Nigeria’s biggest football rivalries

Armed military personnel in Jos during a League match

With the hype surrounding the Manchester derby between Manchester United and Manchester City this week, I decided to do a piece on Nigeria’s biggest football rivalries at the risk of missing my deadline to submit this page.

First we must draw the line between a derby and a rivalry. A derby is a football match between two teams from the same area and that is why you have the Manchester derby, the Merseyside derby, the Port Harcourt derby etc while a rivalry is a state of competition between two people or groups.

That is why games between Barcelona and Madrid, Liverpool and Manchester United, Ac Milan and Juventus, Kano Pillars and Enyimba are rivalries and not derbies.

Now we have straightened that out, I can go on.

Nigeria’s original football rivalries were Rangers V Bendel Insurance, Rangers V Shooting Stars, Shooting Stars V Stationery Stores, Stores V NEPA, Sharks V Spartans, Raccah Rovers V Mighty Jets and a few others I have not mentioned.

But with the politicising and proliferation of football clubs since the 90s there have been new rivalries and these include Enyimba V Heartland, Enyimba V Rangers, Enyimba V Sharks, Enyimba V Dolphins, Enyimba V Kano Pillars, Dolphins V Sharks, Heartland V Rangers, Mighty Jets V Plateau United, Crown V Shooting, Rangers V Heartland, Wikki Tourists V Gombe United, Elkanemi V yobe Desert Stars and many more.

Back in those days the rivalries were drawn on ethnic lines. Rangers International of Enugu for example were the symbol of the Igbo populated eastern Nigeria after the bloody Nigerian civil war of the late 60s and every Igbo man within and outside Nigeria identified with Rangers.

The hausa/ Fulani populated northern Nigeria would stand by Kano Pillars while the Yoruba western Nigeria were predominantly fans of IICC Shooting Stars

That was why a game then between Rangers and, say, Shooting Stars would then be like a straight up war between the Igbos of Eastern Nigeria and the yorubas of the west.
Same went for a game between Rangers and Kano Pillars (eastern Nigeria V northern hausa/ Fulani).

When Israel Adabajo started Stationery Stores in the mid 60s, it created a divide in the Yoruba kingdom and the Lagos fans soon tuned in to whatever Stores were doing. There was also NEPA of Lagos and Femo Scorpions of Eruwa.

The Beni Kingdom quickly adapted to Bendel Insurance while most of the South South lined up behind Sharks of Port Harcourt; of course Sharks then was populated by Ijaw speaking players who would today be spread across Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta States.

The rivalries then made Nigerian football tick.

A game between Rangers and Shooting, Shooting and Stores, Kano Pillars and Bendel Insurance would fill up the then 80,000 capacity National Stadium in Lagos and it was almost a taboo then for a northerner to play for, say Shooting Stars or a Yoruba man to play for Rangers.

I remember when Dotun Alatishe first signed for Rangers in 1990, it made news because Alatishe was a Yoruba man who was seen to be playing for an Igbo club.

In the 80s it would have been almost impossible for Christian Chukwu to play for Shooting Stars or Segun Odegbami to play for Bendel Insurance and Nigerian football was the best for it.

However, Nigeria’s biggest rivalry that has stood the test of time and has lasted till date (your reactions are needed if you disagree) must certainly be the Jos rivalry/ derby between Mighty Jets and Plateau United.

There own is what I still call a bitter rivalry because it is drawn across not just ethnic lines but now religious lines and it does not seem to be getting over soon.

The world’s most violent football rivalries are listed as AC Milan v Internazionale, Ajax v Feyenoord, Barcelona v Real Madrid, Cracovia v Wisla Krakow, Fenerbahce v Galatasaray, Flamengo v Fluminense, Rangers V Celtic, River Plate v Boca Juniors, Roma v Lazio, West Ham United v Millwall but none of these compare to what happens in Jos between Plateau United and Mighty Jets and the reasons are not farfetched.

Just like in Scotland where the rivalry between Rangers and Celtic is religious, the same can be said of that in Jos.

History tells us that in Scotland, fans of Rangers are from the Protestant community while fans of Celtic are predominantly catholic.

Well, welcome to Jos.

Plateau United salute their home fans against Dolphins
The competition between Plateau and Jets has roots in more than just sporting rivalry as I am about to explain.

The original inhabitants of Jos are the Berom people who are Christians while the Hausa/ Fulani recent settlers are moslems.

Now this is where it gets more interesting because Plateau United is “owned” by the Christian indigenes while Mighty Jets is “owned” by the Muslim settlers.

Incidentally, both sides share the same stadium, the Rwang Pam in Jos which creates a lot of tension when they play whether it is a derby game or not.

A visit to the Rwang Pam Stadium in Jos is always an interesting affair because if for example, Plateau United are playing a home game, fans of Mighty Jets turn out in their numbers to cheer the visitors and vice versa if Mighty Jets have a home game.

And of course when both sides clash in a League or FA Cup match, it always ends in violence and carnage.

I remember on one occasion fans of one of the clubs set a part of the stadium on fire because their side lost the derby.

Another interesting thing about the Rwang Pam Stadium in Jos is that the fans divided the terraces with an invisible line.
Dolphins salute rival Mighty Jets fans in
a game against Plateau United

Walking into the stadium, the whole of the right side belong to fans of Mighty Jets and no Plateau United fan born of his mother will sit in the Jets side of the stadium unless he wants trouble for himself.

Same way, the whole of the center and left side belong to fans of Plateau United and no Mighty Jets fan in his right senses would want to sit there and watch games.

I have watched games in Jos three times (unfortunately so few) and each time I am there I am amazed at the extent they have taken their rivalry which is good for Nigerian football, no doubt, except of course the violence that may have taken lives before (I have no record of that, though).

Last Sunday, I was in Jos for the game between Plateau United and Dolphins and saw the heavy presence of armed police and army personnel because of fear of violence erupting between fans of Plateau United and Mighty Jets.

Now even if Mighty Jets failed to gain promotion to the Premier League, their fans turned out in large numbers to cheer the away team, Dolphins against the home side Plateau United.

Plateau United fans mocked fans of Mighty Jets for their failure to qualify for the Premier League (in fact a loss to Plateau on the last day of the season ended Mighty Jets’ chances of playing Premier League football) but fans of Mighty Jets had the last laugh.

At the end of the game which Plateau United lost, fans of Mighty Jets celebrated and danced with the visitors, Dolphins all the way out of the stadium.

Jos in 2010 reminds me of what Nigerian football was like pre-1980 and we really need to get back to that point. That point where a game between Rangers and Shooting Stars would bring 40000 fans to the stadium, the same with games between Dolphins/ Sharks and Enyimba, Crown V Shooting and other rivalries that still exist in the Nigerian League.

Are there any better rivalries you know in Nigerian football?
For reactions you can follow me on twitter at www.twitter.com/ikwerreman and on my blog at www.naijafootball247.com and let us hear about them.

 


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