Edo Deputy Governor makes history as player; grassroots stars deliver for Bendel, as Insurance beat 3SC to near promotion to Nigerian top flight league

By Daily Sports on November 8, 2018

Views: 908

One of Nigeria’s most storied and traditional football clubs, Bendel Insurance of Benin City, took one mighty step towards reclaiming its place in the top flight of Nigerian league football by defeating another traditional club Shooting Stars of Ibadan 2-1 to finish on top of the Group B 1 table.

The highly anticipated fixture had suffered several postponements at the behest of the visiting Shooting Stars team (otherwise known as 3SC), the latest of which came as the Ibadan side informed the NFF that all its players had suffered from good poisoning and couldn’t honor the game scheduled for the Uniben Sports complex, Benin City.

But on Sunday, February 3rd, the game did go on at last, except it couldn’t finish on that day.

Shooting Stars had taken a shock lead in the 2nd minute through a long range free kick to silence the thousands of vociferous Benin fans Who had thronged the complex to cheer their darling club to victory and on to the elite cadre of Nigerian league football and away from the wilderness of division one football where they had been mired in since being relegated a decade and one years ago.

The tens of 3SC fans danced and sang exuberantly as the Oluwole Warriors held firm to take a one goal lead. Insurance were floundering, looking rushed and struggling to compose themselves to open up the visitors defiant rearguard.

At half time, the weather dramatically darkened as rain threatened. Visibility became so poor that the players could hardly see one another.

The center referee called both captains together and a collective decision was made to postpone the second half to the following morning.

And on to Monday morning, at 9:00am hostilities resumed at a frenetic pace with Insurance in a do or die mood to get back on level terms and get the win they needed to move above Shooting who were two points above them prior to the game.

In the 14th minute Insurance got a deserved equaliser through Michael Enaruna who smashed home after a goalmouth melee of a cross from right back Efe Enabulele.

The complex heaved a collective sigh of relief after a wild eruption of celebration.

But Insurance needed to wait till the 95th minute of extra time to find the winner through veteran captain and substitute Charles Omokaro who calmly spotted from the penalty spot after a 3SC defender had handled the ball in his box.

The jubilation that greeted the goal deafening. And it got even louder as the referee signalled the end of the game.

Fans thronged into the pitch in frenzy. The celebrations spewed into the streets as players congratulated each other and the Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki as well as members of the club's management celebrated what they thought was an already guaranteed promotion.

But the celebrations have been tempered by the clarification from the league’s organising body that no team from the NNL has gained promotion yet.

Per THISDAY newspaper: “. . . the Executive Secretary of NNL, Lawrence Katken, clarified that the lower league body was a bit disturbed with phone calls from interested parties for clarification on whether the Super 8 play-off would still go ahead or has been shelved.

“We stand by the rules set at the beginning of the season which will allow two top teams in each group to contest for a play-off that will produce four teams that will gain promotion into the elite division next season,” he explained yesterday.

He said further that, “the club congress without any opposition agreed at the beginning of the season that the two top teams in each group will play the Super 8 where the top four clubs will pick the tickets into the NPFL.

“ ‘The arrangement is no secret to all the clubs. They are aware of the rules guiding the league, except some people want to be mischievous about it.

“ ‘For me, it is not true that Insurance FC has gained promotion to play the NPFL in NPFL next season. They still have a bridge to cross and that’s the Super 8,” he confirmed.”

So that settles it. 

However the Insurance vs 3SC game threw up some interesting talking points and here are the top 2:

Edo Deputy Governor Philip Shaibu makes history as the first high government official and oldest player to be listed as a player for a Nigerian league 

At 48 Edo state Deputy Governor Philip Shaibu has still got an infectious love for playing football.

Shaibu alongside the Edo state Governor have shown a genuine seriousness about getting Insurance back to the top flight and towards that end they have chanelled funds into the team and have rebranded it into something of a well-oiled outfit of super motivated players with a better welfare package to butt.

But the Deputy Governor loves to play and he’s got the skills to do so. His presence in the thrills the players but he also commands their respect as much for his footballing talents as well as his high position in society.

So against 3SC it was interesting seeing him in the match day squad. 

It was an open guess all around the complex prior to kick off. Was he going to come in at some point? How will the Shooting players treat him? Would they give him a whack like any other player or give him a pass?

In the end Shaibu never featured in the game. One would imagine that had Insurance secured a good margin he would have come in at some point.

Still it was interesting to see a “whole” Deputy Governor sit in the dressing room and take instructions from the coach and go through all the prematch warm up routine like any other player.

                                                                      ***

Insurance trusting and thrusting young grassroots players into action bearing fruit

It is some kind of cliche to hear people say give young players from the grassroots a chance to shine for Insurance. For years many talented young players from the grassroots in Benin City have been reportedly overlooked by coaches of Bendel Insurance during their recruitment process. 

One sad episode for Insurance comes to mind.

In the season that were relegated, a certain Solomon Okpako, an exciting midfielder played a very good game for visiting Kano Pillars and scored for them against Insurance at the latter's Samuel Ogbemudia stadium in a match that ended 1-1 and contributed to the relegation of Insurance.

Okpako had reportedly been turned down by Insurance that year as he searched for a professional club and he would go on to captain Nigeria’s home-based Super Eagles squad to winning the WAFU Cup some years later.

The Technical Adviser of Insurance Monday Odigie, who joined the club before the commencement of the season and coaches and his coaching staff however seemed to have had a conscious decision to take the course of blooding more players from the grassroots prior to the start of the season.

The current Insurance team has a healthy number of players who were heavily involved in grassroots football just last year. Young players like imposing center back Benjamin Tiaminu from grassroots club Global Stars, BJ Foundation duo of striker Junior Osaghae and defensive midfield lynchpin Kalu Moses and skillful left-footed attacking midfielder Michael Enaruna were among the young players from Benin City-based grassroots clubs who were signed into the club to join other young players who were just two seasons ago still in the grassroots-like left back Abraham Odianosen and super right back Terry Igiebor.

These aforementioned players who formed the core of the main team of Insurance this season, it can be argued, are players who have a soul for the club, having grown in Benin City were the club has a deep meaning for many people.

With the present success of the club, the decision to thrust these lads into the gray of professional league football for their hometown club has proven a success.

*As I was just concluding this piece, I learned that Edo Deputy Governor Philip Shaibu just made history as the first serving Deputy Governor to actually play in a pro-league match as he came on in the second half for Insurance in their 1-1 away draw against Spartans of Lagos in a rescheduled NNL match on Wednesday, November 7th.

Edo

Photo shows the deputy governor in the pitch for Insurance against Spartan just moments after he came on.

Source Daily Sports

Posted November 8, 2018

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