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Long awaited 2018/19 NPFL season resumes with 10 matches

The Nigeria Professional Football League 2018/19 season finally resumes action on Sunday (tomorrow) four months after Enyimba of Aba were crowned champions in June.

It will be recalled that the Aba Warriors defeated Akwa United 3-0 to end the NPFL Super Six Championship Playoffs with 12 points from 5 matches played at the Agege Stadium, Lagos.

Prior to the commencement of the 2018/2019 season, the League Management Company, LMC, revealed that plans were in place for the 2019/2020 season to begin at the same time with the major leagues in Europe. But this failed to materialize as the European leagues kicked off eleven ago.

It will also be recalled that shortly after the NPFL failed to kick off, the League Management Company (LMC) had announced the new NPFL season would begin on September 22, 2019.

According to the LMC in a circular, the season if it had begun on the original date would end on the 17th of May 2020, in accordance with the new Confederation of African Football calendar.

As the league failed to commence on that day, the Honourable Sports Minister, Mr Sunday Dare stepped into the matter and declared that the season would kick-off on October 20.

“We have been working round the clock in the last one month,” Dare told reporters during his visit to the Golden Eaglets camp in Abuja.

“You will recall that I gave a directive that the NPFL should start on the 15 latest October 20 but after due consultation it was obvious that the league can’t kick-off on the 15 anymore but definitely the league will start on the 20.

“Notification has gone to all the clubs to get ready. We are doing all that is necessary beyond the league announcement.

“But while the league starts, the issues that has bedeviled are under x-ray right now and we intend to attack them.

“We will be making some changes and we will be talking to a number of people and the federation and those in the past and present in the glorious days of the league.

“We have a solution to all these problems. We just need unity of purpose to solve them. I’m trying to unify as many factions as possible. So if their interests in the league is genuine we will move ahead with them.”

Again, the league failed to kick off and this didn’t go down well with major stakeholders in the Nigerian football community.

However, when all hopes seemed to be lost, the LMC announced November 3, 2019 as the kick-off date of the 2019/20 Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) with match slated at all ten venues.

This followed a consultative meeting between the LMC and heads of the 20 participating clubs in Abuja on Monday, October 14.

The Chairman of the LMC, Shehu Dikko presented a comprehensive briefing to bring the clubs’ officials up to date on situations in the NPFL, especially, the commercial activities and more robust business plans that are being pursued to resolve the recent challenges faced by the league.

The LMC had proposed two start date options of October 20 or October 27, 2019 to the clubs. However, after deliberations, the November 3 date was agreed.

The Clubs’ administrators also expressed solidarity with the LMC and stated their preparedness to contribute towards successful delivery of the business plan presented by the LMC.

The clubs in applauding the LMC leadership and Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), noted the positive effort and actual work that are being put in place to strengthen organized football in Nigeria amidst avoidable challenges and distractions

The meeting also witnessed the drawing of fixtures for the 2019/2020 season with November 3, as kick-off date and May 31, 2020 as the last MatchDay.

The NPFL had been plagued by a myriad of problems and has seen various commencement dates postponed because of a multitude of challenges.

Ahead of the coming season, the LMC still has work to do on the perceived poor officiating from the referees.

It is a well-known fact that no league in the world can improve when there is poor officiating and thus the LMC needs to clamp down on referees who awards controversial spot kicks.

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Another problem the NPFL will face again this season is the football hooliganism which has always remained an albatross of the league over the years.

Hooliganism has always hampered the possibilities of having fans coming in to watch games in huge numbers and in the long run, having sponsors for the league as a whole.

And this may linger on if security personnel are not well trained specifically to deal with crowd violence during sporting events.

The more family friendly football games are, the more revenue the FA makes. There’s obviously no reason at all to assault to a referee, fans have no reason at all to go gaga.

Again, the lack of facilities, poor stadiums, training pitches is another problem that continues to linger on.

In a chat with the Chairman of Akwa United Football Club, Elder Paul Bassey, he admitted that the league is facing problems ahead of the kick-off.

“There is nothing that should be done that has not be done. We are facing challenges, it is a function of life. If we wait till everything is smooth, we will not start the league.

“The LMC, NFF, clubs are going through a lot of challenges. But for the love of the beautiful game and millions of supporters all over the country, we must make an effort. If we wait for everything to work, we will not start the league.

“We have the challenge of sponsorship, not having the league on TV, security, the ‘tormenting’ of the NFF leadership which tends to scare away potential sponsors. What we are facing is systemic,” he declared.

Meanwhile, the league starts with eight out of the ten fixtures involving the 20 clubs across stadiums in Nigeria on Sunday.

Match Day One expectedly will see teams battling to secure maximum points to kick start their campaign on a winning note.

It will be an interesting battle between Plateau United and Lobi Stars at the New Jos Stadium, Jos.

Lobi, who topped in 2018 will look to shock Plateau at the 44,000 capacity Jos Stadium with their returnee veterans.

David Tyavkase, Sibi Gwar, Sunday Akleche are in the mix while some debuts are expected from exciting youngster Abdulkadir Mumini and the experienced Reuben Ogbonnaya.

In Dutse, the battle will be between Wikki Tourists  who are returning to the top flight after a six-year absence and Jigawa Stars, another long time absentee from the top league.

Kano Pillars will host Rivers United and this game is the star game for the day. Both teams are entertaining and have huge followership.

While Pillars have retained the bulk of their team, they have also added Joshua Enaholo (whom is expect to start) Bright Silas, Kester Kelly and Abba Umar to their squad.

Rivers have added 16 new players to their squad with former Super Eagles defender Azubuike Egwuekwe the main attraction.

In Delta, Warri Wolves are back in the top flight since 2016 and will welcome a flamboyant Akwa United who said they are aiming for the NPFL title.

It will be a baptism of sorts for John Obuh and Duke Udi as they make their maiden bow on the Akwa bench.

In Imo, Heartland FC coach, Fidelis Ilechukwu will welcome his old club, MFM who are starting life under new gaffer Tony Bolus.

Illechukwu spent eight seasons with the church team and should know the inner workings of his opponent.

In Anambra, FC IfeanyiUbah will welcome newly promoted Adamawa United.  The Nnewi side has lost a lot of players this season but have recruited budding talents from around their neck of woods.

Delta Force will host Dakkada formerly known as Akwa Starlets as both teams will want to start life in the top flight on a winning note.

It will be another interesting tie between two ball-playing sides, Abia Warriors and Katsina United at the Umuahia Township Stadium.

The home side have Henry Makinwa at the helm of affairs having lost Abdullahi Biffo to Kwara United.

However, the game between Rangers and Sunshine Stars won’t hold because the Enugu side will play their second leg CAF Confederations Cup tie sameweekend ditto the Enyimba versus Nasarawa United game.

I'm an avid and seasoned sports/ multimedia journalist. I have a biased love for Real Madrid and passionate advocate for the overall growth of the Nigeria Sports Project. I can be reached on 09077894123 or/and '[email protected]'

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