EL-KANEMI vs. HEARTLAND: A blind spot for the NPFL
‘A game can be fair and not fair. When a referee talks about free and fair, now I understand what they
mean. The match was free but it was not fair’ These were the words of Cajetan Nkwopara, the Media Officer of Heartland Football Club of Owerri in a private chat I had with him after the NPFL week 16 game between El-kanemi Warriors vs. Heartland FC played in Maiduguri which ended in a slim 1 - 0 defeat of the visiting team from Owerri, Heartland FC who are second placed in the league table shortly after loosing a battle of the topper match to the Pillars of Kano in a rescheduled match played in Abuja. Results from those matches have only dropped Heartland to the 3rd position behind Kano Pillars and Bayelsa United.
The game was fair he enthuses, but it wasn't free he said. The officiating would have a been a lot more better and free: it could have been were the referee not from the same region with the table topping Kano Pillars and as it is a common place trait in the Nigerian local scene that most referees from any particular region favouring table topping or relegation saving team tend to be partial to the blind side of teams that seem to be in way of the success of the team.
My friend confesses that they were well accepted and cheered in Maiduguri, the local fans showered the boys from the east with praises for their professionalism and tenacity on the pitch of play. More so, heading their heads high without grumblings in spite of the referees’ denial of two clear penalties that should have gone the way of Heartland FC. The centre referee Isiaku Mohammed Ndabawa who is from
Kano state and the 2nd Assistant referee Usman Isah from Katsina allegedly denied Heartland two clear penalty calls, made false calls on offside position when it wasn't to be. The reason for their alleged fair but not free officiating could not be far fetched from their ‘attachment’ to the table topping Northern club Kano Pillars.
Since when did referee’s from the same region start officiating games involving teams from the same region too also not forgetting the fact that Heartland and Kano Pillars are fighting to maintain the top position in the League. My question to the authorities who make decisions as to the posting of the referees to games, whether it be the Nigerian Referees’ Association or the League Management Commission is, should for example the game in Maiduguri be, where officials are selected from the same region with one of the teams playing?
The battle for the top position in the league is currently between Heartland FC of Owerri and Kano Pillars, therefore, should the officials referee the game when one of the teams playing is from the same region with them?
Knowing the level of the game and its hindrances, such chances are not to be taking in the league especially when the LMC so claims it is working on revamping the league totally.
The could have been free and fair and it may not be both free and fair, like Cajetan as quoted above, a game can be fair but when the results favours the team from the same region with the officials and the other battling team for the top position, then it leaves eyesores for true sportsmanship and only shows a blind spot on the side of both the Nigeria Referees Association and The League Body.
Well for me, I am looking forward to the Oriental Game at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium, who officiates the game between Enugu Rangers and Heartland FC this time?
Macaulay Maduwuba : Twitter: @McAulay Maduwuba Facebook: FIELDSTONES SPORTS CORPORATION