Fans assault a referee during a Nigeria Professional Football League game
The incident at the Sports Complex in Maiduguri on Saturday, May 4, 2019, shocked not just Nigerians but most people on Social Media space that saw the videos.
It was in the aftermath of the game between El Kanemi Warriors FC and Go Round FC that ended 2-2 and as far as the fans of the home side were concerned, no club had the right to take a point off them at their ground, hence the incident.
The video showed football players (from Go Round FC) sitting on the ground on the stadium football pitch with match referees standing close to them. There were soldiers and police, all armed, as though protecting them from present or imminent danger and there was a mob about thirty or so metres away, apparently baying for blood.
The one minute and thirteen seconds video, probably shot by one of those sitting on the ground had the players of Go Round discussing the game, most of them in Igbo language and suddenly there were gunshots renting the air as the players’ bodies shook with each shot.
The video (unless after forensic analysis) did not show if the mob shot first and then the soldiers replied leading to an exchange of gunfire, or if it was just the soldiers shooting to scare off the advancing crowd, but there was gunfire, in the stadium, in the midst of professional football players and referees, yet they were not in a war zone.
Now let me let this sink in.
Who are these people?
 

Every stadium has these fans. They should be removed from our grounds
One thing I know from the thirty-eight years I have followed the Nigerian league is that these people are not fans of the team. They are simply hired hands who know their duties at the stadium. And their duties are simply to intimidate referees and visiting teams. They do not buy replica jerseys, neither do they buy tickets to get into the stadium nor contribute positively to the club in one way or the other. But, yes, they have an assignment at the grounds every Match Day and that would be to ensure the referees and the away team players are intimidated enough to get the home team to win easily, and when it does not happen? Mayhem and Carnage!
These people exist in every stadium in Nigeria that has a club playing in the league. Every stadium has them. Some are regular salary earners at the clubs, some are on allowances, others just get paid per match day depending on how aggressively they intimidate the referees while others get special perks like travelling with the team for certain choice games within or outside the country as a reward for hard work; hard-work done helping the club win via untoward means, thus destroying the reputation of the league.
This is not the first and certainly will not be the last
Remo Stars president, Kunle Soname


The incident of May 4, 2019, was not the first in the league this season. It happened on Match Day 1 after a game between Plateau United and FC Ifeanyi Ubah. It also happened after a game between Remo Stars and Bendel Insurance where there was a video of the Remo Stars president, apparently suggesting that the referee deserved the pounding he got. It will certainly happen again this season and many more times next season.
Before this season I had experienced it at least a dozen times. In Kano in 2011 (Kano Pillars v Dolphins), in Jos in 2004 (Plateau United v Dolphins) in Ilorin in 2004 (Kwara United v Dolphins), in Owerri in 2009 (Heartland v El Hadood). I was there in Nembe in 2017 (Bayelsa United v Go Round FC) when the boys suggested they were going to harm me real bad if I do not leave the stadium as they noticed I had seen what they were doing to the referee in the dressing room at half time, so any Nigerian League football follower reading this knows it has been a recurring decimal in our football, local football, that is.
How the English cleaned their game

According to Wikipedia, it was because of hooliganism that the English league began to build fences at football grounds.
Receiving treatment after a League game. Referee didn’t fall off the cliff
In the 60s. the United Kingdom had a worldwide reputation for hooliganism in football that it was called the English Disease.
“Football hooliganism in England dates back to the 1880s when individuals referred to as roughs caused trouble at football matches. Local derby matches would usually have the worst trouble, but in an era when fans did not often travel, roughs would sometimes attack the referees and the visiting team’s players”- Wikipedia.org
Names like The Herd (Arsenal), Villa Hardcore (Aston Villa), Suicide Squad (Burnley), Chelsea Headhunters (Chelsea) and Red Army (Manchester United) amongst others were names of organised Hooligan firms that wreaked havoc on grounds in the UK.
History tells us that in 1974 after Manchester United were relegated to the old Second Division, the Red Army (Man United hooligans) wreaked havoc on many grounds around the UK.
That same year a Bolton Wanderers fans stabbed a young Blackpool fan to death at Bloomfield road in a second division match while an FA Cup quarter-final match between Newcastle United and Nottingham Forest in 1974 saw hundreds of fans invade the pitch, one of them attacking a Nottingham Forrest midfielder, Dave Serella Wikipedia.org
Fans also fought on the pitch in 1975 in the relegation battle between Tottenham Hotspurs and Chelsea before Spurs finally relegated Chelsea in the return fixture.
On 8 August 1986 rival gangs of Manchester United and West Ham United hooligans were involved in violence on a Sealink ferry bound for Hook of Holland. Eight football hooligans, all either Manchester United or West Ham United supporters, received prison sentences totalling 51 years 16 months later.  Wikipedia.org
The point of this historical class is to show that the fans violence and hooliganism was maybe worse in the English game than in Nigeria, but how did the English clean up their game?
In the 80s, the UK government made concerted efforts to crack down on thugs and hooligans in stadiums.
And it wasn’t just the government alone because the clubs joined in the cleanup.
Leeds United was the first British club to have Closed Circuit Television Cameras (CCTV) installed in their stadium, I believe in the 70s.
Security was increased at the grounds and then seats were numbers and tickets sold accordingly.
Violent people could be traced to their seats and their names and addresses retrieved. They were banned from turning up for matches. It was a concerted effort to clean up the game.
The English banned alcohol at their stadiums, they created the early start of games that had the probability of violence.
The idea of moving games from 3pm to noon was to give the trouble makers less time to drink and get drunk.
They also banned fans from stadia (closed door bans as we call it in Nigeria) and of course fan coaching to educate them on the dangers of hooliganism.
How can we get rid of our hooligans
 

