|Rivers United players at the reception dinner|
By Precious Chukwu
To go by the guest list alone, a gathering of sports royalty and a who's who in Rivers State, the reception for the players and management of Rivers United Football Club yesterday was a rousing success.
Then came the gifts; half a million naira for each player, a million naira for the coach, and an upgrade in conveyance for the team (they will now arrive for away matches in a brand new state-of-the-art luxury bus).
Their supporters will be right behind that bus with a brand new coaster bus of their own and there is no denying their efforts merit it (If they showed just half the enthusiasm at the matches that they did yesterday night, it is no wonder the team performed so well at home.
This Author is still deaf in one ear from their boisterous celebrations).
A catalogue of speeches
Hon. Boma Iyaye, Commissioner for Sports, set the ball rolling on the night with a welcome address that catalogued the successes in sport under Governor Wike’s administration.
According to Iyaye, the chief success of the sporting year was the reason for the party, the amazing achievement of the Rivers United side who finished second and clinched qualification to the Champions league a paltry 7 months after they were formed by the merger of Sharks and Dolphins Football Clubs.
There was a spot of humour as he highlighted the travails of a sports administrator not the least of which was having been suspended by the Governor one month ago.
He seized to opportunity to sincerely apologize to his boss, of course.
The President Sports Writers’ Association of Nigeria, SWAN, Honour Sirawoo was next on a speaking list, while Monday Sinclair, the man who made tiki-taka a staple at Sharks FC years before the likes of Arsene Wenger and Pep Guardiola arrived on the scene also had his chance to speak.
Monday Sinclair is credited with the discovery of Super Eagles’ greats like Finidi George, Taribo West, Peter Rufai and even Rangers coach Imama Amakpakabo.
Chief Adokiye Amiesimaka, who was part of the historic team that won Nigeria’s 1st AFCON title in 1980 also shared some words of support for the governor whose decision to merge Sharks and Dolphins brought sanity to the state as far as running a football club was concerned.
Comedy and entertainment
There was also space for comedy, and the comedians turned the event on its head as is ‘their way’.
J-Boy led the way, commiserating with the Governor on the harshness of the economic clime right now and surprisingly presenting him with a gift! A two hundred naira recharge card for His Excellency's phone which “must be empty” because of the recession don’t you know.
Up next Clint d Drunk, self-styled Special Adviser to the Governor of Rivers
State on ‘Drunk Matters’ tasked with ‘Drunken Dispensations’ and His
Excellency’s ‘Personal Drunk’ who made the coach Stanley Eguma his muse,
ribbing him endlessly for his photo in the program.
According to Clint, the gaffer’s face was “squeezed like Nigeria's economy, like the naira against the dollar”.
Awards and presentations
The players took centre stage with an award for the star players of the season.
The MVP award went to the goalkeeper Sunday Rotimi. There were also awards for fan favourite, Bernard Ovoke (Top Goalscorer), Christian Weli (Most Consistent), Frederic Obonmate (Best Homegrown Player) and Captain Festus Austin.
The governor delivers his message
Then the moment we had been waiting for arrived, a quick look at the players table a little to my left confirmed that they had indeed been waiting impatiently.
An expectant hush fell as the Governor of Rivers State, His Excellency Chief Barrister Nyesom Ezenwo Wike’s address began.
He started by acknowledging the presence of the Deputy Governor Ipalibo
Harry Banigo, former Governor of Rivers State Celestine Omehia, the Speaker
Rivers State House of Assembly Adams Dabotorudima, former Deputy Speaker
House of Representatives Chibudum Nwuche, His Royal Majesty, King
Edward Asimini William Dappa Pepple, the Amanyanabo of Grand Bonny Kingdom, Commander NNS Pathfinder Commodore Kennedy Egbuchulam, Commander NAF 97 SOG Air Commodore P.N. Dimfwina and others.
The Governor had nothing but praise for Rivers United and promised to send them to Spain for training ahead of their CAF Champions League campaign.
“Everybody knows I am a Real Madrid fan. For me they are the best and most expensive football club in the World.
“Yes we say there is a recession, but we will do the best we can to see that our boys are exposed in preparing them for the continental championship by making sure that they go for their training outside the country.”
After “declaring” for the boys and the supporters, His Excellency urged the commissioner for sports to present to him within 2 weeks a roadmap for success in the CAF Champions League and promised to do everything to ensure that the team makes the people of Rivers State proud.
Hometown boy Imama Amakpakabo, Coach of NPFL champions was not left out as the Governor felicitated with him on the victory.
“For me, Rivers State took first and River State took second, and so what I’m going to say this night will also affect him. It does not matter where you are, but the mere fact that you are a Rivers person and you make us proud, you must be recognised.”
It was a night to remember for the young players of Rivers United FC and hopefully, like the governor said, if Rivers Angels win the league, “We will all return to this place to host them too.”