All over the world, religion and politics play major roles in determining how nations relate with each other today.
However, regardless of the dichotomy among nations, there are still things that have continued to effectively bind countries together. Reputed as one of the greatest inventions of man, football has proven to be a worthy unifying factor in the world today. Defying tongues, religious affiliations and even political leanings, the sport, sometimes described as ‘the round leather game’ by its lovers, has provided a virile platform for people of diverse backgrounds to be brought together under a scintillating and entertaining atmosphere.
While most big football clubs around the world, especially in Europe, are named after major cities they are found in or after certain natural elements present in such places; in Nigeria, the practice, apart from taking a different form in most cases, also leaves a weird feeling on observers oftentimes.
In the Nigerian Premier League, for instance, the country’s elite professional football division, there are 20 teams from different regions of the federation, who compete for the title each season. This is aside dozens of other professional football clubs spread across the land, campaigning in various league divisions. While only few of these clubs have names that reflect a characteristic of the city in which they were established and or based, the tags and even nicknames oftentimes leave average football fans wondering how they were derived.
In a recent investigation by Saturday PUNCH, it was discovered that many football clubs in Nigeria have names and aliases mimicking either certain natural elements not present in the country or animals and other things nonexistent in such places.
For example, a two-time African Champions League winner, Enyimba International Football Club of Aba, is famously known as the People’s Elephant or Aba Warriors. While the first name is the translation of the club’s name in Igbo, the other is a mere moniker given to the team by its teeming supporters. Founded in 1976, and enjoying its best years in the early 2000s, the club is arguably the most successful football club in the country with six league titles and four Federation Cups to their name.
But despite their impressive resume, there is no proof of elephants being found in Aba or other parts of Abia State in the southeastern part of the country.
Fondly known as the Flying Antelopes, Rangers International Football Club of Enugu is another entity in the NPL with a rich history and interesting nickname. Founded in 1970 and playing their home games at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium, they are the first club in the country to sell ownership stock. Like in the case of Enyimba, the name is merely to describe the ability of the team and has nothing to suggest otherwise.
Like the two teams, Heartland Football Club, formerly known as Iwuanyanwu Nationale, is another professional football club based in the southeastern part of the country. Fondly nicknamed Soccer Scientists, Spartans, and Naze Millionaires respectively by fans, they are a team with a rich history behind them. Until 2016 when they finished 18th in the league, they were one of the two teams in the top flight that had never been relegated. Playing their home games at the 10,000 capacity Dan Anyiam Stadium in Owerri, Imo State, the team is one of the most successful in the history of Nigerian football.
The Media Officer of the team, Cajetan Nkwopara, said the team was named ‘Heartland’ because it is situated in Owerri, being the centermost part of the entire southeastern region.
He said the club got its nickname – Naze Millionaires – from the time it was initially known as Iwuanyanwu Nationale under the ownership of business mogul, Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, in the early 1990s.
“The history of Heartland is a very rich one. The club was formed with amateur fighters from the Biafran Army. It was known as Spartans then before the Imo State Government took over, gave it to Chief Iwuanyanwu, and now took it back and renamed it Heartland.
“In those days, Chief Iwuanyanwu camped the team at a village known as Naze and the players lived like millionaires. In fact, they were among the first to travel to league match venues by plane. They were respected and treated like millionaires anywhere they went. That was how that nickname came about,” he said.
The practice of having truly funny and weird nicknames is not limited to football clubs in South-East Nigeria, in other parts of the country, the trend is basically the same. For instance, in the North, the names and monikers teams adopt not only have the ability to leave an individual with a scary feeling but also evoke laughter at times.
Based in Minna, Niger State, Tornadoes as the city’s top football club is named, leaves you thinking that perhaps the area is very familiar with frequent natural disasters. According to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, a tornado is described as “an extremely violent storm consisting of air that spins very quickly and causes a lot of damage”. But findings by Saturday PUNCH reveal that a disaster of such magnitude is not known to have occurred in Niger or its environs. How then did they come about this sort of name?
Speaking with Saturday PUNCH, a former Secretary of the club, Mr. Fred Isaiah, said that the team derived its name from the natural environment, especially rivers and valleys where strong winds often sweep through.
According to him, the club had links with a very strong unit in the military; hence, the name Tornado was adopted to reflect its strength and fearless nature.
“Everybody knows that Niger State is blessed with a beautiful environment by nature. As a result of this, it is very common to see strong wind sweeping through the city from time to time. If you know what a tornado is, you’ll know that it is the type of wind that can destroy anything that stands in its way. That’s how the team is.
“As a matter of fact, opponents dread us; they fear and know that once we meet them on the field, we will crush them with so much force. The name is our identity and we are very proud of it,” he said.
One of the elite teams of Nigerian professional football, Kano Pillars Football Club is another whose name raises curiosity as to how it was arrived at. Though fondly nicknamed Masu Gida by their teeming supporters, it is mostly known and called Pillars by many outside the ancient city. Founded in 1990 and playing at the 16, 000-capacity Sani Abacha Stadium, the team won the 2007–08 Nigerian Premier League, producing stars such as Abiodun Baruwa, Sani Kaita and Ahmed Musa.
According to Media Officer, Idris Malikawa, the club derived its famous tag – Pillars – following the merger of about four clubs by the state government.
“The club got its name after about four clubs were merged to form it. This was informed by cases of hooliganism and violence among the supporters of these clubs, who were always attacking one another whenever there was a match. The state government was advised to merge all these teams together to forestall such violence in the city. This merger became a strong pillar of unity among football fans in Kano.
