WE MUST FORGIVE AND THEN IMORTALISE AUDU IBRAHIM

I lived and grew up just around the Teslim Balogun Stadium (then, UAC Grounds), so I had the immense privilege of watching so many football matches in the stadium. Of course I didn’t have the money to pay even for the popular side, so most of the time I went to hawk iced water, and at other times, I simply joined the other kids to scale the wall. In any case, the gates were usually thrown open midway into the second half, so with some patience I still got to watch the games.

I have no clue how the great players of the 1960s performed, but from the mid 1970s I had the opportunity of seeing Stationery Stores FC perform in flesh. I watched the team consistently until the demotion to the second division, and then the withdrawal from the National League, and then the revival a couple of years ago. I am a Stores boy !

Very few people (if any) will argue the fact that Haruna Ilerika is the most important Stationery Stores player ever – our Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, et cetera. However, if a survey is carried out for the second most impactful Stores player, the answer may not be so clear cut. The older generation of supporters may elect Peter ‘Baby’ Anieke or Tony Igwe (‘World 2’) or Peter Fregene; a lot of the younger generation will easily go for Dodo Mayana (Peter ‘Rock’ Rufai) for his huge role in Nigeria’s first World Cup qualified team. For me personally, the no.2 most important player in Stationery Sores history has to be Audu Ibrahim, who unfortunately entered the bad books of the club at the tail end of his otherwise illustrious career.

I have searched and searched and googled but I not lucky to find any photograph of Audu, so I will just describe him and request any good artist among the supporters to draw out an artist’s impression.

Audu Ibrahim was a tall chap, ebony black, muscular and very athletic. He had a handsome, boyish face, and for some strange reason a similar unique fore-hair line as the great Haruna Ilerika’s. Some people said he hailed from Kano, but others said he was Ghanaian (which is more likely, as so many skillful Ghanaian players came to play for Stores). He started as a schemer in the No.4 position, taking over very easily from the mercurial Sanni Mohammed who played for the Super Eagles until Muda Lawal arrived on the scene.

Audu held the midfied like a general for Super Stores for many years and you could easily compare him to Manchester United’s Roy Keane. He combined the role of a schemer with that of a defender, played box to box, and contributed immensely to Stores winning or avoiding defeat on so many occassions. In fact Audu mentored and prepared the way for other great midfielders like Olumide Banjo and Akeem Ogunlade to emerge.

It was a no brainer that Audu Ibrahim was elected Captain of Stationery Stores: He was a leader on the pitch. At a stage when the likes of sensational Emannuel Jackson were bowing out and Stores was having a gap in central defence, Audu was drafted to a permanent central defence role. Again, he did the job spotlessly as if he was born as a No.5.

Somehow, as age wore on, human weaknesses set in and perhaps the thought of life after football became overwhelming for Audu. Again too, it was his own perfection that did him in: A team losig 0 – 4 once in a while, especially to a fantastic opponent, shouldn’t create an uproar, but when Stationery Stores lost a game by that margin to the richly assembled Abiola Babes in 1985, there was bedlam in the supporters and management community. To these people it didn’t matter that Stores lost away in the home of one of the strongest clubs at the team. All they knew was that a team with players as good as Audu Ibrahim in defence should not lose 0 -4 to anybody, not even Real Madrid !

Like play like play, what started as some joke became an official matter. A probe panel was set up by the club, and the report of the panel stated that some players collected money before the game. The biggest casualty of the whole drama was Audu Ibrahim who had to leave the club after so many years of meritorious service.

Reports had it that Audu wept like a little baby when his indictment was announced. That was how one of the most glorious chapers of Stationery Stores’ history ended on a sad note. Ever since, no one seems to remember Audu Ibrahim again.

This is over 30 years after that sad episode. I think to err is human, but to forgive is divine. Audu Ibrahim’s contributions to Stores for what I think spanned 5 – 10 years was a thousand time more than th 3 points that we lost to Abiola Babes. We need to forgive Audu. Stationery Stores FC must officially forgive Audu and commemorate this with a special all-star game.

