Over the years, one distinctive element that has bedevilled the development of the Nigerian Football League is violence on and off the pitch with its attendant effects on the game.
This situation is something which has become prevalent since the 90’s. The heydays of Segun Odegbami with IICC shooting stars of Ibadan, Chairman Christian Chukwu of Rangers, Enugu, and others saw massive following with crowds at stadiums but rather than build on this positive situation, our league has become a mere case of fulfilling all righteousness.
Hence, as the years and seasons roll on, our league is cast in a shadow of itself, immersed in deep waters of crowd troubles, hooliganism every now and then with a reinforcement of the “win at home” syndrome.
This situation has left us with diverse tales, stories, and drama making many home grounds of teams in recent times a no-go area for away teams and their fans. It has robbed us of the imminent competitive stance which is the hallmark of sports – a visible reality that can be gleaned from leagues in other parts of Africa, like South Africa, Egypt and Tunisia.
This is because teams approach away matches with the notion to lose in a bid to avoid trouble, a situation many former players and those still actively playing in the Nigerian Football League have alluded to.
Little wonder getting a draw or victory away from home is seen as a miracle, something that is a norm in super leagues like the Spanish La Liga, the English Premiership, and the Italian Serie A to mention but a few.
Our referees are also big victims in the scheme of things since they are more or less key decision makers in every game. Many have suffered injuries in a bid to ensure a fair game as in 2015 when fans of Akwa United beat to a pulp on opening match day a female referee for awarding a penalty to the visiting Enyimba.
We can go further down memory lane to 2008 when a referee lost his tooth at the Aba township stadium for disallowing a goal against visiting Heartland. More so, players and their managers have seen their fair share of this violence across stadia. To put it straight, one of Nigeria’s iconic football managers Kadiri Ikhana who has won the CAF Champions League and the domestic league with Enyimba and Kano pillars, told a sad tale of how football violence left one of his legs badly damaged, a scar that will live with him till death.
How can we forget the case where James Bumkerg, a Lobi stars cameraman was severely beaten and wounded at the Akure township stadium in 2015 when Sunshine hosted them. He stated how his parents asked that he quit being a cameraman for Lobi stars due to the wanton injuries he had suffered.