The curse of Sharks

Sharks, as they lined up in 2008

I wrote this piece in 2006 while I worked as sub-editor of GOAL! Newspapers in Lagos. With the Nigerian League kicking off on Saturday and Sharks still unable to win any silverware in 38 years of its existence, I think it may still be worth it to revisit the travails of the Port Harcourt side. I did not do any editing, just laid it out the way it was done four years ago.

 The Curse of Sharks

For the sixth time in their thirty-four year history, hugely supported but underachieving Port Harcourt side Sharks suffered the indignity of relegation at the end of the abridged 2006 season. As the usual round of accusations, counter accusations and buck-passing makes the rounds as to what is responsible for it this time, GOAL’s CHINA ACHERU takes an inside look at what many perceive as a spiritual battle for the soul of the club called the darling team of Port Harcourt fans-----------------

Just before the start of the 2006 season, Sharks were poised to pull off the biggest coup of the Nigeria Premier League by poaching the highly successful CEO of Rangers FC, Davidson Owumi and coach Stanley Eguma, who had turned every thing he touched to gold since he left Port Harcourt in 2004.

With everything agreed and a contract ready to be signed, Akpokona spectacularly turned down the biggest pay day of his career when his N15 million fee was leaked to the press. Owumi also quietly rejected the move.

Sharks 2006 season was already enmeshed in controversy even before a ball had been kicked.

A bit of good news came with the capture of homeboy Stanley Eguma from Heartland. Eguma, a former coach of Sharks, made his name in 2001 when he guided Dolphins to FA Cup glory.

He went on to coach Gabros with some success, then helped Enyimba to CAF Champions League glory in 2004 before qualifying Heartland for the Confederation Cup last season.

With such credentials, and a budget to match anyone in the top bracket of the league, Sharks were rated as one of the favourites to book a place in the Super Four, and even win the title. It looked like Sharks had got over their initial problems and one of Nigeria’s most supported clubs would be challenging for honours.

Eighteen weeks later, Sharks have been relegated and the inquest has started.

Another season of failure
The fans are understandably upset.
“We have complained and complained, but nobody wants to listen,” Chike Owaka, a life-long Sharks fan laments. “Infact, I am tired. People say this club is jinxed, but I don’t believe that. I don’t know what to believe. Imagine all the money that has been spent this season.
“We were told that they spent N4.4 million on the Niger Tornadoes match, and yet we lost.”

Up until the early 90s the recurring reason for the poor performance of the club had been poor finances but in the last seven years, Sharks have been one of the most heavily funded clubs in the country.

According to Owaka “This season alone, Sharks must have spent at least N300 million.”

Club sources say the real figure is between N200—N250 million, but the big question is, with such a huge capital outlay, why were Sharks not title chasers?

Cursed club?
Rumours have it that the problem is spiritual. A lot of former players who wore the colours of Sharks in the 70s and 80s are said to be unhappy about the way they were treated by the club and went as far as invoking spirits to work against the team to ensure that the club does not see any success until they are appeased.

The rumours claim that Babalola Adiele, who played for the Red Devils, placed an object on the roof of his house and vowed that as long as it stays there, Sharks will not win anything.
His one condition for bringing the object down is for Sharks to come and appease him.

The story states further that some former players of the club of Bayelsa extraction; the likes of Million Nicholas, Barass Orugbani, Milton Owollo, Robinson Barber and so on, may have gone to the river in Brass to cry out to the sharks in the sea to avenge them for the wrong done them by the Rivers State government at the end of their playing days.

Mazi Njoku is a veteran sports journalist, historian and statistician. He reveals to GOAL! what he knows about the Sharks story.

“It started sometime in 1987 when Sharks were relegated from division 2 to 3 with a great coach, Christo Davies in charge of the side. It did not matter the kind of quality players he signed on or how well they played, Sharks would lose away and draw at home and at one point Davies cried out that some forces more than the physical were making the team fail,” Njoku told GOAL!

Mazi, at that time was a reporter with the Nigerian Tide. He says he investigated the story and is convinced that it is true.

