• Sat. Apr 20th, 2024

The Moustached Journalist says;

With the 2023/24 Nigeria Premier Football League (NPFL) tramping on, the poor standard of football pitches being paraded by some respective clubs has continued to eclipse the showiness and excitement seen in the nation’s topmost league even though with the constant lamentations and incitement by players, officials, and fans too.

This demeanour is no longer coming off as a surprise because it is now obvious that among the myriad of problems aggravating the condition of the domestic league is poor infrastructure as exemplified by substandard playing pitches. Even in recent times, the level of stadia across the country is fast becoming an eyesore and a major setback to the growth of Nigerian football. Many of the pitches are worsening due to poor maintenance culture and have been turned into worship centres and concert venues.

The main entrance to Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium alias ‘The Fortress’ and the home ground to Edo State Government-owned clubs, Bendel Insurance Football Club and Edo Queens. Photo Credit: Culled from Wikipedia.

More often than not, football is seen as a viable business in the world today but this is not the same with Nigeria as investment and sponsorship are minimal. Governments at all levels, must see football as a lucrative enterprise and learn the nitty-gritty from other successful leagues in developed countries, especially in Europe, and the stadia must be protected and invested in to meet current global realities.

Unfortunately, efforts made over the years by the defunct League Management Company (LMC) and now the League Management Committee (LMC), a subsidiary of Nigeria Premier League Limited (NPL) chaired by Hon. Gbenga Elegbeleye to ensure that all 20 participating teams in the league conform to having FIFA/CAF approved stadiums with good playing turfs for players to exhibit their talents to the cheers of the fans have failed to yield the needed results as matches in the NPFL are still played on pitches that are more of cattle rearing grounds than football pitches.

The once famous National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos currently undergoing revampment through the benevolence of some corporate business tycoons in Nigeria. Photo Credit: Culled from The Guardian Nigeria.

In addition, most of the stadia have artificial turfs while few others have natural grass as playing turf. One of the excuses given for the preference for artificial pitches is that it eases the cost of maintenance compared to natural grass. Funnily enough, in terms of maintenance, even the artificial pitches have not fared better than the few with natural grass.

It is really a no-brainer from the LMC to have rectify a good number of pitches that are overdue for total renovations to be used for domestic actions in the NPFL. Even to the extent that they are even televised on screen, in the name of promoting a league that seriously needs an overhauling from the top to the bottom?

In the same light, the M.K.O Abiola National Stadium in Abuja is expressing due rehabilitation at the moment. Photo Credit: Culled from Tripadvisor.

It will be recalled that before the commencement of the current season, the LMC rejected some of the match venues that they felt were not benefitting for domestic actions. For this same reason, both Umuahia Township Stadium, Umuahia and Dan Anyiam Stadium, Owerri are not only hosting NPFL matches but also featuring live on-screen even with the deplorable conditions of the playing surfaces.

Therefore, some of these artificial and natural grass pitches in the various stadiums have completely fallen far below the standard of football pitches as seen in the top leagues across Europe. Devastatingly, players in the NPFL are barely struggling to showcase their talents on uneven surfaces. Even with teams having severe headaches on every matchday to string a few good passes on such furrowed pitches.

The legendary Mobolaji Johnson Arena (Onikan Stadium), Lagos was refaced into a beautiful sporting facility by the Lagos State Government. Photo Credit: Culled from Nigeria Football Leagues on Facebook.

The appalling conditions of these pitches are below manageable now that the dry season is quite much around. There was a disgusting sight recently when Heartland played host to Remo Stars at the Dan Anyiam Stadium in Owerri. It was more of a horse racing contest in the Sahara desert than a football match in Owerri. Each kick of the ball on the patchy pitch loomed voluminous dust into the atmosphere.

Speaking with journalists in the post-match presser of his team’s 3-1 loss to Heartland FC, Head Coach of Remo Stars, Daniel Ogunmodede profusely emphasized on how the pitch affected his players’ performance, expressed his dissatisfaction with the poor condition of the pitch at Dan Anyiam Stadium while describing it as more suitable for athletics than football, as reported by SportsRation.

