Monday, July 06, 2009

NPL And Television-friendly Pitches

Last season, out of the 20 clubs that took part in the Premier League in Nigeria, none of the clubs could boast of their own pitches. From the champion last term, Bayelsa United, to the relegated clubs, the story on its own facilities remain the same. The Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Premier League (NPL), Alhassan Yakmut, acknowledged during the week that “some of the pitches that were used for Premier League matches were not television-friendly because they were not in the best of conditions.”
The Premier League board has not hidden its plans to tailor the topflight in the West African nation to that of England, which is regarded as the world’s most glamorous league. In spite of mapping out its plans carefully season after season, the NPL has continually hit a brick wall, as the clubs have been unable to present television-friendly pitches all through a whole season. The biggest brick wall that the Premier League has faced since 2004 when Nigeria adopted a new name for the topflight league has been the issue of clubs owing their grounds.
The danger of clubs using stadia that do not belong to them has been highlighted by the poor playing turfs often beamed on cable television to the continent and some parts of the world. Instances such as Warri Wolves, which is dependent on the Delta State government like the other 19 clubs in the topflight, was evident. Wolves had too relocate away from its original home ground to Oleh Township Stadium.
Oleh Township Stadium is a ground used by two other football clubs - Isoko United and Delta Queens. No wonder, the stadium manager, Efe Obuke, owned up that it was difficult to maintain a lush playing surface at the stadium due to the fact that the pitch in Oleh is overstretched by constant usage.
Warri Wolves is not the only team suffering this fate of having to play on a bald pitch, as several clubs fell short of the requirement to provide television-friendly grounds.
Another area that has totally been overlooked is the role of groundsmen at the various stadia used for the Premier League matches. Last season, the NPL did invite experienced groundsmen from England to impart knowledge to their Nigerian counterparts. And who were their Nigerian counterparts? Most of them were stadium managers, whose role in handling stadia facilities is quite different from that a groundsman. With the FIFA Under-17 World Cup set to be hosted in Nigeria at the same time when the Premier League would be ongoing next season, there is need for the NPL to meet with clubs to know their contingent plans to play elsewhere from their home grounds. Clubs such as Kano Pillars, Warri Wolves, Enugu Rangers and Kaduna United are those affected, as their stadia would be used for the World Cup scheduled for later this year.
Alhassan did note, however, that the NPL is taking inventory and should come up with alternatives before the start of the season. However, the issue of television-friendly pitches can be solved once and for all, only and only if the clubs embrace the opportunity of getting a Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) in their names from their host state governments in order to commence building their own grounds. Clubs such as Akwa United, Nasarawa United, FC Abuja and Jos University Teaching Hospital (JUTH) Football Club may not get such chance for now except they return to the topflight again.

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