As I write, we don’t even know if the man is still alive or not. We don’t know how his family is faring. Worst of all, the club where he spent the best part of his youth serving will not even remember him – all because of some small human error that cost the club 3 league points. This wrong.

I’m happy that when another bribery issue came up some years after Audu’s case, the club had the maturity to treat it quietly in-house, without inflicting another permanent damage on another player’s career.

Let’s forgive Audu Ibrahim and restore his well earned place as one of the greatest players of Nigeria’s greatest football club, Stationery Stores.

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Stationery Stores ’80s photo with Audu Ibrahim standing 

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WHAT IS IT ABOUT STATIONERY STORES?

My friend met me poring over pictures from the launch of the Stationer Stores FC Supporters Trust and exclaimed for the umpteenth time, “You and this your Stores!”. She had made that spontaneous statement for as long as I’d known her.

Yes, Stationery Stores Football Club seems a spirit that just won’t die; or, how do you explain the launch of a full-fledged supporters trust by a club that is not playing in the local league; a club that last featured in the Nigerian Premier League about two whole decades ago ?

When Stores came back briefly to play in the 2nd Division a couple of years ago, it ignited the rejuvenation of popular interest in the Nigerian local league. Suddenly our newspapers found space to report on the local league again. The age old myth of Onikan Stadium became a reality once more.

I remember the visit of Shooting Stars to Onikan that season. It was a local football carnival that our young ones these days were not used to. The Oluyole Warriors – the first club in Nigeria to win an African continental title, came in full force with their army of supporters. They also had a very good team that year, given the fact that they eventually regained promotion to the premier league.

Shooting Stars’ supporters would have intimidated any other team, but not Stores’. Onikan Stadium – ditto the entire Lagos Island – was brimming with Stores supporters – led by the inimitable Fire 2 !

Hours before kick-off the two groups of supporters had taken vantage positions in the stadium. The urbane ones at the VIP area were throwing tantrums at each other, and you could sense war in the offing. I am talking about football war here, because for all their loudness, Stationery Stores’ supporters are never violent.

The match brought out the very best from the young, newly assembled Stores players. Every player on the pitch wanted to emulate his legendary predecessor in that position. Skipper Ayo Filani was motivating his boys like Audu Ibrahim used to, while Niyi Jelelola was bustling like Yakubu Mambo. Stores was on fire !

At the end of the day, Shooting Stars were sent back to Ibadan with two brilliant goals against them, while the party continued in lagos late into the night.

It was performance like that that endeared Stores to the world renowned football supporters cooperative promoters, Sandlanders. They spent a huge amount of their resources travelling to Nigeria to court Nigeria’s greatest club supporters – Stationery Stores FC Supporters Club, and today, the Stationery Stores Supporters Trust is a reality.

My friend always asks me what it is that makes Stores so thick – having almost an immortal personae. The answer is simple: Stationery Stores is so blessed to have a unique type of supporters. I’ll give some examples:

Adebayo Olowo-Ake travels round the world all year round, doing humanitarian work for the Red Cross, yet he has been involved in every activity of the Stores supporters club since that return to action two years ago. I got to know him through the social media group he and other senior supporters created. He holds everything together.

I was invited to a meeting where the issue of creating a formal Constitution for the supporters club came up. I volunteered to write the first draft, but after the meeting I became lost on where to start from. I remembered the name Barrister Babatunde Ogala came up several times in the supporters’ discussions, so I got his phone number and called him. I was very careful, knowing that I was calling a senior legal practioner and political stalwart. To my amazement Barrister Ogala invited me to his office immediately and on getting there he left what he was doing and spent substantial time searching for useful documents for me. He spent even more time educating me on the cherished history of Stores and why we must get the Constitution right. I was amazed to say the least.

Lest you begin to think that Stores is a Yoruba thing, I will tell you about Pastor Eliashib Ime-James. The name should tell you he hails from somewhere in the South-South part of Nigeria. However, the only local football club – in fact the only football club –  he ever talks about is Stationery Stores. Pastor (as I always call him) is a retired accomplished broadcaster and currently a full time Minister of the Christian faith, yet he is perhaps the most active Stores supporter that I know.

