Nigeria professional football league clocks 33 today

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BY KUNLE SOLAJA.

But for the shifting of all the NPFL matches meant for this weekend, the matches would have symbolically marked the anniversary of the Nigeria professional league which clocks 33 years today.

But for the matches involving Rivers United in Group B, all matches of the league would have been completed on the  anniversary of the topmost tier of the Nigerian football league.

It was on this day 12 May 1990 at the Onikan Stadium, now renamed Mobolaji Johnson Arena that the professional league symbolically kicked off and former Super Eagles’ rear guard, Ben Iroha entered the record books as the first scorer when the then Iwuanyanwu Nationale (now Heartland) beat Stationery Stores 2-1.

Without much  fanfare, such that heralded the first North American Soccer League (NASL) in 1969 and the J-League of Japan in 1993, professional league kicked off in Nigeria.

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The pioneers were the now defunct Lagos ACB, BCC Lions, Bendel Insurance, Bendel United (now defunct) and Enyimba.

Others were Highlanders of Jos, Iwuanyanwu Nationale, JIB, Kano Pillars, Obanta United (later VIP), Ranchers, Enugu Rangers and Stationery Stores.

An attempt to have one of the pioneer clubs pitched against the Crystal Palace of England, as a symbolical kick off of professional league failed.

After years of prolonged debates, the professional league finally kicked off with a Super Stores versus Iwuanyanwu Nationale opener at the Onikan Stadium, Lagos.

The Owerri-based Iwuanyanwu, now renamed Heartland, dictated the pace of the away tie, winning 2-1. They kept their form and the pace until the season ended, winning the inaugural championship.

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Apart from Iwuanyanwu winning the inaugural match of the professional league, two other clubs also had away wins in their first outings. Enugu Rangers beat their traditional rivals; Shooting Stars 1-0 in Ibadan, while JIB Rocks (later renamed Plateau United) won their first away game, 3-0 against Obanta United (later renamed VIP of Lagos) in Ijebu-Ode.

To make the league higher and make teams have appetite for goals, a new point-scoring device was adopted. Traditionally drawn games attracted just a point.

But the then NFA awarded two points for score draws and one for goalless draw games. The point-scoring device was in use from 1990 season to 1994. Three points are however awarded for won games.

Across ages, Enyimba have been the most successful, winning the professional league eight times. They are followed by the crowd-pulling Kano Pillars who won four times.

Shooting Stars, Heartland and Lobi Stars have each won twice. In 2012, the Nigeria Professional League had its best ranking as the topmost in Africa and the 24th in the world.

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The ranking was by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics.

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