“I made representations to Adokiye Amiesimaka when he was chairman of Sharks and he waved it off as arrant nonsense. When Allwell Onyesoh became Sports Commissioner in 2003, I let him in on it and he promised to do something about it but up till now I think he got taken over by his job that he forgot that little detail.”

But Mazi’s story is punctured at almost every turn. Million Nicholas played for Sharks from 1977 to 1986 and was an official from 1987 to 1999. He agrees that they were poorly treated, but says no one put a curse on the club.

“A lot of us were actually not treated well by the club and personally if I remember the way I was edged out in 1999 without any benefits whatsoever I am still a bit angry, but I      am not one of those that will wish the club to fall,” Nicholas told GOAL!

“Though I believe Sharks are reaping the fruits of their wickedness to us, I do not believe anyone cursed them,” Nicholas said.

Barass Orugbani sings the same tune.

“I played for Sharks, captained the club and also coached them and do not know of anything that will make me so bitter about the way I was treated that I will place a curse on them,” Barass said.

“And I do not know if any of my colleagues did that because I left Port Harcourt a long time ago and cannot tell what is in the minds of the individuals.”

Endurance Alaboru is a member of the current Sharks team and he believes whole heartedly that the side is cursed as he tells GOAL!

“If there are people that say Sharks are cursed, I believe it can be true,” Endurance says.

“Even though I believe all that can be changed with dedication, hard work and prayers, the truth remains for now that there is something wrong with the team that the ordinary eyes cannot see.”
However, Sunny Jackson, who also plays in the current Sharks side, disagrees. Jackson told GOAL! he believes the so called pioneer players of the clubs are just trying to seek prominence by bringing up this story.

“Their claims would have made more sense if the club had won trophies in their time before they were wrongly treated as they claim, because even when they played Sharks did not win so what curse were they under then?” Jackson asked rhetorically.

Jackson says the problem of Sharks is poor management, coaching and player personnel.

The real problem with Sharks
Spiritual forces and curses aside, Sharks have been undone by more ordinary things. Insiders within the club tell GOAL! the different reasons why the club struggled this year, and every year.

Imama Amapakabo
Assistant coach Imama Amapakabo tells GOAL! that infighting is a major issue.
“You know Sharks are the darling team of the Rivers State people and everybody wants a stake in the club; and it gets so bad that when a person or group of people are not involved in the running of the club they begin to ensure the club fails so the management or coaches can be sacked and they take over. Let us look at the infighting instead.”

Late recruitment--Eguma
Stanley Eguma believes the loss of too many key players at the start of the season was a key factor.
“When I took over, at least half of the team that played the previous year had left so it was like starting again and it took a while before we picked up and began to play as a team.”
Eguma forgot to add that Sharks dropped their first home points in Week 6 in the 0-0 draw with Tornadoes, and the 1-3 home loss to Ocean Boys came in Week 11, when Sharks had ‘picked up’.

“I attribute it to greed and selfishness on the part of a few people who thought they could make some money for themselves, the club being run by the government.”
“Maybe they knew that the government will not ask how the money went and will always release money to clear new players but where has it taken us to now?”

Ebiyon Dediare lays claim as being the man who formed Sharks FC on the 12th of December 1972 and he says the Rivers State government is responsible for the woes of his darling club.
“The problem with Sharks is simply mismanagement. You have politicians put into the board of the club and these people know that they can just do what they want and leave and nobody will call them to account, so they actually act that way.”
“Either the government lets go of the club and hands it over to the private sector, or they appoint people who can run it with accountability otherwise things will not go right for them.”
On a more current level, a number of players and officials have blamed Sports Commissioner Allwell Onyesoh as being as being responsibe for Sharks relegation this season.
“He was too high-handed, he didn’t listen to advice because he did not trust the people who were working with him and he let some people get away with too many things. By the time he realized, it was too late.”
But Sharks Media Officer Cyril Wite dismissed the allegations
“What about all the other times that Sharks went on relegation before Onyesoh came, was it also his fault?”