Two years ago, when I had the available time to spend regularly with him, he was always on the road visiting Stores supporters, especially the doyens – i.e. the very old men living around the Surulere area who obviously were the active supporters when Stores was rising in the 1960s and 1970s. At a point he pleaded with me to accompany him, but I returned the plea: “Pastor” I said, “I have passion to watch Stores play on the field, not visiting their supporters at home!

Pastor Eli was obviously disappointed with my response, but he didn’t flog me. The most moving and most sentimental moment I ever witnessed in this life also had Pastor Eli as the key figure. On the day that 1960Bet launched Stationery Stores branded jerseys (yes, even as a second division team, Stores attracted a major shirt sponsorship), many of the supporters who arrived late could not get the freely distributed jerseys. One young man, probably a very active member of Fire 2, came to Pastor Eliashib after the game, wept profusely and begged to be given a jersey. The young man could not bear the pain and ridicule of going home without one on a day that many of his colleagues were proudly adorning the new world class quality Stores jersey.

Pastor Eliashib sent many people to go search for any spare jersey for the young man. They all came back empty handed. I was just about to plead with the complainant to come back to the stadium the following week and get a jersey, when Pastor Ime-James did the unbelievable. Right there in the open, he undressed, removed the jersey he was wearing and handed it to the Fire 2 Stores supporter. I was speechless. Pastor was stark naked from waist up, and the young man, having got what his heart desired most at that point jumped and hugged Pastor Eliashib so passionately – not minding the sweat and all. I saw that young man in the stadium several times after that incidence, always full of happiness and zest as he went about demonstration support for Stationery Stores.

I can talk about very young supporters: Like Nana Dozie who designed the beautiful Stores supporters logo; like Adebayo Akande who played a very active role in the realization of the Stationery Stores FC Supporters Trust. I can talk about people like Shola Idowu, Dawodu, Deji Balogun; about Yomi Opakunle, Segun Adenuga, and Mumini Alao; and I can talk about His Excellency Babatunde Raji Fashola and His Excellency Alhaji Lateef Jakande.

As recent as a few weeks ago, I attended the prestigious Annual Conference of the Chartered Institute of Stockbrokers. In the midst of serious intellectual discussions on ways to rejuvenate the Nigerian economy, the head panelist, Mr Aigboje Aig-Imoukhouede (CEO of Access Bank and President of The Nigerian Stock Exchange) asked a discussant, the reknowned economic analyst Opeyemi Agbaje, a surprising question: “By the way, which football team do you support?”

Agbaje’s response was instant and even more unexpected: “Stationery Stores” !

The stunned audience could not help but give a resounding applause. If, like my friend, you didn’t know what it is about Stationery Stores, now you know: It is the supporters. I will not be surprised if in the not too distant future Stationery Stores Football Club becomes the first football team to be publicly quoted on The Nigerian Stock Exchange.

(photos courtesy of Stationery Stores FC Supporters Clubs Amalgamated on facebook)

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LET’S KEEP IT FLAMING

Fellow supporters

We at MY SUPER STORES fan blog join you in thanking God for this new year, 2015. We wish you a very HAPPY NEW YEAR !

2014 will remain memorable for every supporter of the world’s greatest club, Stationery Stores Football Club of Lagos, aka Adebajo Babes, aka Flaming Flamingoes, a.k.a Darling Club of Lagos. That was the year the almighty God answered our prayers of 16 years; that we live to see our beloved Stores return to the Nigerian league.

For that monumental achievement we must thank the entire Israel Adebajo family, and in particular, Adetilewa Adebajo for leading from the front. We must also thank those supporters who worked quietly, but relentlessly in the trenches all those years to achieve what we saw in 2014: Adebayo Olowo-Ake, Eliashib Ime-James and Babatunde Ogala are only but a few of those names.

For about 9 months our weekends became meaningful again. Onikan regained its glory. Thanks to 1960Bet, we had beautiful Stores jerseys to wear and shine with every week; perhaps the only Nigerian club supporters to have that privilege..

