Teslim ‘Thunder’ Balogun FC
IN the good old days of Nigerian sports, Lagos was indeed the ‘Centre of Excellence’ in the game of football, providing the best of soccer entertainment for Nigerian fans and those in other parts of Africa.
Those were the days when virtually all companies operating at the Apapa Wharf area of the city had a football club. Apart from the crowd pulling Stationery Stores, soccer fans in the city spent their weekends supporting teams like Flour Mill FC, Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), construction giants, Julius Berger FC, ACB, Nigerdock, Union Bank, Mandilas and ECN FC, among others.
But that is all history now, with just monuments, including the dilapidated National Stadium in Surulere, to remind visitors that the game of football was once part and parcel of the people.
As in other aspects of the nation’s economy, all the football clubs in Lagos State have faded away, leaving the once bubbling sports city with no notable soccer outfit.
And for about 16 years now, Lagosians have been denied top football action in the premier league, a situation many say does not speak good of the Centre of Excellence.
But a ray of hope seems to be on the way for football-loving Lagosians going by the declarations of the proprietor of Teslim ‘Thunder’ Balogun FC, Engr. Olamide Rasheed Balogun.
Speaking with The Guardian, Balogun said the club, which has gained promotion to the Nationwide Division One, would soon become the darling soccer outfit of all Lagosians. The Teslim ‘Thunder’ Balogun FC, which is based in Ikorodu, operates under the cover of Akanni Teslim ‘Thunder’ Balogun Foundation.
“Our club is coming to fill that vacuum created by the dearth of football clubs in Lagos,” Balogun said. “Our mission is to scout for talents in the grassroots and nurture them to stardom. We won’t depend on ‘ready made’ materials like other Nigerian clubs.”
Balogun revealed that already, the Teslim ‘Thunder’ Balogun FC has produced some stars for the country. Our club has the U-15 and U-17 youth academy and some of the players currently feature for the National U-17 team, Golden Eaglets.”
One good thing that is working for the club, according to Balogun, is the football legacy left by their father, the late Tesilimi Olawale Balogun. The late soccer legend (‘Teslim’ Balogun) played at both local and international levels as a striker, before becoming Africa’s first qualified professional football coach.
He was one of those who made the game of soccer thick in Nigeria, featuring for a number of teams, including Apapa Bombers, Marine Athletics, UAC XI, Railways XI, Jos XI, Pan Bank Team, Dynamos Club and SCOA XI. During his playing days, ‘Thunder,’ as he was widely known because of his rumbling shots, won the Challenge Cup five times in seven finals.
He was the first player to have a hat trick in the competition, in Pan Bank’s 6-1 bashing of Warri Eleven in 1953. He featured for Marine FC in the 1947 edition of the Challenge Cup, Lagos Railways in 1949, Lagos PAN Bank in 1952 and Ibadan Lions in 1959 and 1961. He was part of the Nigerian side that toured the United Kingdom in 1949.
He spent 12 years. Balogun became the first African to qualify as a professional coach, and was Nigeria’s coach at the 1968 Olympics Games held in Mexico. According to Engr. Olamide Balogun, the football outfit (Teslim ‘Thunder’ Balogun FC) is doing everything possible to gain promotion to Division One very soon.
“Our dream is to gain promotion to Division One next year. From there, the target will be the elite division, which is the Premier League. It is a target we have set for ourselves and every hand is on deck to achieve it,” he said.
But he admitted the family is facing difficulties in financing the club. “It is not an easy task for an individual to finance a football club in Nigeria. But our family has the passion for football.
The Foundation is also giving the club the support it needs to survive,” he stated. The politics of “this is not our own” has since forced the management of Julius Berger to relocate the club to neighboring Abeokuta in 2004.
What was meant to be a ‘temporary’ location of two years has since turned out to be a permanent stay for the club. And for Lagos to regain its lost glory in football, Balogun advised the Governor-elect, Akinwunmi Ambode, to support sports generally, but lay more emphasis on soccer.
“It is so sad that Lagos no longer has a premier league club as it used to be in the 1980s and 90s. But I am happy the incoming governor is a supporter of sports,” Balogun said.