New beginnings
With all the numerous problems afflicting the club, what solutions are available? Alaboru insists that it is not time to argue on whether there is a curse on Sharks or not, but to resort to prayers.
“We need to hold a thirty day prayer and fasting session to break the curse because I believe there is a curse on the club.”
A former player and coach of the side, Okey Okabie, disagrees on the curse bit, but agrees with Alaboru on the prayer part.
“We need to pray o. I cannot tell what the problem with Sharks has been, both in my playing days and when I coached the side, but as far as I am concerned there is nothing prayers can not solve so at this point it will not hurt us to take the prayer option.”

Call the stakeholders back- Barber
Robinson Barber played for Sharks between 1973 and 1975 and he tells GOAL! that as much as preparations must start early the management of the club must call back the former players who still have something to offer.

“They think that we are no longer relevant to the scheme of things but why are you calling me now? If the club was doing well will you call me? That means you want my opinion on something and it means I have something to offer,” Barber said.

“Just because we are not from Rivers State they think we are outsiders but we love the club we played for and always want to help.”

“About the juju thing, it is a lazy man’s excuse for failure. When I was club secretary in 1979 this same thing came up that someone cursed the club because we refused to pay up money used to procure the services of a juju man but I wrote it off as nonsense.”

In 1995, Okey Okabie was coach of the club and he also lends his voice to the issue of stakeholders adding that there should be a meeting of ex-players of the club to fashion a way out.

Okabie also slammed the player recruitment policy of the club, stating that a return to the grassroots is what Sharks need at this time.

“Look at myself and the likes of Barber, Dombraye, Nicholas, Orugbani and the rest and you will see that we all started our football in the state so our commitment knew no bounds but all this talk about big name players has never helped. We must go to the grassroots because Port Harcourt produces very good players every year.
“Look at Ocean Boys, they did not use any big name players, but they won the league.”
Incidentally, some of those Ocean Boys, like skipper Blessing Okardi, are Port Harcourt boys.

Amiesimaka’s 5-step plan for Sharks

Adokiye Amiesimaka served Sharks both as player, Team Manager and then chairman between 1983 and 2003. In that period, Sharks were relegated four times and reached the FA Cup final once. They also narrowly lost the league title in 1996 when Udoji United were awarded boardroom points.

CJ proffers a five-point plan to return Sharks to winning ways.

1. “The State government must first decide what they want to do with Sharks and work at it even if that means just playing in the lower leagues, they must plan or effectively sell off the club to hands that will take good care of them.

2. Adokiye also adds that whoever sponsors the club must look at facilities on ground.
“When I was Chairman, I was able to acquire the Sharks Football Club stadium and it must now be upgraded so the club can return to their traditional home ground.”

3. Going back to the grassroots, Adokiye Amiesimaka added is another area sponsors of the club have refused to tap into.
“Every club has its own culture and Sharks are not an exception so I have always advocated for a feeder team that we can fall back on; and you must agree with me that it is in these feeder team players you imbibe the culture of the club.”

4. The former Chairman also emphasized the need for a football-loving board to run the affairs of the club.
“At this stage it is more than just being knowledgeable in the game, you must love football and love Sharks. Gone should be those days when politicians are just put in to govern the club.”
“And we must also look at coaches too and if you ask me the best are the home grown coaches because they are cheaper. I do not believe in using state government money to develop other people when we have Rivers State born coaches that can be developed.”

5. Finally, advocate many more play grounds in Rivers State so young footballers can express themselves the more rather than the situation where “all our play-grounds have been converted for commercial purposes and religious activities.”

Change the name—Victor Ezeji
Victor Ezeji’s 13 goals as captain of Sharks in 2002 gave him the joint top scorer award and he suggests that it might be time for a change of name for the club.
Victor Ezeji
Ezeji says that the name Sharks had realistically not won anything for Rivers State so it will won’t harm any one to change the name of the club.
“I believe the name Sharks is jinxed and I want to believe that that is the problem so let us just change the name and have a deserved rest.”
The secretary of the Sharks supporters club, Jerry Abredi, also adds that government should seriously look at changing the name of the club.
“We have tried with that name, Sharks for thirty four years so let us try something else and see what it gives us,” Abredi tells GOAL!
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