Warri Wolves players chase the referee in their Federation Cup game against FC Ifeanyi Ubah
By China Acheru
The
2015/16 Nigeria Professional Football League season has finally rounded up and
what makes the news now must be the reminiscences of the good the bad and ugly
of the season.
Fans,
the media and club players and staff alike should look back at how they handled
themselves in during the course of the league and ask tough questions ahead of
the next season.
The
reports from Nigerian stadia this season has been, to say the least very
disturbing as fans invaded the pitch a couple of times when decisions did not
favour their side and physically assaulted the referees and also disrupted
games.
We
saw it happen in the League and in the Cup games and its frequency no doubt
brought the game to disrepute.
Now
there are two issues here- one of clubs abandoning matches when decisions do
not go their way and then fans of an “aggrieved” side invading the pitch while
the game is still on to physically assault the match referees.
Yes,
that is how low Nigerian football has sunk, at least for this out gone football
season.
A history of
football violence
Some
sections of the Nigerian media would claim stadium violence is not peculiar to
Nigerian football and that it is a worldwide occurrence, so maybe, we should go
back, down memory lane.
According
to Neil Jones in his piece, Football Violence & Top 10 Worst
Football Riots
written on 5 March, 2009, “Football is a passionate
game. That is like saying cliff-walking is a dangerous one. Plenty of sports
have their passion, but to me, football’s remains the most tribalistic. How
many people do you know who can transform from run-of-the-mill Mr. Average to
vein-through-the-head Mr. Angry, and all because of a contentious penalty
decision. The game brings to the surface emotions that don’t usually appear in
everyday life, the anger, the venom, the vitriol, the bitterness, the greed,
the elation, the relief. They are all extremities too. If a ref disallows a
perfectly good goal, it’s as if he has burgled your shed. If your side secures
a late winner, you act like it’s the birth of your first child. All
conventional logic goes out the window when football is involved. It’s a primal
game.”
That
paragraph sums up the emotions of football but looking through a list of
notable acts of hooliganism in football stadia worldwide, none quite matches
what we have experienced in Nigeria.
One
of the earliest recorded reports of football violence was in 1885 in a game
between Preston North End and Aston Villa.
After
the game, which was a friendly, players of both sides were pelted with stones,
sticks and fists as the left the pitch (Neil Jones)
But
aside that incident, most, if not all of the cases of football violence had
been fan on fan violence before and after games with a few instances right
there in the stands.
A
notable example is the Liverpool vs Juventus in 1985 that led to the death of
39 Juventus fans at the Heysel Stadium in Belgium.
However,
I have not seen, neither have I heard of incidents in Europe where fans ran
onto the pitch to beat the living daylights out of the referees because of a
decision that did not go down well with them.
Maybe
it has happened, but I have not seen nor heard.
The Nigerian
example
In
the Nigerian League and Cup matches, and this is right from the 70s, we have
seen fan on fan violence before during and after games but the most disturbing
of them is the physical assault on match referees by aggrieved fans that has
continued till this day.
In
the League and Cup this season, there have been cases of clubs refusing to play
games the moment they are aggrieved and there is also the case of players and
fans physically assaulting the referees, two scenarios that must be condemned.
On
April 17, 2016, fans of home side, Giwa FC in a game against Enugu Rangers
threw objects into the pitch and assaulted the referees in the tunnel. Police
had to disperse the fans using tear gas.
That
game was abandoned.  
On
June 19, fans of MFM FC beat up referee, Alaba Johnson in a game in Lagos
against Shooting Stars.
On
July 10, in a game between Warri Wolves and Wikki Tourists, fans of the home
team beat up the referee after the final whistle.
On
July 24, in the game between Heartland and FC Ifeanyi Ubah, referees were
beaten up at full time.
On
August 7, Ikorodu United versus Shooting Stars the game was abandoned in the 89th
minute after fans unrest when Shooting Stars scored an equalizing goal.
On
September 7, in Umuahia in a game between Abia Warrriors and FC Ifeanyi Ubah,
the referees were beaten up at Full time. The encounter ended 1-1.
Rivers United’s Godwin Obinze was not demanding a kiss from this referee
In
the Federation Cup Semifinal game between Warri Wolves and FC Ifeanyi Ubah, the
game was abandoned by Wolves as their players chased and assaulted the referee.
Also
in the Federation Cup semifinal, Rivers United decided to stop playing after
Enyimba got a penalty for what would have been their second goal as they
already led 1-0 at that point.
In
the NNL, we have seen it happen in games Go Round FC v Remo Stars, Prime FC v
Remo Stars, J Atete v ABS, Crown V J Atete, Delta Force v Remo Stars, Sokoto
United v Katsina United.
Finally,
on Match Day 38, Heartland FC abandoned their game in Jos claiming a penalty
call was turned down by the referee and a goal also disallowed.
That
decision led to their eventual relegation.
These
are just one too many for one football season, but the one that occurred in the
Federation Cup semifinal game in Kaduna between Crown FC and FC Ifeanyi Ubah on
Wednesday, September 29, 2016 just further goes to show Nigerians may have lost
their humanity over football.
Jungle justice in
our media
The media must discourage scenes like these
The
Nigerian media have also played their role in instigating violence, especially
those on social media.
More
often than not, rather than condemn abandoning of games and fans violence, they
seem to justify it by blaming referees for poor officiating.
There
can never be any justification for jungle justice and sections of the media
should not make it seem as though the fans had no choice since refereeing
decisions seemed not to favour the team they support.
If
jungle justice is to be condemned on our streets in the case of petty thieves
burned or beaten to death, we cannot in another breath justify jungle justice
in our football stadia.
There
also cannot be a justification for bad officiating, but the media should be the
enlightened lot, not like a mob with many heads but very few brains.
Justifying
pitch invasion by the media will not in any way help the development of Nigerian
football.
The
media and all those with access to smart phones and a data plan need to take a
deep breath before they hit the key pads next time.
The trouble with
millionaire clubs
 

