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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