Thursday, May 30, 2024

Sunshine Stars – Rivers United Clash Marks 34 Years Of Professional Football In Nigeria

Activities in the Nigeria Premier League was limited to just one match this Sunday afternoon as Sunshine Stars host Rivers United in a rescheduled match, the encounter however  marks 34 years since Nigeria elite division turned professional.

On the 12th of May 1990, the Nigeria Professional Football league, NPFL was established. it the dawn of a new beginning as Nigerians, football followers looked up to greater feats in the Nigeria football.

It was on that day that Nigeria amateur elite players changed their names to professionals marking a new dawn in football in the country.

Without any fanfare, such that heralded the first North American Soccer League (NASL) in 1969 and the J-League of Japan in 1993, professional league kicked off in Nigeria. Like it is this Sunday, it was a single match that was played on the same date 34 years ago.

When Nigeria started the professional football, the  pioneer clubs  included the now defunct Lagos ACB, BCC Lions,  Bendel United (now defunct) and Enyimba FC.

Others were Highlanders of Jos (now Plateau United), Iwuanyanwu Nationale, (now Heartland FC) JIB, Kano Pillars, Obanta United (later VIP – now defunct), Ranchers Bees, Enugu Rangers Bendel Insurance and Stationery Stores.

An attempt to have one of the pioneer clubs pitched against the Crystal Palace of England, as a symbolical kick off of professional league failed.

After years of prolonged debates, the professional league finally kicked off with a Super Stores versus Iwuanyanwu Nationale opener at the Onikan Stadium, Lagos.

The Owerri-based Iwuanyanwu, now renamed Heartland, dictated the pace of the away tie, winning 2-1. They kept their form and the pace until the season ended, winning the inaugural championship.

Apart from Iwuanyanwu winning the inaugural match of the professional league, two other clubs also had away wins in their first outings. Enugu Rangers beat their traditional rivals; Shooting Stars 1-0 in Ibadan, while JIB Rocks (later renamed Plateau United) won their first away game, 3-0 against Obanta United (later renamed VIP of Lagos) in Ijebu-Ode.

To make the league higher and make teams have appetite for goals, a new point-scoring device was adopted. Traditionally drawn games attracted just a point.

But the then NFA awarded two points for score draws and one for goalless draw games. The point-scoring device was in use from 1990 season to 1994. Three points are however awarded for won games.

Across ages, Enyimba have been the most successful, winning the professional league eight times. They are followed by the crowd-pulling Kano Pillars who won four times.

Shooting Stars, Heartland and Lobi Stars have each won twice. In 2012, the Nigeria Professional League had its best ranking as the topmost in Africa and the 24th in the world.

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