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Supporters Club

THE NIGERIA FOOTBALL SUPPORTERS CLUB

The Nigeria Football Supporters Club was founded in Lagos in 1959, in response to the challenge posed by supporters of the Ghanaian national football team who always invaded Nigeria in lorry loads to support their team in those heady days of the fiercest rivalry in West African football.

In the early days, there was not much to it, as the members used any open space for their office, including gathering under a tree at the King George V Stadium, Onikan. Famous broadcaster Ishola Folorunsho (‘It Is A Goal’) was elected the first Chairman. Folorunsho was chairman of the group for 14 years, after which he handed over to Deacon George Osho, another pioneer member of the body. Other pioneer members include Alhaji Bashiru Ogunsiji, Grace Alele, Ganiyu Elekuru (a.k.a Baba Eleran) and Isaac Akindoyo.

Deacon Osho led the group for 17 years, during which he tried to to spread the dragnet all over the country. Deacon Osho then handed over to Dr. Rafiu Oladipo in 1990.

Dr. Oladipo, an international businessman, is credited with having transformed the image of the body from that of a group of idle souls who became ‘supporters’ because they didn’t have anything worthwhile doing. He started as any ordinary member and later became the ‘flag bearer’ of the Club.

His ingenuity, drive and commitment to the cause of the Club drove the body into the consciousness of Nigerians and the international community, leading to recognition by the likes of FIFA President Sepp Blatter and CAF President Issa Hayatou down the years.

While the Club members previously ‘supported’ the national teams only during home matches and at games played within the West African zone, Oladipo worked hard and spent his money to ensure the presence of Club members at major international championships.

Members of the Nigeria Football Supporters Club have been colourful presence at major football tournaments since the late 1980s. There were a number of Nigerian supporters at the Workers Stadium in Beijing as the ‘Golden Eaglets’ won the inaugural FIFA Cadet World Cup in 1985, and their presence was also felt at the FIFA World Youth Championship in Saudi Arabia in 1989. But they were compelling presence at the 1994 African Nations Cup finals in Tunisia, the 1994 World Cup finals in the United States of America and the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

Several Nigeria national team players have come to acknowledge the spur that the singing, clapping and drumming of the Nigeria Football Supporters Club provided for their game. In 2002, when the members arrived at the World Cup finals in Japan after the Super Eagles had played two matches (both of which they lost), team skipper Jay Jay Okocha admitted the team missed the Club’s singing and dancing.

Apart from drawing the supporters to major championships, Dr. Oladipo, who is now President –General (Worldwide) of the Club, has galvanized the expansion of the body, which now has chapters in almost all the States of the federation and major capitals of the world. The launching of chapters worldwide has created even more awareness about the Nigeria Football Supporters Club in the globe.

The Club has also become more respectable, with the enlisting of professionals from different sectors. There are medical doctors, accountants, insurance experts, architects, educationists, lawyers and entrepreneurs.

A few years ago, the Club entered into partnership with telecommunication giants, Globacom (also partners of the Nigeria Football Federation), and this has empowered the members even more in the area of travelling round the world to support Nigeria football teams.

With the multiplication of the national teams (from only the ‘Green Eagles’ to eleven national teams), the members of the Nigeria Football Supporters Club are regularly on the road. They also make great efforts to support Nigerian Clubs playing in continental competitions, at home and abroad.

The transformation is complete with a befitting Head Office in Lagos and an international chapter. From a body whose members met at motor parks and under the bridge, the Nigeria Football Supporters Club now has an office in Surulere.

“We have come a very long way”, said Dr. Oladipo, who is now the first name mentioned when people are talking about mobilization of Nigeria football fans. “From humble beginnings, the Nigeria Football Supporters Club has become a global institution reckoned with by the highest authorities in the game”.

Several awards have come the way of the Club, including the annual African Football Awards, which it has won in three successive years. Oladipo said: “We are happy about the awards because it means people recognize and appreciate the little efforts we are making. But we also want our national teams and Clubs to win more championships and awards”.

Going forward, the Nigeria Football Supporters Club wants to draw many more Nigerians into the arena anytime the national team is playing, or a Club is flying Nigeria’s flag in an international competition. “We are mobilizing. The fans will surely return to the Stadia”, assured Oladipo.