• Supporters club hopes to net 20,000 spectators on match day
By Tope Templer Olaiya, Assistant Lagos City Editor
There’s a new frenzy in town for lovers of the round-leather game and it’s not Chelsea, Arsenal or Barcelona; it is Stationery Stores Football Club, the darling team of Lagos fans.
Since returning to national reckoning by raising a team to compete in the second-tier Nigerian National League (NNL), which began last month, Onikan Stadium, the ancestral home ground of the club in Lagos Island is now the place to be for football lovers on match days.
Affectionately known to Lagos fans as ‘Flaming Flamingoes’ or ‘Super Stores,’ the team recently got a lifeline from the owners, the Adebajo family and the organized supporters of the club by Adebayo Olowo-Ake, who worked tirelessly with others to ensure Stores are resurrected after several years of inactivity following a family impasse.
Now a limited liability company, chairman of the board of directors, Tilewa Adebajo, whose father, Sir Israel Adebajo, founded the club in 1958, told The Guardian they are happy to be back. “We have already played six games and it is our plan to win promotion and go further. However, going forward, we will take issues of corporate governance seriously.”
Stationery Stores have had its fair share of top-flight football, which has not been rosy. They have won two games, drawn two and lost two in this order: Stores vs Abia Comets 1-1; Gateway FC vs Stores 1-1; Stores vs Shooting Stars 2-0; MFM vs Stores 4-0; Stores vs Ekiti United 3-2 and Gabros vs Stores 1-0.
Of the six games played so far, the most memorable was the 2-0 win over Shooting Stars of Ibadan, which sport followers dubbed a local version of an El Classico match between Real Madrid and Barcelona. The 2-0 score line notwithstanding, the game was a perfect platform to rekindle the memories of old between two rivals and crowd pullers of Nigerian football, whose exploits in the 70s and 80s marked a golden era for domestic football in the country.
The atmosphere surrounding the football arena was electrifying, and in a sheer frenzy that resonated beyond the wildest dreams of any football fanatic, the loud beat of drums, songs, dancing and the numerous fans wearing the traditional yellow and maroon colours added to the vibrant mood in the neighbourhood.
Like in the days of yore, it is usually a carnival-like atmosphere at the Onikan Stadium on match days with hundreds of Lagosians from all works of life clapping, dancing, chanting the traditional songs of their team and cheering them to victory. In the club’s first game against Abia Comets on February 15, there were over 3,000 spectators at Onikan Stadium.
According to the stadium managers, the last time they had more than 200 people watching football at Onikan was in 2002. It got so bad that they removed the entire turnstile erected at the gate to manage entry of ticket holders into the stadium because nobody was paying anymore until Stationery Stores returned.
Against Shooting Stars, the entire stadium was filled except the area reserved for the supporters of the visiting team. Same turnout was recorded in its home game against Ekiti United. The club’s supporters club marshaled by Adebayo Olowo-Ake hopes to gross 20,000 spectators before the end of the season.
After following the club for over three decades, Adebayo is no stranger to the intrigues that brought Stationery Stores to its abyss and spirited attempts to bring it back on board. In a chat not spanning 20 minutes, The Guardian lost count of the number of times he mentioned Stationery Stores. It’s a project dear to his heart.
Fans allude to the fact that the history of Nigerian football would be incomplete without mentioning Stationery Stores, which held sway even before the advent of professional football. “That Stores is back means a lot for Nigerian football. It used to be the most supported football club in the country and its supporters are known for their fanatical followership.
Olowo-Ake continued: “Now that the club is back, the feeling that some of us have is that the atmosphere that characterizes Nigerian football will change. We have seen in the past where top-flight competitions are staged in Nigeria and the stadia are empty. This never happened, especially in those days when Stationery Stores played Shooting Stars or Enugu Rangers or Bendel Insurance. There was a lot of followership, camaraderie and excitement.
“With the return of Stores, we are beginning to see the return of spectators. The return will also reignite followership in Lagos. Lagos has been quiet football wise for a long time; there has been no club to galvanize the whole of Lagos. We were thinking that it would take about 15 games to create the kind of excitement we are already seeing now after six games. By the end of this season, we would have changed the entire landscape in terms of followership of domestic football.”
Olowo-Ake believes all stakeholders in the Stationery Stores project have learnt their lessons and that the club is back to stay. “The owners have learnt lessons from what happened, the supporters have learnt lessons, the Nigerian Football Federation itself has learnt lessons, including other clubs. Stationery Stores tried to come back like twice and failed until this latest effort.
“One thing I know as a supporter of the club is that Stationery Stores of old is back much stronger now. Everybody is working together to ensure the club stabilizes. After playing only three games, the club got a sponsor. That is a record; there are a lot of domestic premiership teams that don’t even have sponsorship,” he added.