On Saturday, the NPFL featured a mouth-watering clash between Enyimba FC and MFM FC. This was a contest between two teams whose recent forms were almost the same, but were miles apart on the league table.
MFM FC, whose season had started on a bright note (any club in the NPFL with an away win this early in the season has started on a bright note), were looking to at least not lose in this one.
Enyimba, looking (and playing) like the evil twin of the club that conquered Africa, were on a mission: to at least garner all three points to help move ‘table-climbing‘ ministry to its permanent site.
The game ended in a 1-1 draw, with MFM FC drawing first blood thanks to a beautiful volley from Stephen Odey (the league’s current top goalscorer) and a late equalizer from the Elephants of Aba. It was literally MFM FC’s 1st half vs Enyimba’s 2nd half.
As with all NPFL games, this one wasn’t void of its own fair share of drama (as per say dis na awa game and we dey play am awa own way!). Let’s quickly discuss all the talking points from the game in Enyimba’s ‘home away from home’ in Calabar.
Work out on a strange pitch: MFM FC players warming up before the game. Photo credit: @mfmfc_lagos
1. The Pitch and 50 Shades of Green…
… or brown, as the case may be. In a way, it’s strange that the first talking point of an exciting game is the state of the pitch. But, that’s how ‘un-missable’ the playing turf inside the Calabar stadium was.
I watched this one on T.V and, the first thing that greeted my eyes was this ‘absurd-looking’ pitch (alongside the over-half-empty stadium which I’ll be discussing later), having like a thousand shades of different colours ranging from green to brown.
I’m of the school of thought that men (well, most of us) are colour blind. So, maybe a woman would have been able to specifically identify the different colours the grass on the pitch was having. For those who saw this game, you know what I’m saying.
For those who didn’t, let me try painting the scene out for you (pun intended of course!). This soccer field (like my Yankee people go call am) had colours ranging from deep green, light green, acid green, brown, Ibadan-roofs-brown (if you’ve been to Ibadan, Nigeria, especially the Beere, Odinjo part of the city, you’ll understand this part better), light brown and more I couldn’t recognise.
The first question that came to mind when I saw the state of the pitch was,
“Whoever approved the Calabar pitch?“
The other that followed tethered around the reason why Enyimba would chose to not take care of their home away from home.
Yes, not all questions have answers. But, from how the sandy pitch seemed to make the ball bounce awkwardly everytime, to how it made life hard for the respective players, maybe the right people should be looking to answer these questions already.
So, for the sake of Enyimba playing well and having a good season maybe (just maybe) a stadium tweak should help improve the outlook of the pitch (just a suggestion from a football fan) and their poor-so-far season.
2. Empty Fan-Less Stadium
No, it wasn’t a completely empty stadium. The fans just refused to show up! Yeah, there were a few heads here and there with some young whistle blowers in the stands (more on this coming right up), it wasn’t up to standard.
You’re probably wondering what this so-called standard is. Actually, it doesn’t even exist… yet, when it comes to fans thronging to stadia across the nation to watch various clubs strut their stuff.
But, Kano Pillars, Ifeanyi Ubah, MFM FC (being the only Lagos-based football club in the NPFL) amongst others, are gradually raising the bar. They’re setting a standard, the standard. And Enyimba is far behind keeping up with these names.
The reason can be tied to their temporary relocation to Calabar, a state most of their fans may not reside in. Another reason may be that the fans fear to behold football being played on such a terrible-looking pitch. Another reason can be, simply put: The fans aren’t even interested.
If it’s the latter, it’s safe to throw optimism out the window and keep advertising the NPFL like as if we have never done it before. Let’s leave this as food for thought to whoever it concerns.
3. The Whistle Blowers
I have come to realise that football fans can express themselves however they want when they’re in the stadium.
Of course, fighting/hooliganism is not condoned (but those Russians just won’t listen), dancing, singing, clapping, looking lost and forlon, a quick chat, and a selfie are just some of the many things fans involve themselves with while in ‘The Zone.’
Another is blowing whistles, either in disagreement with the decision of the referee, to send the ref a reminder about how much is left or to boo the players. So, I thought blowing a whistle in a football stadium was legal… until I was proven wrong on Saturday.
Enyimba, on a fast counter against the Olukoya boys, had three of theirs against two MFM FC players I think (can’t exactly remember now). A pass was threaded to one of the Aba Boys who was through on goal.
Then, there was a whistle, blown not once, but twice. The players halted their move, thinking they were offside. But they weren’t. The ref had not blown his own whistle. Amongst those watching the game, two little children were messing around with something that looked like their latest toys: whistles.
This sent some of the older fans into a frenzy as the sudden stop of play made the ref to ACTUALLY stop play and give a decision against Enyimba. Long story short, the little ones were stripped of their whistles, while being surrounded by disgruntled men who expressed frustration, not only because of the kids, but also because of the thought of what could have been: a goal for Enyimba.
4. Let’s Talk About the Weird Ref
Was too lazy to even look up his name but I remember the match commentator mentioned that he was from Kano.
This centre ref, one way or the other, just managed to dish out all of his bookings on the day to MFM FC players.
Seeing as they’re humans, not machines, it’s impossible for refs to get all calls right. Somewhere in the mix, there is something called improvement and another called not trying to stare down players when they come running to you to share complaints or argue with you.
These refs, especially the centre ref for the Enyimba vs MFM FC game, should take note and make conscious effort towards becoming better.
Odey’s ode: One of the weapons in MFM FC’s arsenal. Photo credit: MFMFC Lagos
5. Fiery Confidence
If you haven’t noticed, let me quickly show you: there’s this amazing confidence with which the players of MFM FC play. Like their God, they’re no respecter of persons. And they ooze that with their display.
Against Enyimba, while some other clubs would have chosen to let the state of the pitch hamper their play, the MFM boys chose to play football their own way: quick exchange of passes, fluid movements, going for the ball and scoring beautiful goals when the chance presents itself.
They’ve (MFM FC) started well again this season. And the reason is not far-fetched: These ones fear no foe. And that can help them on their way to yet another season in the NPFL (or maybe, who knows, a continental spot).
I’d love to hear from you. Let me know what you think about the NPFL. Have you seen any games this season. If yes, what are your thoughts? Which club are you rooting for this season? If you haven’t seen any game this season, ever considered trying to?
Rotimi Daramola is a freelance football writer, football analyst and football content creator that is in love with the beautiful game. You can keep up with all of his writing and also engage with him on Twitter @Rotdav