NPFL Last Day 17: Rangers in last Dance at the Cathedral as Champions

By
Harry Iwuala

Dateline:
October 2, 2016.
The surge of human and vehicular traffic on the
popular Ogui Road stretched to the Otigba Junction coming from the
left side of the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium. It has sometime in the
course of the 2015/16 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL)
season been nicknamed the Cathedral.

They
were all headed to the stadium with different banners but all
proclaiming ‘Rangers International, another champion. By the end of
the evening when Rangers defeated El-Kanemi Warriors to lift their
first league title in 32 years, there were over 25,000 fans inside
the dome and many more outside.

There
were all shades on Rangers followers on that day at the stadium,
ranging from the very rich to the impoverished, the very important
and the proletariat, the popular and the unknown, the old, the youth
and children, male and female. It was a scene similar to January 20,
2008, when African Americans watched with teary eyes, smiles of
history and sighs of relief as Barack Obama sworn in as the first
ever African American President in the over 200 years of Democracy in
the nation of Star spangled banner. Rangers’ fans on October 3,
2016 also wept at the renaissance of the club. Tears of joy flowed
because just like the African Americans who never believed there will
be an Obama having endured over two centuries of slavery and civil
rights denials, many of the older Rangers fans confessed; they never
knew they will live to see such spectacle.

Sunday,
September 3, 2017: At the same Cathedral, seven times champion and
eastern neighbours, Enyimba International; were in Enugu for the
traditional Oriental Derby but the crowd came in trickles despite the
high stakes for both sides in the fixture. But as the encounter
progressed with the visitors a goal up, a sudden burst of arrivals
hit the stands. Estimates at the end of the match which saw Rangers
claw back to a 1-1 draw was put at over 12,000.

As
was aptly captured by former Nigerian international and one time
African Player of the Year, Victor Ikpeba, one of the pundits for
Supersport, the Official Broadcast partner to the league, “we have
half of the fans that witnessed the trophy presentation coming to say
goodbye to the trophy”.

But
earlier before the kick-off, a member of Rangers Management had
lamented the drop in Rangers’ fortune on and off the field and
while not submitting that the change in Management is a factor,
suggested that they had the wrong persons at the helm. He expressed
reservations that the club lost an opportunity to build on last
season’s greatness because ideas to entice fans to the stadium were
not being addressed.

It
was learnt that in a bid to shore up the dwindling numbers on the
stands, Flavour, the Enugu local who has found continental fame
through music was approached to hold up the club’s famous red and
white flag as a form of endorsement which he readily agreed. But that
huge goodwill was not put to use, it was learnt. This and perhaps,
the poor run, exit of key players may explain the huge drop in
numbers at the Cathedral which recorded an average of 18,000 in
attendance every match day last season.
From
Celebrating title win to jumping up for Draw and Survival

From
reactions on the stands during the match, Rangers fans must have
longed for a valedictory win and indeed to complete a double over
Enyimba. Despite what some of them adjudged as unfair calls by the
Referee, their glee was not to be denied at the final whistle which
saw over 2000 of them breach the security to invade the pitch in
light hearted mirth.

They
turned the turf to a privileged playground, dancing even when there
was no music from the loud speakers. Others executed acrobatic
displays, doing continuous back flips and seeking ‘Selfie’ photo
shots with the players and with each other. You would think it was a
celebration of title.
Imama Amapakabo was sacked at some point in the season

Catching
up with an elderly fan, Francis Ogbodo who sat rooted on one of the
state box seats, he surveyed the scene with deep contemplation and
when nudged to give his thoughts, said, “I am just wondering how
the celebration of nearly a year ago has turned to a celebration of
survival of relegation.

After
a 32-year wait to win the title, we have now gone back below where we
started from. It is sad and not a good story to tell the young fans.
Our support for Rangers has been sustained by the exploits of the
past but what will the younger ones hold on to? It is the reason they
are Arsenal, Manchester, Chelsea etc etc.”, concluded Ogbodo as he
held the arm rest to support his effort to be on his feet.

Earlier
in the day at a popular restaurant, Emily off Ogui Road, I had run
into
Chibuzor
Ozor, the long serving General Manager who superintended the historic
win by Rangers before he was relieved of the job. Ozor, called Sayama
by some of his friends and associates walks with a bounce. Standing
slightly above 4 feet; Ozor who also goes by the nickname,
‘Americana’ dresses to please his senses and not for popular
acclaim. At the launch hour encounter, he was dressed in starched
Italian linen white short sleeved shirt and trousers and after the
pleasantries, exclaimed in his affected American accent, “my men,
you guys have forgotten me…oh, that’s the way of life but you are
my friend and should not abandon me”.


There
are those who believe that the problems Rangers encountered in the
about to end season started right from the podium where the Governor
of Enugu State, Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi accompanied by the Deputy
Senate President, Ikechukwu Ekweremadu received the trophy from the
team captain, Okey Odita. A friend from the media pointed out that
the governor delivered no inspiring comments to the players and
management. He was admonished by another that the occasion was not
for making speeches and promises.

The
next news out of Enugu was the city trophy tour of the players aboard
a rickety truck that won’t be certified to transport livestock.
Thereafter, the blames trading started with some anonymous sources
pointing to the direction of the former state commissioner for sports
as the brain behind the roadshow of shame.

Finally,
shortly before Christmas, the Governor hosted the team and promised
cash reward totaling N41.5m and lands. The players went away
grumbling. The total money offered the players and officials would
come to less than N1m for each of the 35 registered players and 7
accredited officials.

They
started the season in tatters, losing 2-1 to Abia Warriors on opening
day and prior to that; had finished third in the pre-season
tournament, NPFL Super4 which was organized by the League Management
Company in Enugu.

So
continued the free fall, Ozor was sacked and replaced by former
captain and coach of Rangers, Christian Chukwu. Imama Amapakabo was
next after initial disagreements over his contract terms. Players
like Chisom Egbuchulam, voted MVP of the NPFL left for Sweden and was
followed by Obinna Nwobodo, another key figure in their run for the
title. Others were in and out of camp and the internal squabbles
showed in their performance every match day.

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