SPORTS – Football is no doubt a unified tool for peace in the world. From the Olympic truce to table tennis tournaments for disabled people in Nepal, football can bring millions of people together to achieve social good.
It is also a universal sport that brings people of a country together and provide joy, pride, and even love. It is also a phenomenon for national identities.
Accordingly, sports generally has become central symbols in modern societies by producing and, perhaps activate the stories about who we are as members of the society.
But reverse was the case in Ogun State, as the universal sport (football) which was once upon a time the darling game of the citizens disappeared without trace.
Some years back, sports in the gateway was beehive of activities when people thronged the stadium to watch their darling teams. Gone were the days when the most popular Principal’s Cup was topnotch of all football games in the state.
The Shell Cup and Governor’s Cup were the delight of football fans when the state government invested in the round leather game.
The famous game made the state to be represented in the then Nigeria Football League (NFL) by two teams; Julius Berger FC and Gateway United Football Club in 2004 to 2008 before Berger finally moved back to Lagos.
But since 2011 gateway United relegated to NNL, the spectacles of the beautiful game becomes a mirage to football lovers in the state.
In 2003, when the Ogun State government under the leadership of Otunba Gbenga Daniel renamed the Ogun State Football Club to Gateway United, football lovers in the rock city had opportunities of watching live matches of the nation’s league.
For good 7years of the Otunba Gbenga Daniel under the commissionership of Hon. Bukola Olopade, Gateway United had continued to dazzle football lovers in the state with good football and won many regional, zonal, including remaining in the league consecutively.
But in 2010-11 season, the glory of Gateway United fades away as the club got relegated to the second division of Nigerian league, as if that was not enough, they further got relegated to nationwide league, a lower division of the Nigeria league.
While football followers are already nagging of the absence of quality football in Ogun State, All Stars Football Club berths.
All Stars Football Club is a conglomerate of former football stars or old footballers (whichever applicable) where they converge to reinvent their active sport activities.
The All Stars team is the regrouping of former professional coaches, referees, footballers and other sports men and women to display their Old glory in the round leather game.
All Stars could also be described majorly as the convergence for retired footballers who has represented her professional football clubs, states or the country in one way or the other.
Majority of the All Stars who were in their late 50s gathered every Saturday and at times Sunday to wear out stress through rigorous training and to foster relationship among themselves.
In Nigeria today, majority of those who have represented the country or their respective states in the football game have been forgotten and perhaps abandoned due to the non-recognition by the state or federal government.
In Ogun State, the formation of All Stars Football Club was dated as far back as 80s at the abandoned Muda Lawal Stadium, Asero in Abeokuta, the state capital. But in the early 90s, due to renovation of the stadium, these old players went in search for a training pitch and finally found succour at Oke-Ilewo playing ground, which currently inhabit the popular Eatery and the One customer bank at OPIC roundabout.
But immediately the playing ground was sold out for commercial purposes, respite once again came the way of the old players through the former Ogun State Sports Commissioner, who is now the Chief Executive Officer, Nigeria National League, NNL (second division of Nigerian league), Mr. Bukola Olopade.
Olopade, who was active in football during his school days at Baptist Boys High School in Abeokuta could not withstand the agony of these retired footballers, hurriedly approved the mini pitch of the MKO Abiola International stadium in Kuto, Abeokuta as their training ground.
Ever since then, the retired but not tired footballers have grown in wings with addition of the youth side. The youth team is the composition of young football enthusiasts who are working class or perhaps clubless at the grassroot level.
They also mix up with the old legs at the stadium every weekend to exercise their muscles and nerves.
In fact, majority of the top flight Nigerian club sides, recruited brilliant players into their squad at a cheaper rate since they don’t have to pay sign on fees to any clubside, except the player’s monthly wagess and match bonuses as applicable in Nigerian league.
These players have however, excelled in their various clubs and went on to secure lucrative deal with European clubsides.
This Association of Old footballers came together to form a club and won the first Federation’s Cup in Ogun State as a first private club to represent Ogun State at the Aiteo cup this coming up this year.
Some of the pioneer youths members of the All Stars in Ogun State include; former Kano Pillars and Super Eagles Defender, Wasiu Sowemimo, Fatai Lawal of Julius Berger, Quadri Balogun of former Gateway FC, Rasheed Ahmed of former Gateway and Berger FC, Aremu Rasheed and Gbenga Awonusi of former Dolphin FC and Warri Wolves.
The Old players who are still with the team are former Green Eagles player, Biodun Odejimi, Bolaji Adisa, Tunji Fagbenro, Adetola Omodunni of former Railway FC, Moruf Odejimi, Toyin Ayinla, and Charles Bolarinwa of defunct Abiola Babes among others.
With the feat recorded as the Ogun FA Cup champions early this year, All Stars FC has become an integral part of the state FA.
Speaking to NEWSFLAGSHIP, President of All Stars FC in Ogun State, Alhaji Lawal Adeoye Waheed attributed the team’s success in recent past to the zeal and passion of the former players who were indigenes of the state to provide professional football in the state.
Alhaji Lawal disclosed that, the old players who were not satisfied with the lack of club representatives in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL), decided to register the club with the State FA to allow them participate in the state league.
He therefore, assured football fans in the state of good outing in the federations cup, calling on the state government to fully sponsor the team to excel.
“At the beginning of last year, we decided that we have been playing too many friendly matches, so we decided to enrol the club for Ogun State FA competitions to test our strength with the youths and the agile old ones and to God be the glory we are able to win the 2018 Federations Cup, and by that virtue, we are representing the state at the nationwide Aiteo’s Cup “.
Also speaking, former Green Eagles player and Golden Eaglets Coach, Kadiri Ikhana, MON who expressed shock at the performance of the All Stars Club in the State FA Cup, noted that, the enthusiasm to abandon the game, made many of the old players to come back.
He said the injection of the young players into All Stars was to inculcate the spirit of patriotism into the younger ones as knowledge sharing.
“Nationally, All Stars is for old players who have left the game professionally but are now career officers or businessmen. Because it is difficult to leave the game, we created the All Stars as avenue to bring together everyone to train, interact and discuss national unity and development of the game at the grassroots”.
Ikhana however described the Ogun State All Stars FC as the best organized unprofessional football club in Nigeria.
However, what remains to be seen is whether this team would survive the daunting task and secure promotion into the Nigerian league in the face of financial constraint and sponsorship.