Dr. Ifeanyi Ubah at the center of the storm

FC
Ifeanyi Ubah seems to be feeling the brunt of the media anger at poor
officiating.
It
is not just the media anger but that of the populace too and it is not peculiar
to the Nnewi based club
The
media have made it seem as though it is an FC Ifeanyi Ubah issue, but it is as
much an Ifeanyi Ubah issue as it is one of Enyimba, Kano Pillars, Shooting
Stars or even Remo Stars in the lower division.
The
problem with millionaire clubs is that the fans and sections of the media
simply turn against you and accuse you of trying to buy the League and it’s the
same in Nigeria as it is all over the world.
It
happened with Iwuanyanwu Nationale between 1988 and 1993.
After
the disbandment of Abiola Babes and Leventis United and with Chief Emmanuel
Iwuanyanwu and his millions buying over Spartans, they signed the key players
at these two disbanded clubs and won the League title for three consecutive
seasons and also got to the final of the Champions League.
A
section of Nigerians thought those successes were achieved through untoward
means.
It
also happened with Julius Berger in the 90s when Daniel Idama was club
chairman. At that time in Nigerian football, it was rumoured that there were
certain referees in the country who received salaries from Julius Berger FC
every month.
In
the last decade, a lot of people also thought Enyimba FC had a lot of referees
on their pay roll and they won the league/ games through untoward means. People
still say that about Enyimba until this day.
Dolphins
FC bore the brunt between 2004- 2007 as a section of the media and Nigerians
did not think they won titles “cleanly”
In
England, between 2004 and 2012, Chelsea FC were accused of buying success and
the same accusation have been thrown at Manchester City, Real Madrid and Paris
St. Germain, so the accusations thrown at FC Ifeanyi Ubah are not new.
If
FC Ifeanyi Ubah are involved in any wrong doing, let the Nigeria Referee
Association, NRA handle it because they produce these referees.
Then
let the Nigeria Football Federation Referee’s appointment Committee take
responsibility because they decide which referees handle the matches.
Anyone
still aggrieved should then make a case with the Nigeria Football Federation
proper because they run the game in the country.
But
to throw decency to the dogs and attempt to murder people in a stadium or
demonize clubs and individuals is not on.
Amnesty at the
stadia?
I
have often wondered why Nigerians can go scot free if assault is committed
within the walls of a stadium but would be arrested and prosecuted if the same
offence is committed on the streets.
A
mob pummeling a referee is attempted murder, but they mysteriously are allowed
to walk, just because it is in a stadium complex, which does not seem right.
There
should be no amnesty in our stadia, rather situations where arrests are made
(not stage-managed ones) and people actually prosecuted for crimes against
football.
What the
Federation should do

The
Nigeria Football Federation should also talk less and show more commitment to
stopping the rot.
A
situation where a referee banned for horrible officiating is alleged to have
returned to handle a high profile game is not the best for our football.
Nigerians
deserve better from the referees and it is the duty of the Referees appointment
committee to hand us the best.
Weeding
the bad seed should be paramount in the plan of the Federation.
But
as we tackle the problem of questionable officiating, which happens all over
the world anyway, the fans need more education.
We
cannot keep running into a football pitch to lynch people because we are
aggrieved.
Footballers
and club managers also need more education as we cannot walk out of the pitch
anytime things do not go our way.
Finally,
the media, both traditional and new media need to condemn acts that actually
bring the game to disrepute.
The
Nigerian league will get better; it’s a slow but gradual process. We all need
to walk together to achieve it.
The
English did not abandon their game in the dark days of the 70s and 80s, neither
did the Spanish or Italians. There is no way we should abandon ours.
Have Nigerians lost
their humanity because of football?
Peaceful scenes as this are very regular in the League too
Certainly
not! Well a few acted that way, but kudos to Rivers United fans in Port
Harcourt as there was no case of fan violence or abandoned games in Port Harcourt
all season.
Fans
at Elkanemi, Kano Pillars, Wikki Tourists, Rangers at Shooting Stars also
behaved themselves this past season as there were no reported cases of violence
in the stadia and no games abandoned.
Besides,
there were more than three hundred games played in the Nigerian league but just
less than twenty of them had incidents that would bring the game to disrepute.
Nigerians
have not lost their humanity to football but we must up our game because
#NaWeGame

Additional
Information by Fisayo Dairo

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