On the field there was plenty of entertainment: Defenders came purposely every week to kick and brutalise Fuad, but he gave us the goals. Obinna gave us sweet memories of Haruna Ilerika; dribbling, twisting and turning, but most importantly, creating the goals for Ajah. Many will remember Raphael Onwrebe for his gold-dyed hair; others for the hatful of chances he flopped, but this blog will rather remember him for the crucial goals he scored which gave us maximum points in those earlier games.

Ex-International, Taiwo Enegwea will always feel proud to have been the coach to lead Stores’ renaissance. Ayo Filani will tell his kids how proud he was to have been the captain; and perhaps the most dramatic story: Musa Sadiq. Injury meant he played just one home game for Stores, but what a memorable game for him. He scored the very first goal for Stores and was later rewarded with a wrist watch from the supporters. Call him a one match superstar, but I wish I was in his place!

At the end of the season, the team that Stores walloped resoundingly, Shooting Stars, topped the league table and gained promotion. That should say it all about the quality of our team: We were good. Joining the league at the very last minute, without any planning whatsoever, proved the inevitable albatross of our team. The Union Bank team that we inherited had their own set culture and in all fairness needed time to adjust to the gigantic pressure of being Stationery Stores.

Although on paper Stores was relegated, I have the firm belief that we will play again with the big boys next season. However, even if we don’t, I want to plead that we supporters keep it flaming. A lot was achieved last season. So many of the chapters were revived, both home and abroad. The various supporters guilds should continue to meet on a regular basis.

The central supporters club, which is the coordinating unit, must march on and consolidate on the huge gains of 2014. In case you didn’t know, our Chairman is Gboyega Okegbenro, a legend in his own right. The immediate task should be to formalize the Stationery Stores Central Supporters Club constitution which so much effort was dedicated to in 2014.

As was mentioned in several meetings, our supporters club must move in tandem with global trends. The supporters club must necessarily work hand in hand with the club’s management in moving the club forward. The structure and personnel of the supporters club however must be differentiated from the management’s in order to avoid conflicts of interest and promote efficiency.

Every genuine supporter of Stationery Stores should stand ready to sacrifice something to help the club. Whether it is 1,000,000 naira or 1 kobo, it is inevitable that we contribute financially to the sustenance of both the supporters club and the club.

Stores has the pedigree and fan base to attract the best footballers in Nigeria to it, let us make it count. I look forward with eagerness to our next supporters club meeting.

Up Super !

Iyo !!!

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FAREWELL  “JOHNNY KWANGO”; LET’S HELP FREGENE NOW

The last few weeks have been ultra hectic for me, but not too hectic to miss the sad news of the passing away of Stores’ legend, Yomi Peters.  Together with Haruna Ilerika and the rhymic  Ajagun/Ajavon combo (Tajudeen Ajagun and Prosper Ajavon), Yomi was the most talked about player in Lagos in the 70s and early 80s. A firm favourite of the club’s founder, Israel Adebajo, Yomi Peters was at various times player, Captain and coach of the club, winning national and continental laurels in the process.

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Late Yomi Peters

A product of that famous football factory called St Finbarr’s College, he was a fantastic striker who put in 101% whenever he stepped on to the field in the colours of the flaming flamingoes. Apart from his goals, it was the extra “1%” that put him in the news every now and then: Those defenders who came in purposely to whack and kick Yomi always invariably ended up on the hospital bed themselves after receiving equal measure from the fiery striker. That was how his nickname came about; “Johnny Kwango” (named after the famous wrestler of the 70s).

As would be expected, Yomi’s aggressive play got him into trouble with one or two referees, but off the field he was a very disciplined man. Although the founder of Stationery Stores, Israel Adebajo loved him so much, his joining Stores was delayed for several years because he chose to practice his profession as a refrigeration engineer and was compelled to play for his employers’ club, Mandilas Lions which he actually helped to form. When Adebajo died, he was simply overwhelmed with emotion and decided to join Stores same day (1969)

When Tilewa resuscitated Stationery Stores earlier this year, ‘Johny Kwango’ was there to motivate the players, and we supporters enjoyed taunting him with the nickname. Little did we know that we would soon be weeping; but God knows best.

