Mystery of the absent fans

By Segun Agbede.

Segun Agbede

Segun Agbede

Where are the  football supporters that used to troop out in their thousands into match venues across the nation in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s?The biggest conundrum facing the Nigeria Professional Football League today is the dearth of fans in the stadiums. From Liberation Stadium in Port Harcourt to Ilorin Township Stadium, the story remains the same, empty stands.

A lot of people have ascribed our virtually empty stadiums to the strong pull of the European leagues, especially the fanatic devotion of the average Nigerian football fan to the English Premier League. However, I think that is a rather simplistic point of view. I have been to quite a few NPFL games since the end of the EPL, and it is still the same story – attendance is still very low.

I was in Warri last weekend for what turned out to be a superb week 19 NPFL encounter between Warri Wolves and Sunshine Stars of Akure.

The match itself was a cracker, one of the best NPFL games I’ve seen this season between two teams in very good form.  Warri Wolves were second in the league with 30 points, one of only two NPFL teams yet to lose at home all season. Sunshine Stars were sixth on 27 points and are almost impregnable at home but curiously fragile on the road. The Stars have only notched up  two draws from their nine away games and lost the rest.

Despite new coach Fatai Amoo’s  solid defensive  tatics., Sunshine Stars were undone by a moment of sheer class from emerging star, 19-year-old Ogenekaro Etebor. His movement off the ball, pace and trickery worried the Stars all afternoon. Etebor broke the deadlock in the 43rd minute of the first half and Kola Anubi settled matters with another clinical stike in injury tiome.

I mentioned the goal scorers in the Wolves versus Sunshine game quite deliberately, as we the fans do not know the players that ply their trade across the country, week in week out. I confess I had barely heard of Sunday Mba before his selection for the Super Eagles African Cup of Nations squad.

This brings me to my first point, we need to hype these players more. The players are the the lifeblood of the clubs. They are a special product that must be advertised and promoted. The NPFL, from the numerous games I’ve watched, has more than enough talents that can become household names.

In the past, fans across the country flocked to see the greats play. Great names such as Segun Odegbami, Adokie Amesimaka, Christian Chukwu, Muda Lawal, Patrick Ekeji ( yes, Chief was a superb defender!). The next generation of legends is out there waiting to be discovered. Etebor would have grabbed a hat trick if he had played in place of any of the bumbling Eagles strikers that were so inept against Tahiti.

Another myth I must dispel is the supposed lack of security in the stadiums. The time of the area boy or ‘agbero’ in the stadiums has passed. They have since moved on to the much more lucrative province of politics. In the games I’ve been to. I’ve seen fathers bring their children and lot of ladies in attendance too. The police presence in most stadiums is usually strong enough to deter any anti-social behavior.

The fact that the NPFL is shown only on SuperSport and not on terrestrial television ironically also prevents fans from coming to match venues. It’s all about disseminating information and creating brand loyalty. Millions more Nigerians would be able to enjoy the unique flavour of the NPFL.

Credits: Written by Segun Agbede, The Pundit ([email protected]; Twitter: @SegunThePundit). Originally published in Saturday Punch of June 15, 2013.