THE GREAT SHADOW THAT CASTE OVER TESLIM BALOGUN STADIUM: Revealed the Abandoned Trophies of the Old Temple – (Nigeria Sporting History)

Teslim Balogun Stadium, Lagos

It was 5pm and while we waited for 2013 Federations Cup finals to kick off, I felt somehow awkward siting inside Teslim Balogun Stadium for the first time, as the evening caste a great shadow over the football pitch and stole away my thoughts.

How long will this beautiful edifice remain like this? Fashola, the Lagos state governor, has done a great job here. Take a tour of the stadium complex, the Astor-turf pitch and tartan tracks, cover stand and colorful plastic chairs for spectators… The entire stadium is looking so radiant; that should make me feel comfortable, but I wasn’t happy at all.

Former National Stadium Surulere

I was sad because of what the shadow on the pitch revealed to me and my heart was so troubled although the match – What about the great monument that lay waste on the other side of the road? At its prime, a far more beautiful stadium  but now abandoned for lunatics and vagabonds to inhabit.

As a little boy, my school teachers usually gather us here every October 1st, to give us the final instructions before we cross over the main road to the stadium for Independence day match pass. So I have a treasured memory of the national stadium Surulere. Sorry, the former national stadium Surulere.

Inside view

A whole generation of sports fans in my time grew up with this Stadium in Lagos, so it’s quite difficult for them to conceive that the new national stadium is now in Abuja.

Popular stand

According to Joe Erico, former national team goal keeper and coach: “When you say national stadium, what first comes to my mind is the one in Surulere; that’s where we all grew up as national team players and we have some great memories of the stadium in our national history.”
outside view

“This is the reason we the ex-players keep coming back here for the ‘All Stars Meetings.’ It’s like our own shrine; our own temple. The temple of the old masters, and it feels like we laid some great treasures  underground here. You see we won a lot of trophies for Nigeria in this stadium and it’s unfortunate that the government had to abandon it like this.” Erico explained.

“It’s like the fable of the old wife. When an irresponsible man goes on to marry a new wife, he leaves the older one to fend for herself.” Austin Popo, Secretary of the Association of Professional footballers of Nigeria, reacted.

It’s the tupical attitude of government in Nigeria, “the Use and Dump Syndrome.” It isn’t only about the former national stadium. What about the ex-national team players that judiciously served this country in their prime. Players like Samuel Okwaraji died there! Many of these ex-players are out there living under the bridge, if they can’t find a place in an uncompleted building. Many of them are sick and dying without anyone to fend for them. They are now like this abandoned property.” Popo lamented.

I am aware that today there are many good stadia across Nigeria and our national teams can afford to rotate their matches from Calabar to Kaduna, Bauchi to Port Harcourt… Perhaps, this is why the Abuja stadium hadn’t captured our consciousness as the new national stadium.

 But the national stadium in Surulere will remain in our memory forever. It can be said, this is stadium Nigeria won its first nation cup in 1980. There’s no way you can erase the memory of what happened in Surulere that night.

Let us learn to cherish our national treasures!   Let us rebuild Former National Stadium Surulere!

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