Like most Stores players of the early generation he also got his opportunity with the Super Eagles. One of the most circulated stories back then was how he and a few other flaming flamingos were dropped on the eve of the 2nd All Africa Games because there were “too many Stores players” in the team. He took the disappointment calmly and continued to put in his best for his club. He was there when we won the Challenge Cup (now Federation Cup) for the third time and got to the African Cup Winners Cup final.

We thank God for the life of Yomi Peters. He was Stores through and through. May his soul rest in peace.

It is to avoid writing another epitaph so soon that I wish to draw our attention to the health situation of another great flamingo, Peter Fregene. Whenever the history of Nigerian football is written, Peter Fregene’s name will surely pop up among the best three goalkeepers ever. He was that good.

Fregene was among that legendary first generation of Stores players that dominated the Nigerian National Team, then called the Green Eagles, in the 1960s. To underscore his greatness, he has the special distinction of being recalled to the Eagles squad several times after many years in between; and whenever recalled, he reclaimed his No 1 shirt.

Last Sunday, at the final of the Challenge Cup (Federation Cup), Peter  Fregene was befittingly honoured alongside other distinguished persons, but the joy of hearing his name was cut short for many when he was seen being helped out on a wheelchair. Of course, being a very strong personality, he was very brave about it, acknowledging cheers from the crowd and generally looking cheerful. The fact  however, very sadly,  is that Peter Fregene, our great goalkeeper is in urgent need of help. Let us help him.

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Stores and Super Eagles’ goalkeeping legend, Peter Fregene acknowledging cheers from fans at the 2014 Federation Cup

STORES 2014 SEASON IN REVIEW

Early days into the 2014 season, Shooting Stars Sports Club (3SC) of Ibadan invaded Onikan Stadium with several truckloads of supporters, trying to intimidate the Adebajo Babes into surrendering 3 precious points in the Nigerian National League. At the end of 90 minutes, it was Stationery Stores that proved convincingly superior after Raphael Onwrebe and Festus Ajah blasted in two unreplied goals. At that point in time, most neutrals must have bet that Stores would end the season well ahead of Shooting, but it wasn’t to be. Rather, It was 3SC topping the table and Stores at the opposite end. What happened?

We are all aware that Stores entered the league this season totally unprepared. That we even played at all, after 16 years off the field, was totally down to the determination and ingenuity of Tilewa Adebajo and the rest of the Adebajo family. The supporters groups were also effectively mobilized through the efforts of Adebayo Olowo-Ake, Pastor Eliashib Ime-James, Barrister Babatunde Ogala, and other committed long-time followers of the team. Getting the opportunity with barely two weeks or thereabout to the commencement, we had no other choice than to inherit wholesale the entire squad of Union Bank FC of Lagos. It was a very young, promising, but largely inexperienced squad.

The Coach, Taiwo Enegwea, Captain Ayo Filani, and the rest of the boys were very proud to suddenly find themselves wearing the revered jersey of the greatest football club in the world, and in all fairness, put in their best efforts, maintaining a respectable placing up till the transfer window when several new players were signed up to strengthen the team; and indeed the team became stronger.

With experienced Coach Fatai Amao on the saddle and top players like Fuad Ekelojuoti and Emmanuel Obinna on the field, Stores started looking like an awesome team, devouring teams week in week out at the Onikan Stadium. Only thing lacking was getting an away victory, and maybe that was why the Coach had to leave – I really do not know, but the coming of Loveday Omoruyi clearly did not help the team in terms of results. Another key scenario that coincided with the slump of the team was the dramatic drop in the number of supporters that turned up to watch the last few games.

It is commendable though that at this point the team’s publicity team, anchored by Sola Rogers and Bayo Akande continued to keep the team in the news with endless feeds on Twitter, Facebook and the traditional news media. We, at mySUPERSTORES.wordpress.com, with every sense of humility, also did our bit analyzing ALL the home games throughout the season. The other massive positives from the season were the sponsorship by 1960Bet and the peaceful atmosphere at Onikan throughout the season.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER (MVP)
For us at this blog, the MVP award for the 2014 season will have to be shared by two players. FUAD Ekelojuoti really distinguished himself even though he came in half way into the season. He was our most dangerous attacker, bulldozing and scoring vital goals for us. The fact that he appeared to suffer a slump after missing that last minute penalty against …… underscores the need to have a competent psychologist in the team, going forward. OBINNA Emmanuel is our second awardee: He distinguished himself as a creative 10, especially during the spell he had playing behind Festus Ajah. We believe he could have done much better if he wasn’t moved to the right side of attack, and if both coach and supporters encouraged him more whenever he tried his flicks and tricks. That is what schemers do.

