Ajani Ibrahim of 3SC takes on Sunshine Stars players during NPFL game in Ibadan.
As far as clubs with history go, there are few as influential as Shooting Stars SC (3SC). Back in 1976, the famed club from Ibadan became the first Nigerian clubside to win an African club competition, and is to this day, one of only two (the other being Enyimba) to taste victory twice on the continent.
Their five league titles and four FA Cups makes them one of the most successful teams in the country, and their fan base is large—the Lekan Salami Stadium seats just under 20,000, but is regularly packed out for the Oluyole Warriors on Matchday.
When the 2017/2018 season resumes though, this storied club will be conspicuously absent from the league roster. They were one of four teams to suffer the ignominy of relegation in 2016/2017, amassing 13 wins and averaging less than a goal a game in a largely forgettable campaign.
Ironically, their 50-point haul would have seen them to safety in in each of the last three campaigns, but that is cold comfort for a side that earned promotion back to the NPFL only three seasons ago. As a matter of fact, their best position in the last decade, almost half of which has been spent out of the top flight, was 9th in 2015; they have trod water most of the way through and can feel like they have had this coming.
Trying to diagnose what or where exactly it went wrong is a bit of a problematic exercise. I saw Shooting Stars host two-time African champions Enyimba this past season in front of a vocal home crowd, and more than deserve their 1-0 victory. They hammered the People’s Elephant relentlessly, and could have run up the score with a bit more of a clinical touch. So, while ultimately they fell short, this did not seem like 3SC were one of the worst four teams in the league.
Inevitably, the buck then passes onto the administration. That a large majority of Nigerian clubs are bankrolled by state governments is nothing new, but the unfortunate effect of this is that clubs suffer or prosper as a consequence of the level of priority each regime accords to sports in general, and football in particular.
Executive Chairman of the club Gbolagade Busari earlier in the week insisted there had been adequate funding for the team from the state government, which makes it odd then that players of the club, on the eve of the final game of the season, staged a strike demanding payment of outstanding salaries and allowances. Where then did the monthly subventions go?
“The players said pointedly that they are fighting for their right to be paid salaries, allowances and match bonuses,” a source told Supersport
“They are insisting on not calling off the strike or returning to the training ground until every indebtedness owed to them is fully paid by the management. They feared that the management will not pay the outstanding entitlements once the on-going league season comes to an end on Sunday. They appeared not to trust the management any longer as previous promises to off-set the bills have gone unheeded. They reasoned that if the management value their welfare and the interest of the team they could even break bank to pay knowing fully well that anything short of three points at Niger Tornadoes will spell doom for the team.”
The players would of course go on to lose that final game in Lokoja, and while it is easy to blame the strike action, that would ignore the larger picture. A distinct lack of stability over the last decade is not the result of an isolated strike action, but of the very source of the agitation.
There has to be greater accountability and a coherent plan for the club going forward. The Executive Chairman has teased wholesale changes from top to bottom, a move which seems more reactionary than visionary. It was telling that Mr Busari mentioned gate takings during matches (even though the figure of one million Naira given does not add up), as this is one area from which the club can get ancillary financing; even while in the Nigeria Nationwide League, the support for 3SC is full-blooded and intense.
To the residents of Ibadan, and many such as myself [a Stationary Stores fan] who chose to support the club that produced Nigerian footballing greats like Felix Owolabi, the late Muda Lawal and Segun Odegbami; stars of the 1980 Africa Cup of Nations, Shooting Stars SC is more than just a club. It is a cultural icon.
Until those in charge see it as such, and honour its history and tradition, this is what it will be reduced to: a yoyo club.