FROM continental contenders to almost the bottom of the Nigeria Professional Football League table, the rueful story of the Ondo State government-owned Sunshine Stars Football Club can be likened to a fall from grace to grass.
FROM the 10th position in the league for the 2016/2017 league season, they nosedived to 18th out of 20, right at the relegation zone, winning only eight out of 24 matches, losing nine and drawing seven at Week 24 when the 2017/2018 League unusually ended abruptly, with all NPFL teams given automatic ticket to play in the 2018/2019 season.
BUT the woes of the team in the last season was further compounded, earlier this year, when, in an unprecedented application of the Nigeria Professional Football League Framework and Rules, the League Management Company (LMC) yanked three points from their total points because of fan hooliganism; match officials were attacked, one of them sustained a big gash on his head in Day Eight match with Kano Pillars in Akure township Stadium in February. So instead of having 31 points for their efforts, which could have placed them at the 11th position on the league table, they got 28.
IN the 2016/2017 season, the team was banished to Otunba Dipo Stadium, Ijebu Ode due to crowd violence and only returned to the Akure stadium the last season.
THE LMC, justifying its reason for deducting three points from the club, cited its past breaches from the 2014/2015 season till date, which had attracted penalties ranging from monetary fine, playing without fans, home ground and an order to provide for prosecution of supporters cited for acts of breach of security and/or interference with match officials.
ACCORDING to the LMC, these repeated breaches constitute aggravated circumstances which were considered with a view towards imposing more severe sanctions. It noted that despite the imposition of a range of corrective sanctions including fines, ‘closed door’ orders and stadiums bans, the team had failed to curb these acts of disturbances and contempt for match officials.
AS a retribution, N1million fine was to be paid to the LMC with N500,000 paid to the injured officials, and a further three points to be removed if another infraction occurred.
THE crisis came to a peak when, last month, the Ondo State government dissolved the technical crew, technical pool staff and players, after another lack lustre performance at the recently concluded 2018 AITEO federation Cup, where they crashed out at the preliminary stage.
THE decision according to the Commissioner for Sports, Mr Saka Yusuf, was to replace “tired legs.”, and lay to bed some of the problems facing the team, including “too many coaches, indiscipline and aged players.” This becomes necessary, the government said, to lay the ground work for the team’s reorganisation, while making reference to the “dismal performance in the last two seasons.”
A new coach, Kabir Dogo, has been appointed for the Team. Dogo has promised that players’ welfare would be his top priority, saying, without well motivated players, all efforts would go down the drain. At his unveiling, it was revealed that the reorganised Sunshine Football Club, now has 15-member technical crew, as against 25 before, and 25 registered players as against 35.
IT is, however, pertinent to note that just disbanding the team and seeking to inject new blood into premier club may not be the end of its woes, worse things may still happen if the problem of fan control and incessant attack on match officials are not quickly addressed.
THIS issue should not be treated with kid glove, as it has given the team a bad image and setback having been slammed with three points deduction, with another three threatened to be deducted if there was a repeat before the end of the last season.
IT is unfortunately that Akure township stadium is notorious for bedlam. This is an unnecessary distraction to the joy of playing and watching football, and rather than just replacing staff and team, the club need to do a form of soul searching towards finding long lasting solutions and not sweep the real issue under the carpet, as ODSFA has acknowledged that there is “high level of thuggery at the stadium.”
IT is definitely to the shame of the state that the 5,500-seater Akure stadium has become a toxic environment for the football loving public, thereby reducing the possibility of profit and entertainment that could be gotten from ticket sales. This undoubtedly would adversely affect the finances of the club.
WHILE some have opined that government has no business running a football club, it could at least make the best of the situation by effectively exploring the avenue to generate revenue .
BUT as it is now, the club is the architect of its own woes, with hooligans repeatedly having a field day. And one wonders where the security agencies were in all these, as they have been unable to curb the activities of the thugs.
THE HOPE urges that the process of reorganising Sunshine Stars should not be done haphazardly. We recommend a stakeholders meeting where issues of the club would be laid on the table. Anything short of this, we are afraid may make a joke of all the efforts that have been made so far.
ALSO, the new coach should be given all the support he needs to make his job easy and the players to give their best on the field of play.