The Nigerian FA Cup, fashioned after the FA Cup in England is the oldest club competition in the country. It started in 1945 as Governor’s Cup before it was changed to Challenge Cup in 1954. In 1999, Coca-Cola took up the title sponsorship and it was renamed Coca-Cola FA Cup. Shortly after the sponsor pulled out, the nomenclature changed to Federation Cup in2009. The competition is known for providing shocking results with the elimination of big teams by smaller and unknown clubs. This perhaps explains why it is the greatest knock-out competition in the world. This year’s competition is the 67th edition.
It has experienced difficult times since the exit of Coca-Cola, which has seen the withdrawal of many clubs. First, it was Ocean Boys FC of Brass that announced their withdrawal from the 2012 Federation Cup competition to allow them full concentration in their bid to remain in the Premier League.
The Bayelsa side is presently second from bottom of the table and look like they will be relegated at the end of the season. Media officer, Eddy Ohis said the club sees the Federation Cup as a distraction to their quest to stage a late rally towards retaining their top-flight status.
Warri Wolves also pulled out of the Federation Cup citing insecurity. The management said they cannot play their group matches in Bauchi because of the security challenges in the area. The Nigerian Football Federation, NFF, on the other hand said it has assured all participating teams of “adequate security”.
Reports suggest that the NFF engaged the services of a private security firm but security reports of the area is unfavourable, as all routes leading to the government house, police headquarters and other public places in Bauchi have been cordoned off, which creates serious tension in Bauchi. The Delta Football Association DFA said they had written to the NFF on their decision not to be part of the event in Bauchi as they might be attacked by suicide bombers. “It will unimaginable for us to allow our players and officials to remain in Bauchi for one week, the city of Warri had also been ruled out of hosting a major FIFA event mainly due to security reasons.”
NFF spokesman, Demola Olajire said the disciplinary committee will take decisions on the teams that pulled out.
Meanwhile, it has been corporate bodies including former sponsor, Coca-Cola shunned the sponsorship of the Federation Cup due to poor organization by the NFF aided the premier league clubs to avoid elimination at the hands of smaller clubs.
For instance, it is alleged that in Niger State matches were not played in the preliminary rounds and NPL side, Niger Tornadoes were directed to play their Juniors in the final.
In Imo State, cup holders Heartland FC lost to non-league side, Police Machine FC, but both sides were ordered to replay the match after Heartland lodged a protest. Heartland later qualified.
In Rivers State, the story is not any different. A lower division side, Go Round FC, a team with a bunch of intelligent youngsters was frustrated out of the competition for no genuine reason.
A source in the NFF said the state FAs should be blamed. Ironically, the NFF is composed largely of chairmen of state FAs hence the football house has no say than to play along.
An insider also revealed that sponsors are not showing interest because of the numerous court cases the football house is enmeshed in. since the exit of Coca-Cola in 2008, teams have earned no kobo for lifting the trophy.
In South Africa, the winner of the Nedbank Cup, which is the equivalent of the Federation Cup, receives 6 million rands, while the first runner-up gets 2.5 million rands. Third and fourth placed teams also receive 1 million rands each.
Poor branding has equally contributed to the problem of the competition. Although it was rebranded Federation Cup, football fans, players, participating clubs including the NFF still call it the Challenge Cup.
While the NFF has failed to secure title sponsorship, Anambra and Delta States have succeeded in this regard.
Nero Pharmaceuticals sponsored the competition in Anambra, while ECOBANK funded the event in Delta State.
Our findings also revealed that Coca-Cola and others who had had transactions with the football body refused to renew the contract because there was no accountability of funds made available to federation previously.
Olajire said the football house is working on the sponsorship issue. Due to inability to secure a title sponsor for the Federation Cup, the Lagos State governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola, has been hosting the final matches of the oldest club competition in the country.
Recently, Fashola canvassed for the use of Lagos as the permanent venue for the final. Apart from hosting the final matches, he also presented a new, all-silver trophy to the NFF.
“The donation of this new trophy is to re-enforce my suggestion that the final of the Federation Cup should not leave Lagos State again. This is because; this is where it all started. The final of English FA Cup has been played at Wembley for as long as anyone can remember, except for the few years that the venue was not available.
“With a definite venue, players and teams generally will look forward to a destination and dream. That adds to the glamour of the competition. It is our hope that this new trophy will rekindle great competition and reawaken Nigerians’ interest in the Federation Cup.”
Fashola recalled that the Federation Cup, which had been variously known as Challenge Cup and FA Cup, boasts a rich history, not only in Nigeria but around the universe, stressing that legends have been made from the event; great Nigerian names like Muyiwa Oshode, Ismaila Mabo, Har-una Ilerika, and Kenneth Olayombo amongst others.
“I go to many stadiums across the country and observe that people no longer come to watch matches. This is so saddening, considering the fact that the stadiums used to be filled up in those days, especially during tournaments like the Challenge Cup.”
The Federation Cup is a knock-out competition that begins from the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, before the 74 qualifiers are thrown into the ballot to determine fixtures at the national preliminaries. The eventual winner and third placed team in the 20-team elite class will represent Nigeria in the 2013 CAF Confederation Cup.