This morning as I walk around Dan Anyiam stadium I saw the decay, it was so much. Weeds has grown on the path ways and crack all over the complex. The football pitch has gone bald with patches of brownish grasses here and there. I couldn’t believe it, the walls as well as the popular sides have all cone greenish with murk, a sign that people don’t come here anymore.

The stadium complex that usually bobbled with life is now a ghost yard. But this is the home of Heartland football club of Owerri, one of the elite clubs in Nigeria Premier League, with a very rich pedigree. Recently, the team won the Federations cup back to back in 2011 and 2012.

Heartland is owned my Imo state government. Actually, the ownership of the club has metamorphosed over the years, from Spartans to Iwuanyanwu Nationale and now, Heartland.

The Good Old Days
I still remember how the stadium bobbled in the 80s. As a ball boy then, I still remember the match between Spartans Versus Enugu Rangers in Owerri. The 18, 000 capacity Dan Anyiam Stadium was so over crowded with Spectators that the walls fell down. The referee had to stop the match due to stampede, as the crowd began to encroach into the pitch.

This is how it was in the good old days. You dare not come to the stadium after 12 noon, for a match that would be played by 4pm; you will not find a space inside. The stadium would have been filled to capacity.  But things have changed now. You would hardly find 3, 000 spectators in any of Heartland’s recent games. It isn’t about Heartland; it’s all over Nigeria premier league. The stadiums are virtually empty in Nigeria.

 Naze Millionaires Are Broke
But Heartland is in crisis! Players were always going on strike last season, in protest of non-payment of sign-on fees, Salaries and Bonuses. Okechukwu Ndubueze, a fan of Heartland spoke with us: “We were disappointed with Rochas Okorocha, the Imo state governor, for neglecting the club.” “Don’t get me wrong. I was personally happy when Okorocha came to power. We (fans) were hoping he could replicate what former Abia state governor; Orji Uzor Kalu did with Enyimba of Aba. How he motivated the team to win Caf Champions League back to back in 2003 and 2004. But Okorocha seem not interested at all.” Ndubueze lamented.

Mass Exodus
Now, there is mass exodus of players out of Heartland. In fact, any player that worth the salt has gone with the band wagon. It’s disheartening to see the club’s pre-season games. It’s like feeders team training. The standard has gone so low for a club that is once known as ‘Naze Millionaires.’ Al the big stars were here: Nwankwo Kanu, Austin Okocha, Mobi Oparaku, Vincent Enyeama, Etim Essien, Lawerence Ukawgbu, Ndidi Anumunu, Andrew Uweh, Sunday Eboiegbe… This was when the club was owned by the millionaire, Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu. The club won many trophies then But today, Naze millionaires are broke!

Players Slavery in Nigeria
It isn’t about Heartland; fans are generally disappointed with Nigerian League. You can’t imagine why clubs refuse to keep to contractual obligations with players and you call this a professional league? It’s football slavery! It’s fraud!

League Management company (LMC) must address the issue of contract in Nigeria league. We must begin to involve professional: Player Agents, Lawyers for proper documentation and implementations.

Play By the Rules
The major challenge with Nigeria league is administrator does not play by the rules. They connive with club managers in perpetrating massive corruption in the league. Therefore, instead of club managers to invest on players and coaches, they rather invest more on match fixing, boardroom lobbying and other mundane activities – and these things are killing football in Nigeria.

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