Action recorded on Matchday 16 of the 2023/24 Nigeria Premier Football League season between Heartland FC and Remo Stars on the patchy and bumpy pitch of Dan Anyiam Stadium in Owerri, Imo State. Photo Credit: Culled from @RemoStarsSC on X.

“The most woeful game for us this season because we played in the most woeful field in the league. We were running helplessly for 90 minutes. It would have been better to have an athletic competition here rather than having a football competition.

“We lost concentration and we were dealt with. For me, it’s difficult to defend from 1st minute to 90 minutes. That is what we tried to do with the nature of the pitch and we can’t play our game. They forced us to play their game due to the nature of the pitch. We couldn’t defend till the end and fight the battle of area balls and they took advantage of it.” Ogunmodede noted.

Remo Stars Stadium in Ikenne, Ogun State – the home ground to fleet of private-owned Nigerian clubsides; Remo Stars, Remo Stars Ladies, and Beyond The Limits all financed by a business mogul, Kunle Soname. Photo Credit: Culled from @AfricaFactsZone on X.

It is no longer news that Nigeria is overwhelmed with an avalanche of dilapidated stadiums and football pitches. Hence, it has resulted in a lack of interest from fans to go and see live domestic actions across various match centres. It is high time the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) declared a state of emergency on football pitches in Nigeria to ensure they are all remodelled to a world-class and professional standard edifice.

Sadly, a delegation from the Confederation of African Football (CAF) was in the country for stadium inspections across the cities in September 2023, only to approve one of meeting its international standard – Godswill Akpabio Stadium, Uyo. This narrowed the Super Eagles’ options down to having their AFCON 2023 qualifier fixtures in Akwa Ibom.

Godswill Akpabio International Stadium in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State also known as ‘Nest of Champions’. Due to its world-class edification, this has been the stadium hosting both the Super Eagles’ AFCON and FIFA World Cup Qualifiers for sometime now. Photo Credit: Culled from The Sun Nigeria.

With this, it means that there is an urgent need for both the Ibrahim Musa Gasua-led NFF administration and the Federal Ministry of Youth & Sports Development under the leadership of Senator John Owan Enoh to work hand in hand with putting more pitches in good shape in this New Year. And of course, that will help the national teams prepare very well for continental and international competitions.

According to NPFL Updates, the Super Eagles and Nottingham Forest Football Club defender Ola Aina berated the bumpy state of sporting facilities in the country while urging the NFF to rehabilitate these dilapidated stadiums. He noted that the unpleasant issue of non-payment of match bonuses is not even the major issue facing Nigeria’s football. The issue of lack of adequate facilities for players to train and prepare themselves.

The deteriorated state of the pitch of Umuahia Township Stadium, Umuahia, Abia State. It is also the home ground to Abia Warriors, a state-owned football club. Photo Credit: Culled from 234 Football.

“You see the whole issue of unpaid allowances is not pleasant at all but that is not our major problem. If we can get at least ten good pitches where we can play train and play our games at home we will be unplayable. If you remember we won all our games during the World Cup qualifiers but struggled at home. It’s the playing surface.

“Alex (Iwobi) complained about it and he is very correct. We will beat almost any team in Africa and probably the world if we get good pitches in Nigeria. The team is loaded with talents, all we need is a better surface to express ourselves,” he added.

The renovated Aba Township Stadium, also known as Enyimba Int’l Stadium located in Aba, Abia State. It is the home ground to Enyimba Int’l Football Club. Photo Credit: Culled from Complete Sports.

As it is, the players are the ones suffering as a result of the terrible conditions of the football pitches used for matches in the NPFL. Oftentimes, the league organizers have been called on to do more in the area of pitches by compelling affected clubs to sort for better means elsewhere while theirs are going under serious repairs. In the same vein, poor pitches don’t help in the free flow of football which might even take away the essence of a good game.

The aerial view of 12,000-seating capacity Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium and a glimpse of the ancient Benin City. It was duly remodeled by the administration of Godwin Obaseki. Photo Credit: Culled from Leadership News.

If good pitches are put in place, it would further entice potential sponsors who are needed to come in and help improve the league. Bad pitches make the game less attractive as fans are denied the opportunity to watch good football. Moreover, the image of the league is poorly marketed and it will not bring in the needed sponsorship for the league.

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