"WE OWN THE GAME!": Lagos Continue to Lay Claim On Football Sport In Nigeria

 Perhaps, you would have seen the billboards and the BRT buses bills with the slogan “We own the game!” that’s a bold declaration and it seems Raji Fashola, the sport loving governor of Lagos state, is agitating for the return of football to Lagos. No state in Nigeria could make such a bold claim, not even Enugu state that has one of the oldest and most popular football club, Rangers International as well as one of the finest stadiums, Nnamdi Azikwe stadium; or even Kano State with such rich football heritage, their well supported club, Kano pillars and the Adio Bayero stadium, couldn’t make that claim either. But Lagos don't even have a premier league club as at today.

Perhaps, Lagos is still basking on its past glories. It’s all history now, with just monuments – the glassless Onikan Stadium and the dilapidated former national stadium Surulere – to remind you that football was once placed here. Never the less, we can still reckon that Lagos has a strong football pedigree. History books will tell you of the great football clubs like Stationery Stores, Julius Berger, ACB, Nigerdock, Union Bank, Abiede… that produced such great players like Henry Nwosu, Samson Siasia, Victor Ikpeba, Sunday Oliseh, Emmanuel Amunike, Victor Agali and most recently, Yakubu Aiyegbeni and Obafemi Martins. Lagos also produced great goal keepers like, Peter Rufai, Ike Shorumu, Dosun Joseph, and Willy Okpara…

Football happened in Lagos, with great tournaments like, Principal Cup, Mock-nations Cup, LAFA League, YSFON and other local football competition that raised stars for the country. Football talents were seen everywhere, especially in places like Ajegunle, where the magical Tarila Okoronwanta was discovered. It was like a tradition that all international matches and national team games must be played in Lagos.

Well, that prerogative is not there anymore; for over 17 years or so, football has left Lagos. And the stadiums are no longer in use, except sporadically, for Christian crusades and political rallies. The reason may be partly because Lagos state is no longer the country's capital and Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) had to take national team football to the capital city, Abuja.  The government has built a state of the art national stadium in Abuja and everyone seems to have abandoned the former one in Surulere Lagos.

The high rate of hooliganism and stadium insecurity didn’t help matters. Some national team players had protest to NFF,  to take national team games out of Lagos for security reasons.

Yet, another reason may be the fact that the Lagos darling club, Stationery Stores, got demoted and later disbanded; Julius Berger left Lagos for Abeokuta and there were no longer prime football actions going on in the state. With the present situation, why does Lagos state still claim ownership of football?

Well I can't answer that question. But I know Lagos state is damn serious about it. Governor Fashola seems to be spearheading the return football to Lagos project. As if to justify the claim, he has gone ahead to build an ultra modern Teslim Balogun Stadium with Astor-tuff football pitch. So, there may be no reason why Lagos state cannot host national team or other top football fixtures in the country.

Lagos state has recently hosted FIFA U16 tournament, some top international friendly games and the last F.A. Cup finals between Enyimba Vs HeartLand. Governor Fashola has participated in some novelty matches and has invited top football personalities like, Rio Ferdinand of Manchester United. He’s also planning to host Arsenal pre-season tour in June 2012.

Lagos state has also invested largely on grassroots football to start developing talents again –from inter-street competition, school soccer, to state junior league project. It’s just a matter of time; Fashola will bring back football to Lagos state.

The question now is, with the incessant bombing in Abuja and the northern states; the kidnapping and militant activities in the south-East, is it not time football return to Lagos

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