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Heartbreak in Heartland – by Jones Onwuasoanya


Heartland football club

Photo: The moment Heartland FC of Owerri won Federations Cup

The Heartland Football Club of Owerri has undergone many changes over the years. 

From its formation in 1976 as the Spartans Football Club till 1985-86 when it was sold off to a Billionaire businessman, politician and investor, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu;

Till 2006, when the State Government reacquired the club and renamed it Heartland Football Club of Owerri;

Till 2011 when it last experienced real patronage and support from the State Government and its proprietor;

The Naze Millionaires as they are also known have never had it so bad as they do now. 

Whatever happens to Heartland Football Club affects every lover of football, because like other football clubs across the world, Heartland is the darling of most Imo football lovers, who invest their time and even slim resources into supporting that football club.

When someone posted on Facebook that the club which is one of the oldest clubs in Nigeria and one of the two that has never gone on relegation since its formation, forty years ago, is eighteenth on the log, I dismissed it as one of those stories that fly around from lazy gossipers prowling the social media. 

Truth is, I have never really been a keen fan of the club, as my darling local team is Enyimba Football Club of Aba. 

However, as an Imo man, whatever happens to the football club, invariably affects me. I also understand that the happiness of thousands of my fellow Imolites is tied to the success or otherwise of that club. 

Football clubs are one of the things that people from any area pride themselves in; it is almost becoming an identity for some people. 

It is not strange to hear people identify with people from particular based on the Football club that is most popular with that city. 

For us in Owerri, it is Heartland FC.

I was later to confirm this Facebook story when I listened into the discussion of some people in a newspaper stand. 

The obviously angry and disappointed crowd was lamenting the plunge in fortunes of their darling club. 

They complained about so many things, about how the players don’t seem motivated at all, about how the match officials were obviously biased against the team and how the team has never been awarded a spot kick since the beginning of the season, while more than twelve spot-kicks have been awarded against them within the season. 

Some of the commentators blamed the State Government for not looking the way of the Football Club, while the others believe it is as a result of the dearth of good sponsorship from private organizations who should be the ones funding such football clubs as part of their cooperate social responsibilities.

It was obvious, I wouldn’t get all the information I needed to know what was happening in the football club from that crowd of mostly uneducated artisans and non-informed football enthusiasts, hence, I left that place determined to get the real information about happenings within the club.

My efforts kept hitting the bricks as some of the club officials whom I approached were either afraid to confide in me, or didn’t really want their undies exposed in public. 

It is just by a stroke of luck that an insider in the club called me up one cool evening and started complaining about the fate of the Owerri Football Club. 

For the records, Heartland Football Club of Owerri and Rangers of Enugu are the pride, not just of the cities of Owerri and Enugu, but also of the entire Southeast, as they are the two most popular, most decorated and most loved clubs in this part of the country. 

Enyimba is a young team who is fortunate to have a visionary and football loving Governor at a time, which brought it back from near collapse and made it one of the best and most respected teams in Africa.

For the Heartland FC, the last time it savoured any worthwhile victory at any level is in 2011 September when it won the FA Cup. 

This victory, was hugely as a result of the massive investments made by the previous government in the State to position the club well for better success at all levels. 

The immediate past Governor of the State, Dr. Ikedi Ohakim understood how important football could be in the development of any society, hence, he took necessary steps to ensure that the club competed at the highest level. 

He hired the best coaches available. 

Starting with Mitko Dobrev, who took over the club’s management from August 2007 till 2009, Ben Iroha took over the management of the club in same 2009, but was replaced by a highly experience Dutch tactician, Lodewijk de Kruyf, who retained his position as the Club’s Technical Advisor even after Sampson Siasia and Christian Chukwu had their stints with the club as managers. 

Lodewijk left the Club in 2012, allegedly as a result of the non-commitment of the Club owners to the advancement of the club.

At a time when Nigeria’s major source of revenue is facing very hard times, one expects any responsible government to puts its money into alternative means of generating income and providing jobs for the teeming population. 

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