In the 70s and 80s, football clubs in Nigeria and indeed the nation looked up to the Principals Cup as a way of nurturing their teams and names like Stephen Keshi, Henry Nwosu, Paul Okoku, Sylvanus Okpala to mention but a few readily come to mind.
As a matter of fact, Keshi, Nwosu, Okoku and Okpala not only made it to the senior national team of Nigeria while in secondary school; they were already breadwinners of their various families as secondary school students.
By the turn of the century, the Principals Cup was practically dead as most schools could no longer boast of a playing field and in most cases hoodlums and touts paraded themselves as students thereby constituting nuisance whenever the competition was being played, which led to the extinction of the Principals Cup.
However, in 2009, the management of GTBank decided to revive to Principals Cup as a way of catching young talents by investing in the discovery of soccer talents in Nigerian youths and since then budding talents had been churned out, hence the birth of GTBank-Lagos State Principals Cup.
After the successes recorded with the Lagos State edition, GTBank took the competition to Ogun State, which is now in its 6th edition.
Every season, the Nigerian Professional Football League (NPFL) pitches a new star and in 2017, Stephen Odey of MFM FC was the star man.
His striking form left opposing teams in tears and sorrow and placed MFM FC as a major contender for the league title and eventually earned them a continental ticket in 2018.
The sudden resurgence of the club appears to be tied to the magical boots of Odey whose goal count hits 18. This striker did not just drop from the moon; he is a product of the GTBank Principals Cup, a grassroots football development programme of Guaranty Trust Bank.
Steven played in the second edition of GTBank-Lagos State Principals Cup where he was the captain of the winning Dairy Farm Senior Secondary School, Agege. He also topped the list of the GTBank 13-man All Star Team of the Year. It is, therefore, no surprise that the little mustard seed is fast growing into an oak.
In January 2017, Stephen received the NPFL Bloggers’ Award as the most valuable player of the month. And in the 2017 season, he was the first player to score a hat trick among over 200 players in the league.
His exploit led to his invitation to the Super Eagles CHAN Team double header qualifiers against Benin Republic in August in 2017.
His impressive performance led to his signing a four-year contract with Swiss club-FC Zurich.
Aside Odey, Esther Adeboye, one of the Most Valuable Players in the 2014 competition from State High School, Alimosho was part of the National Female U-17 Team – The Flamingoes – that represented Nigeria at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup.
However, it is not only school children that are benefitting from the GTBank Principals Cup.
In its resolve at ensuring that the standard of the game of football in Lagos State is raised, GTBank partnered with Lagos State Football Association (LSFA) in the training of 300 coaches in the state. The 3-day training programme was organised for coaches involved in the GTBank Principals Cup tournaments and other grassroots football tournaments in Lagos State with the theme ‘Raising the Beautiful Game’.
The training availed the participating coaches an opportunity to learn the fundamental techniques of effective youth coaching and capacity building in various areas which include sports therapy, time management andpsychology.
At the end of the training, participants were awarded a LSFA-Level 1 coaching certificates, which according to the general manager of Communication and External Affairs at GTBank, Lola Odedina, “is the first step in a three-level certification programme towards becoming a certified football coach.”
Facilitators at the seminar were former Super Eagles Coach, Chief Festus Onigbinde, Dr. Akin George, retired FIFA barged referee, Calistus Chukwujekwu.
Speaking at a press briefing to herald the seminar, manager, Media and communication, GTBank, Jide Shipe, said the seminar is important to the bank, just as he said a lot of players discovered during the Principals’ Cup had gone to excel not only in football but in other endeavours.
The MD/CEO of Guaranty Trust Bank, Segun Agbaje, has over the years hailed players that had participated at the GTBank-Lagos State Principals Cup for putting up excellent performances, while he urged the pupils to imbibe the spirit of fair play, hard work and discipline, the core values of the bank.
“The competition paves the way for youths to cultivate their sporting talents, whilst fostering and building a healthier lifestyle at a critical stage in their lives,” Agbaje stated.
Commenting on the Finals of the 2017 GTBank Lagos State Principals Cup, Agbaje stated that, “We are delighted to see schools aiming for their first ever trophies in this competition; it emphasises the growing stature of the GTBank-Lagos State Principals Cup as a platform for the cultivation of dreams through hard work and discipline.”
Over the years, the GTBank-Lagos State Principals Cup has propelled the professional careers of several talented and now renowned players like Odey. Guaranty Trust Bank, a youth-oriented brand, maintains the lead in providing support for education and sports to enable young boys and girls to explore their talents and reach for their dreams. It is one of the few Nigerian financial institutions that have maintained a defined Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy, most especially in sports education.
The bank, not satisfied with the GTBank Principals Cup and Masters Cups, in 2011 Camp GTBank was introduced to help kick-start the careers of more than 120 footballers by taking the players through all the aspects of the game, expose them to modern rules and regulations and improve their physical and mental conditioning to position them for a professional career.
Commenting on the Camp GTBank, Agbaje, said “Given the amazing talents shortlisted for this programme and the quality of the coaches overseeing their development, I am confident that Camp GTBank will be a seedbed for the emergence of professional footballers who will go on to have very successful careers. This goes to the heart of our sports education initiatives, which are aimed at actively engaging the youths through sports whilst identifying, nurturing and grooming young football talents.”
The popularity and the importance of the Principals Cup have grown so much so the Nigeria Football Federation could not help but endorse the competition.