Nigerians should support Rivers United’s bid for success, says Green
• ‘Adokie Aimiesiamaka Stadium ready for YANGA ‘s challenge’
Going by its pedigree and quality of football stars the country produces every year, stakeholders say it is an aberration that Nigeria has not won any major African inter-club championship since Enyimba took the CAF Champions League back-to-back in 2003 and 2004 seasons.
The closest the country has come to winning any of the major African inter-club competitions was in 2008, when Heartland of Owerri played in the final against TP Mazembe of DR Congo, who eventually took the crown.
That year, Nigeria had two teams in the semifinals, Heartland and Kano Pillars. But the draws, which pitted Heartland against Kano Pillars ensured that only the Owerri-based side moved to the final.
Regrettably, no Nigerian team has since come close to that stage in the Champions League, or even the CAF Confederation Cup.
That is the situation the country’s representatives in the Confederation Cup, Rivers United, want to change. But they say they cannot do it alone.
Many reasons have been advanced as the country’s bane in the competition. These include, inadequate preparation and poor planning, the country’s coaches’ technical inadequacies, unhealthy rivalry among local clubs such that the country’s representatives don’t get required support from rival clubs and officials. There is also the general poor motivation that forces Nigerian clubs’ best footballers to abscond from their teams at crucial moments.
This year, Port Harcourt-based Rivers United have been pitted against Young Africans of Tanzania (YANGA) in the quarterfinals and one of the stakeholders in Nigerian football, Christopher Green, a lawyer, believes the country will break its continental cup hoodoo if everybody involved in the process cooperates with the club.
Green, who is Rivers State Commissioner of Sports, told The Guardian during the week that part of the process of ensuring that Rivers United overcomes YANGA is by keeping the Adokie Aimiesiamaka Stadium in top shape so that African football ruling body, CAF, would approve it to host the clubs’ remaining matches in the competition.
Rivers United played its CAF preliminary matches at the Nest of Champions Stadium, Uyo, because CAF did not inspect the Adokie Aimiesiamaka Stadium to certify it fit for the competition.
On Thursday, a CAF inspector, Nasir Jubril, was at the stadium to look at the facilities and at the end of the exercise, he ticked it 75 ready for the competition.
Green, like so many other stakeholders at the stadium during the exercise, believes that going by the work done so far, it would be unfair to deny the arena opportunity to host international competitions.
Green, a former chairman of the Nigeria Football Federation’s (NFF) Technical Committee, said the ongoing face lifting off the facilities is part of his ministry’s routine to ensure that it improves on the facilities and help the state’s teams in continental competitions.
He said: “We have Rivers United in the CAF Confederation Cup and without the prompting of anybody, we decided to uplift the standard of our facilities and so, we started to do what we thought would be good enough to host international games.
“Of course, the Adokie Aimiesiamaka Stadium has hosted World Cup qualifiers and other big competitions before and so, what we are doing now is purely face-lifting of the facilities. It is not solely for the purposes of the CAF inspection. No, we do it to ensure that the stadium is in top condition always. It is a routine because one of things we lack in this country is maintenance. But for us here, it is a continuous process.”
Green affirmed that work has gone on in improving the reserve benches with locally fabricated materials, which have been acclaimed by experts as of international standard.
He added: “The pitch is in tip top condition because we have experts that tend to it just as it is done in Europe and other developed countries. We have a good horticulturist and other staff that ensure that the playing surface is always in top shape.
“The dressing rooms, the mixed zone, the press gallery, the conveniences, the dope centre and the VIP boxes are of world class standard and we keep working to improve on them.”
The Adokie Aimiesiamaka Stadium, which was built in 2011 ahead of that year’s National Sports Festival, had in the past hosted Nigeria’s World Cup qualifiers and other major competitions, and, according to Green, it should have no problem getting CAF’s nod to host Rivers United’s matches.
He said: “We play in different stadiums across Africa and I can tell you that this is better than what you find elsewhere.
“We couldn’t play here in the preliminaries because the stadium was not inspected by CAF.”
Apart from the cost of hosting its matches away from home without the club’s supporters, Green said playing in Port Harcourt would cut substantially, the money the club spends in prosecuting their matches.
“Our supporters don’t get opportunity to watch us in Uyo because of the cost of getting to the state. We also spend so much on hotels and other things that we would normally do in Port Harcourt without spending money.
“These include hiring the stadium, paying for security and paying for every other thing and we don’t get any thing in return in terms of gate takings. So, it has not been easy for us as a club.
“I must say that Akwa Ibom State has been very helpful to us and we thank them for their support. They have been good hosts. But you know, there is no place like home.
“Playing at home will help us cut costs and recoup some of our expenses from improved gate takings. Playing at home we also give our fans from the 23 local councils opportunity to cheer us and give this picture of an international game.
“The Adokie Aimiesiamaka Stadium is a 40, 000 all seated stadium and we have over 16 exits in the inner perimetre of the stadium. So, when we get this place filled, it will give you the ambience of a festival, showcasing our tradition for the world to see, as against going to a place where the stadium is empty. And playing outside Port Harcourt doesn’t give CAF that atmosphere it desires from its top competition. Football is a media event, a people’s event where people come to unwind and enjoy themselves.”
Beyond Rivers United’s CAF Confederation Cup games, Green believes the Adokie Aimiesiamaka Stadium is also good enough to host one of the centres of the proposed African Cup of Nations Championships, which Nigeria wants to co-host with Benin Republic.
He said: “This stadium has hosted Nigeria’s World Cup qualifiers and we believe that it should be considered for the bid because what we have seen here speaks for itself… it is not hidden. This stadium should be among the first in terms of infrastructure in the country, and it is ready to host the AFCON.”
He called on the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) and other Nigerians to rally round Rivers United in their bid to bring honour and glory to the country.
“We are representing Nigeria in Africa and we cannot do it alone. The NFF should not stay away from us. They should be around to advise us on the right things to do for success.
“When I was in NFF as the technical committee chairman, I did everything possible to ensure that Enyimba was successful because their success was Nigeria’s victory. So, there is nothing bad in the current NFF locating part of their office in Port Harcourt and ensure that we win this competition. We need people that have capacity to get this thing done because we are doing it for Nigeria and not Rivers State alone.
“Football makes everybody happy; it doesn’t have any religion or doesn’t pander to ethnicity. We are ambassadors of Nigeria and wherever we go we carry Nigeria’s flag with us,” he said.
Rivers United are in the quarterfinals of the CAF Confederation Cup, where they have been drawn against Young Africans of Tanzania.