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Sports News of Sunday, 12 June 2022

Source: punchng.com

How Abiola changed face of Nigerian football – Ayinla, Disu

MKO Abiola MKO Abiola

The late Moshood Abiola will always remain a reference point in football development in Nigeria.He was one of the richest men of his time, yet he was also one of the most selfless humans.

The acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993, presidential election, Abiola was one of the best things to have happened to sports development in Nigeria and in Africa during his lifetime.

His contribution to sports, football particularly, was unquantifiable and unmatched, leading to him bankrolling the most flamboyant football club in the country at that time, Abiola Babes. Abiola Babes was founded in the early 80s and were promoted to Nigeria’s topflight division two years later.

They immediately became the country’s most glamorous club side, winning the Nigerian FA Cup in 1985 and 1987.

However, Abiola was forced to disband the club due to issues bothering on football administration.The team returned as Concord FC after a period of hiatus but couldn’t survive for long following the death of the business mogul.

But the memories of how professionally Abiola Babes was managed still remain fresh in the hearts of some players who are alive to relive the experience.The team had in their ranks at that time Muda Lawal, Rashidi Yekini, Best Ogedengbe and Yisa Sofoluwe, all four now late, and the likes of Friday Ekpo, Toyin Ayinla, Dominic Iorfa, to name a few.

Speaking with Sunday PUNCH, former captain of Abiola Babes, Toyin Ayinla, said Abiola remained a reference point in sports development in the country.“Till date, nobody can take his place in the history of Nigeria, particularly sports,” Ayinla, now the coach of Gateway FC, said.“His name was synonymous with success and as such he wanted everybody around him to be satisfied. He gave us (his players) first-class treatment during our days at the club.

We always travelled by air for away games. The only trip we made by road was within the South West region. “It was Abiola Babes that introduced car loans to footballers at that time and a lot of us benefitted from it.

Also at that time, there were players who sustained injuries playing for the club, the man (Abiola) flew them to Germany for special treatment and didn’t collect a dime from them.“When he disbanded the team in December 1987, most of us had just taken loans worth N12,000 at that time and the debt was written off by him.

There were lots of good things to remember the late philanthropist for.”On why it is difficult for other philanthropists to emulate his gesture, Ayinla said, “Not many have the heart and passion for sports like Abiola had, regardless of how wealthy they are.

“But you know, times have changed and it is very difficult now to invest in football in the country as a private entity. Some are privately owned football clubs, kudos to them for empowering the young boys and girls, but it is still not enough compared to what he (Abiola) did.“The late Chief Abiola was a rare gem. He was always ready to sacrifice something for the success of the group.”

Tajudeen Disu, another former player of Abiola Babes, also eulogised the late politician, saying he was a “special being.”“There are lots of fascinating things to say about Chief Abiola but all I can say here is that he made football lucrative in Nigeria with the way he treated his team.“

While I played for the team, he (Abiola) sent me to the US to further my studies and he also played a huge role during my wedding ceremony back then. Just as he cared for me, my other teammates who faced challenges also received meaningful help from him.”

On the disbandment of the club by Abiola, Disu stated, “Abiola also faced this hardship which the likes of John Mastourodes (Leventis United), Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu (Iwuanyanwu Nationale), Oscar Udoji (Udoji United), Adewale Teluwo (VIP, Obanta), and others did but withdrew back because of the bad experiences.

But he was courageous to change the face of the game until he was sabotaged.”After disbanding the club in 1987, Abiola lamented how the football authorities took a harsh decision against the club, after they were delayed at Addis Ababa airport on their way home after a continental game in Zambia.

The then FA Cup champions passed through a harrowing time in Zambia, with Abiola himself having to drive the team bus at night to the match venue, after they were wrongly informed of where the match would be played by the Nigeria Football Association.

Narrating the team’s ordeal, Abiola said, “We were told by the NFA that the match would be played in Lusaka. We travelled there on the eve of the match, to be told that we would be playing in Nchanga. I had to beg for a flight, to charter an F27 to fly us to Ndola at 10:30 at night, hired a bus from Ndola to take us through Kitwe to Nchanga, only to find that the driver was drunk!

“So, I drove the bus myself for three and a half hours. We were stopped by armed robbers three times on the road. I had to bribe our way through into Kitwe.“You see, it’s not just the money. You need to know what problems these boys faced.

The boys on their way back had problems connecting in Addis. They were delayed in Addis for four days. I had to wire money for them to eat and so on. Only to find out that they were being scratched by Group Captain (John) Obakpolor (then NFA boss), who said that the boys did not show up for their quarter-final match against El Kanemi, the Maiduguri side.”