the group stage of the CAF Champions League coupled with last year’s semi-final finish of the Peoples Elephant. Indeed, Heartland FC’s head coach would be counting on his experience on the pitch when the group phase of the CAF Champions League gets underway this year.

Bayelsa United
The latest development on Bayelsa United after it lost its captain, Abiel Tabor, is that the presentation of the Premier League trophy to the Bayelsa State government may have been put on hold as a mark of respect to late Tabor. Monday Football understands that the Bayelsa State government is concerned about the death of the 26-year-old and would not meet the victorious side until the burial arrangements are concluded. Last Friday, the team made the journey from its base in Oghara to Yenagoa but could not meet with the state governor, Timipre Sylva. Most of the players out of disappointment left Yenagoa on Saturday morning and headed back to Oghara.
Meanwhile, the management of the club has promised the family of the late defender that all his entitlements would be made available when funds are released by the sole financier of the club. Spokesman of the club, Ebi Avi, told our league correspondent that the entitlement of the deceased players would be paid to the family. Avi also disclosed that the club is in regular correspondence with the Tabors in order to know when a date for his burial is chosen. He added that Bayelsa United would respect the family’s rights in its plans for the funeral arrangement for its son.

Sharks FC
Manager of Sharks Football Club, Kadiri Ikhana, has decided to remain mum despite earlier reports that he had been sacked by the management of the Port Harcourt club early last week. The former Kwara United, Kano Pillars and Enyimba coach did not want to comment on the issue when Monday Football accosted him on it. He responded thus: “There are some issues that do not need response. I cannot always respond to all issues because they involve Kadiri Ikhana. I have put that in the past and I want to just concentrate on my job and try and win something for Sharks.”

Lobi Stars
The management of Lobi Stars would be carrying out a review on the performance of the club officials and players after the just-concluded season. It is no longer news that it was indeed a disappointing out for Lobi Stars, which won its only league title in 1999. The review, it was learnt, was sanctioned by the Benue State deputy governor, Steven Lawani, who also doubles as the club’s chairman. This review, according to an insider at the club, means heads might roll before the commencement of next season.

Kwara United
Kwara United head coach, John Obuh, is confident that his side can upset the applecart when the Premier League campaign begins next season. Obuh, who is also head coach of the Golden Eaglets, said he is ready for the pressure of handling two jobs at the same time. He believes that his experience as a coach in the Nigerian league would help him thrive in both jobs.

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