“Today, through that name, youths across Kano now have a sense of belonging and have been brought together under a very strong and formidable atmosphere whose pillar is unshaken.
“The teams that were merged to form Kano Pillars are from different parts of the state, so the idea created a platform for football lovers from across these areas to form a common ground and not just issues concerning the game alone, but also other social matters affecting the people of the city.
“As a matter of policy, we ensure that at least four to five fans from these different parts of Kano are represented during each match involving the team. In every of the 44 local government areas of the state, we have chapters of fans club where supporters interact and talk about how best to give the team backing. There is no place in Kano that you go today that you won’t see a signpost carrying the pillar sign. The name has really brought unity among the youths and the entire people of Kano,” he said.
In the last few years, only few cities across Nigeria have been in the news as much as Maiduguri, capital of Borno, in the northeastern part of the country. It is the epicentre of Boko Haram’s bloody campaign, which has resulted in the deaths of thousands and displacement of millions in the region. Curiously, it is in the midst of its little peace that El-Kanemi Warriors Football Club have competed in the top flight division and continued to wrestle for top honours with other teams. They play at the 10, 000 capacity El-Kanemi Stadium in the capital.
Speaking on the history behind the club and its intimidating name, Media Officer, Anthony Obaseki, said that there was indeed a deeper significance to the tag than many people actually thought.
“The club got its name from a warrior named El-Kanemi. The late warrior was so powerful during his days that he was known throughout Africa. Also, there is a traditional stool in Borno bearing the title of the El-Kanemi, so it is a name synonymous with strength and fearlessness.
“As a matter of fact, over the years, the team has produced many great players, who like warriors, went on to etch their name in gold by playing for some of the biggest clubs in the world. Someone like Samson Siasia and several others have passed through El-Kanemi. So, the tag of warrior perfectly fits the club and its profile,” he said.
One of the oldest teams in the elite division, Wikki Tourists Football Club, is among the very few whose name reflects certain things found in their host cities. Bauchi, famed for its natural beauty and game reserves, is a popular destination for visitors, both from within and outside Nigeria. Save for the restiveness and tension created in the region by Boko Haram’s insurgency, the city thrived immensely from tourism and related activities in the past. While the club was formed and run by the state government, the name somewhat suggests that it is in fact tourists, who established it.
But shedding light on this and explaining why the name was adopted, Media Officer of the team, Bala Kurba, said that its unique name had continued to spread the club’s popularity among fans in every part of the country.
“The club was established in 1992 and was initially known as Bauchi United. It was later changed to Wikki Tourist to reflect the rich natural destinations and game reserves we have in the Yankari area of the city.
“There is natural water called Wikki; it is from there the team derived that name. The name has really helped to promote the name of the club and also attracted tourists into the city. The people of the city are happy about this name and are very proud to be associated with the club.
“When we go for away matches, we are always happy to find people we don’t even know putting on our jerseys and telling us how they love to visit Bauchi and enjoy the natural beauty all around the city,” he said.
On hearing the name Warri Wolves, some persons might think that the club was given such a tag to reflect the large presence of the wild dog in the city. But during a chat with Saturday PUNCH, a former chairman of the team, Moses Etu, said that notion was wrong, explaining that the name had nothing to do with the home city of the club.
“Warri Wolves have always been in existence long before a lot of people outside the city began to hear of it. But as scary as the name sounds, it has nothing to do with wolves. Some people might hear it and think that there are wolves moving freely in Warri, waiting to devour people. No! The name was purely adopted to tell opponents that it is a club that fears no one.
“Many of the fans and people of the city love the name and are proud of the history behind the club, likewise the other great teams in the state like Delta Force,” he said.
While Rivers State is known for housing large body of waters, it remains to be seen if indeed sharks or even dolphins can be found within its territory. Regardless of that, it has not stopped the city and its inhabitants from naming two football clubs after both animals. Even though now both collapsed to form Rivers United, memories of both teams and their distinct names remain on the lips of many lovers of the game across the country.
When contacted to give more insight into how Sharks and Dolphins football clubs came about their nomenclatures, Media Officer of Rivers United, Sammy Wejinya, preferred to speak on the new formation than on the two that was merged to establish it.
“I can only speak about Rivers United, which was formed out of the merger between Sharks and Dolphins Football clubs of Port Harcourt. The team has had a robust outing since beginning their campaign in the top flight division, going on to represent Nigeria well at CAF competitions. Rivers United is a great team everyone in this city is proud of,” he said.
But a 58-year-old resident of Port Harcourt, Eleki Brown, who supported both teams as a young boy, told our correspondent during a telephone interview earlier in the week that both names where adopted as testimony to the rich human and natural resources found across the state, especially in its waters.
“Our water is very blessed; there is hardly any type of fish or animal living in water that you won’t find here. I remember as a young boy, we were told that some of our great fishermen used to catch big fishes like shark, and that these creatures became common in different areas of Rivers State.
“Basically, the names were given to reflect how rich the city is and that while a shark may be ruthless; a dolphin is mild and calculative in achieving results in a friendly manner. It is sad that both teams that used to be the pride of Port Harcourt are no more as they used to be. Despite the merger, some of us still crave the return of those good, old days,” he said.
Interestingly, while these ones continue to leave keen observers wondering how they came about their names and aliases, there are dozens others with equally weird and funny tags across the country. Competing in various divisions, these clubs have continued to call attention to themselves due to these unusual names they bear.
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