Boxing training? No! It is Remo Stars v Bendel Insurance. A League match
My friend, Biola Kazeem has this crazy idea that the Nigerian league clubs should do away with the current set of fans and get a new one and I seem to agree with him.
The Nigerian league does not need most of the current fans that watch games. The ones who do not pay to get in, yet destroy the reputation of the league. They add no value to our football yet they are the first at the grounds. They sit in the VIP section looking unkempt and wild, thus preventing the real VIP from getting in and feeling comfortable. The league does not need them.
The League needs the next generation, the generation that currently sits at home to play games on their computers, the generation that currently prefers to watch the European Leagues. The generation that will fill up a stadium for a social media league, yet will not watch the professional league is the group we need at our grounds.
No manager of a bank in Nigeria would go to the stadium, jump the barricades and physically assault a referee; no doctor would go for a league game and beat up a referee, neither would an engineer who just returned from a three-week job offshore. They will also buy tickets to watch games. I also doubt if students at our private schools that go on a school bus trip to watch a League game would eventually jump the fence to assault referees. Shouldn’t these be the group we woo to watch our games and adopt our clubs are theirs?
What have these hooligans done to make the League better?
The next generation
These should be our target for a better League
In April 2018, while preparing for the celebration of my 1000th football game watched at a stadium, I visited three secondary schools (two private and one public) and the idea was to chat with the kids about a couple of things, one of them being to follow Nigerian sports and football.
In fact, the administrator of one of the schools I was at held discussions with me one taking their students to a League game as a group. We were still working out modalities when the news of a stadium fight broke out in one of our League games.
That is the generation we should target. The 10- 16-year-olds. They should be the top priority as a new set of fans for our league, but how do we do away with the old?
Would the clubs agree?
Therein lies the problem of the League and why the violence may not go away so soon.
The commentary is always about the League increasing the punishment for erring clubs but what is the guarantee that it will change anything?
The penalty for examinations malpractice in our higher institutions is rustication but has this in any way stopped or reduced malpractice? As long as the hooligans are hired and paid by the clubs, the violence would be rife at our grounds.
Will the clubs do away with those that help them win games through “Behind the curtain” means?
The Nigerian League will not improve any time soon and a lot of the blame lies with the chairmen of the League clubs who are under pressure from the state sports commissioners to win the League, qualify to play on the continent or avoid relegation. These state sports commissioners are also under pressure from their state governments because they had probably collected so much money to run the clubs and made promises that would be difficult to fulfil. So the club chairman who wants to justify the expenditure and ensure he still has a job finds a way to win that is totally different from improving the quality of playing personnel or the coaching. The day we all sincerely decide to clean up the league, then it will be clean.
However, while we wait for this decision to be made, the clubs must realise that they need new sets of fans as the current set of hooligans do not just destroy whatever is left of the League but prevent the real fans from going close to the stadium. Those that add value, that will fill up the grounds, enjoy the games, buy replica jerseys, tweet about being at the grounds, and will not help to bring the game to disrepute. But can these club chairmen take the risk?
Let us start by the entrance to most Nigerian League venues. The men at the gates, selling tickets are, for lack of nicer words, straight up thugs and cut-throats. The faint of heart will not go near the gates of our stadia on match days.
Is this a risk we are ready to take? Clean up our game? I hope in my lifetime.

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