A player of Warri Wolves trying to beat his challenger during the 2015/2016 season. The team failed to escape relegation.
• We did it for our youths, says DSSC boss
At a time many state governors are unable to finance one football club, Delta State Governor, Senator Ifeanyi Okowa, has acquired two more football clubs to bring to six the number of soccer outfits in the state. But the decision by Okowa to go for six clubs in the 2017 season is said to be causing ripples among stakeholders in the state.
The state owned Warri Wolves FC could not survive the battle to remain in the elite division at the end of the 2015/2016 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) season due to what a source described as ‘combined factors.’
In the same vein, two new male clubs, Delta Stars of Ughelli and Delta Force of Asaba, which the government of Okowa established at the beginning of the 2015/2016 football season to give youths in the Senatorial zones opportunity of nurturing their football potential, failed to gain promotion. It fuelled speculations some months ago that the state might reduce the number of clubs in the coming season due to the rising cost of funding them, especially when players and officials of the clubs were yet to be paid their entitlement for last season.
But the government has gone a step further to buy two additional clubs, Ika Rangers FC and Isoko United ahead of the coming season. While Ika Rangers is stationed at Agbor, Isoko United will play at Oleh. The four other clubs, Warri Wolves will operate at Warri, Delta Stars FC is stationed at Ughelli, Delta Force FC has Asaba as its operational ground, while the female outfit, Delta Queens FC operates at Kwale.
Some ‘concerned Deltans,’ who spoke with The Guardian, said the decision to float six clubs by the Okowa regime was a ‘misplaced priority.’“Whoever advised Governor Okowa to channel the state’s resources on six football clubs at this particular period of economic hardship does not know his duty,” one ex-national team player said.
“As we speak, players and officials of the four clubs that represented the state last year have not been paid their full entitlement. At a point, players of Warri Wolves almost boycotted the league this season due to poor funding, and we thought Governor Okowa would do something similar to what other states like Rivers did last year by merging the teams so that Delta can have a formidable club in the coming season. Going ahead to buy two more slots in the Nationwide League for Ika Rangers and Isoko United does not make sense,” the ex-player said.
Another Delta ex-athlete asked: “Is it only football clubs this Okowa’s government will cater for? Where will he get money to take care of athletics, volleyball, weightlifting, boxers and other sporting associations when it is time for the National Sports festival? There are over 30 privately owned clubs that take care of the youths in the state. We have J. Atete FC and others. I think somebody is misleading the Governor.”
However, the chairman of Delta State Sports Commission (DSSC), Tony Okowa, sees things from a different angle. “The way government sees things is quite different from the ordinary man on the street,” Tony Okowa told The Guardian in a telephone chat on Tuesday. “We took so many things into consideration before arriving at the decision to get two new slots for Ika Rangers and Isoko United in the Nationwide League.
Both Warri Wolves and Delta Force, who are in the Nigeria National League (NNL), will continue their battle for promotion to the elite division, and we expect the three clubs in the Nationwide League, Delta Stars of Ughelli, Ika Rangers and Isoko United to battle for promotion to the NNL. If that happens, then, government will decide on what to do with them, either to sell them or retain them. But for now, the clubs will serve as avenue for youths in Delta North, Delta Central and Delta South to showcase their football talent.
“We have also considered the financial implication before acquiring the two new slots. Our budget for Warri Wolves alone in the last season was N300 million. Now, our budget for all the clubs, including Warri Wolves is about N277 million. At the end of the day, people will praise the effort of the government for a job well done,” Tony Okowa stated.