It’s been a long 5 months since the conclusion of the 2013/2014 Nigeria Women Premier League season but the good news is it’s now ONE day to the commencement of a new one which will unfortunately have the old face of an abridged format. That is why I am rather worried than excited about the 2014/15 campaign which finally starts on Saturday, May 2 – after it was postponed fromMarch 31 due to the General Elections that took place. Not like I don’t understand why we had to go back to where we used to be, but it questions our sense of continuity, and leaves a terrible lot to be desired.
Last season was the start of something new, a ‘straight’ league, though experimental and not without irregularities, including avoidable/unavoidable postponements, with international competitions scattered left, right and centre, it was a success. It was more competitive as there were more matches to play against more teams and there were no walkovers as was predominant in previous seasons before it – bar the waiver granted to Yola based Adamawa Queens – not forgetting the media’s effort to expose it as well. So what else would have been expected in this coming season if not some form of improvement? However, disappointment smeared my expectation after news filtered that the Congress had agreed to an abridged league. Again I say it’s not like I do not understand why; with the General Elections gone by, a two-legged Olympics qualifier in sight, the FIFA Women’s World Cup around the corner, World Cup qualifiers for the U-17 and U-20 afterwards, as well as the All-Africa Games in September, how can I be so ‘insensitive’? After all, returning to the abridged format this season is just a one-off, but what guarantee is there that after this it would be ‘forward ever and backward never’?
Anyway, amidst the ranting of this writer, life goes on, doesn’t it? And in truth, she really cannot wait for the new season to start as more teams get involved. No team was relegated from the Premier League but teams got promoted from the pro-league and would definitely want to be HEARD.
Four teams will join the 12 that prosecuted the inaugural edition of the Nigeria Women Premier League last season; FC Robo and Martins White Dove get the nod for finishing at the top of their respective pools in the lower division based on the table made available by the NWFL board, while COD United Ladies join their Lagos State rival, Robo as a reward for their second-place finish in Pool A and maybe State House Queens of Abuja follow the Doves from Edo in Pool B for finishing second.
Here are three reasons and a HALF why these newly promoted sides will have a SAY in the new season:
1) A Point To Prove
With every new challenge comes a point to prove and the newcomers will gladly take up the gauntlet to upset the odds in the elite division. Since they are coming from the lower division, they are underdogs by default but would want to show they are not there to make up the numbers. Recently I reminded Coach of COD United Ladies, Ann Chiejine of how they were thrashed 6-1 by Rivers Angels in the Round of 16 of last season’s Federation Cup, but the former Super Falcons goalkeeper was rather proud of her girls for at least scoring a goal against a team of three nationalities; Ghana, Cameroon and Nigeria – that she was emphatic about. There’s always an unusual drive to beat the so -called favourites and this will count for something.
FC Robo had qualified for the Super Six – which was like a stage for the ‘big teams’ in the league – during the season preceding the new era of a straight league, but never got to participate because it was scrapped for the Champion of Champions which was played by the leader of each group, to determine the winner for the 2012/13 season. Nasarawa Amazons beat Rivers Angels to emerge Champions. Robo couldn’t feature last season either because they didn’t meet up with the necessary requirements, so they see this as an opportunity they don’t intend to abuse; as a matter of fact the promotion did not come on a platter.
2) No Pressure To Perform
For a team that just gained promotion, challenging for the title is the very least of their problems so there is basically no pressure to achieve a seemingly unrealistic target when all they simply need do is announce ‘we have come to stay’. That doesn’t mean a newly promoted side cannot, surprisingly, win the league in their first season – impossible is nothing. But that is not a priority for them. Instead while the ‘veterans’ are under ‘pressure’ to topple double Champions Rivers Angels, the so -called minnows grind out results in hopeless places.
3) Young Stars Want To Shine
These newly promoted sides will parade an array of young and vigorous talents that will spice up the league. There were four 2014 U-17 World Cup players on the pitch at the Lagos State Federation Cup final when rivals FC Robo and COD United Ladies clashed: Patience Dike (16) and Vivian Ikechukwu (17) for COD United; Ayomide Anibaba (17) and Rasheedat Ajibade (16) for FC Robo. Ajibade was one of the stand out performers at the 2014 tournament which saw Nigeria bow out in the quarter-final and she continued in her rich form, leading her club side to the top of Pool A in the Pro-League. Ikechukwu is an example of what should be expected from these youngsters. The amazing striker with a knack for goals has proven to be a defender’s nightmare scoring 10 in 8 games to become COD’s highest goal scorer in their pro-league campaign.
Again, whenever we talk about Liverpool FC Ladies’ Asisat Oshoala, we will never forget FC Robo where she started her career. It was from Emmanuel Osahon’s team that the reigning African Woman Player of the Year joined one of the League’s best teams (if not the best), Rivers Angels where she became the highest goal scorer in the 2012/13 league season with 6 goals and also helped them defend their Federation Cup title last season, adding the League title to complete their double before her record-making move to Liverpool where she has continued to make waves. Now, who wouldn’t want to be like the BBC World Player of the Year nominee? Have a fairy tale year like she did in 2014; contributing immensely to the national teams and raking awards here and there?
Indeed, youngsters are known to be zealous and hungry for success too and with many having their eyes on the national teams (U-17, U-20 and the Senior team), what better time is there to make a mark?
An Abridged Reason
An abridged league is what these newly promoted sides are already used to. They are not practically coming into anything new; the only thing is they will be playing four more games than they did in the pro-league where there are 6 teams in a group. And apart from the new face of Nigerian women football, COD United Ladies, the other promoted sides are familiar with the warhorses in the Premier League, so there you have it.
The draw for the new season was conducted on April 22 and here are the fixtures for Match Day 1
Delta Queens vs Confluence Queens
FC Robo vs Bayelsa Queens
Adamawa Queens vs Martins White Dove
Osun Babes vs Ibom Angels
Edo Queens vs Nasarawa Amazons
Taraba Queens vs Pelican Stars
Rivers Angels vs To Be Decided Team
Sunshine Queens vs COD United Ladies
*It is not yet confirmed if the “To Be Decided Team” is State House Queens.
By Chibuogwu Nnadiegbulam