MAN OF THE YEAR
For successfully spearheading the return of the darling team of Lagos amidst all the gargantuan challenges, ADETILEWA ADEBAJO is our Man of the Year.

LESSONS FOR THE FUTURE
We pray Stores get an opportunity to play again next season. If we do, we must
*Maintain a stable team of players and coaching crew throughout the season. Maybe one or two changes mid season, but not wholesale.
*Win all our ‘away’ games in Lagos. We must remember that the entire Lagos, not just Onikan, is Stores’ territory. If we had won those 3 (THREE !) games at Agege, our story would have been vastly different.
*Do the utmost to pick points in at least half of our games outside Lagos.
*And finally; support the team totally, no matter the circumstances. The supporters group need to be effectively organized and run independently without being a burden to Management.

TEAM OF THE SEASON
sts tm of season

Iyo !

HOW STORES GOT IT RIGHT WITH SECURITY

One of the most quoted reasons why spectators deserted the Nigerian league is inadequate security, and I have to confess straight away that going back to watch my team, Stationery Stores Football Club after well over 10 years, I had my apprehensions. Consequently, in the first few games in January, I always left for the stadium fully prepared as if going for combat. How wrong I was.
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Twinkiling stars: Fuad (left) and Obinna (right) (photo courtesy Sola Rogers)

After diligently watching about 12 home games at the Onikan waterfront this year, I have been pleasantly amazed to observe that nothing even close to a security problem has ever arisen either inside or around the stadium. I have also made a few critical observations on certain things that might have created this welcome scenario.

Let me quickly point out factually, that Onikan is not a place where you will find tons of policemen howling around. Despite the fact that there is a major Police Station nearby, you will always only find the obligatory few Policemen manning strategic positions in the stadium.

I’ve travelled around Nigeria, and usually the people who carry out these harassments and security problems are mostly those citizens nicknamed ‘area boys’. Quite frankly, this used to be a very big problem for those of us working on Lagos Island until the Babatunde Fashola administration came in and did us that big favour of creating useful employment for those chaps and getting them off the streets. The banning of ‘okada’ bike riders in major roads in Lagos has also helped significantly. So, the government itself by creatively thought out actions had already solved half of the problem.

Stationery Stores being a club with massive grassroots support has a huge community of lower class supporters (I call them our “citizens”!). They’ve always been there ever since I started watching the team in the 70s. The truth is, when this chaps come to the stadium, they come, first and foremost, to watch Stores play, and nothing else. That is why they do not take it easy with anybody who tries to cause any trouble when their team is playing.

I have to thank Pastor Eliashib Ime-James and Mr (or is it Otunba?) Adebayo Olowo-Ake for bringing me into the core supporter group of the Adebajo Babes. It opened my eyes to a lot of things; very remarkable and positive experiences. The Stores supporters community is a family in the true sense of the word. In the Stores supporters family, you will find people of diverse economic class, tribe and religion. They are remarkably bonded and speak one and the same language – iyo!

When, in my naivety during our first game, I asked a senior supporter how the Management planned to tackle the possible problem of area boys, he turned around and drew one fierce (but handsome!) looking young man to our side. Then by way of introduction he said “This is Fire 2”! For anybody planning to cause problem at Stores home game, Fire 2 surely will be the beginning of wisdom. When I witnessed Pastor Ime-James go topless in the stadium after voluntarily removing his jersey and handing over same to a desperately pleading Fire 2 member, I became wiser: The love for Stationery Stores is no ordinary love afterall.

So, for all the fans out there who are still afraid of stepping out to watch our local league games, I wish to assure that with Stationery Stores, the (authentic) darling club of Lagos, you are perfectly safe. Starting from the next game, bring your family and friends and enjoy Fuad, Obinna and others in action.

Up Super !