Lekki United’s Story and Ambitious Push for Nigeria’s Division 2 Football

0

Oloye Akin Alabi the owner of Lekki United had always dreamed of owning a football club in Nigeria. The lifelong Shooting Stars of Ibadan (3SC) and Manchester United fan has always been open and forthcoming about his life’s dream to own a Nigeria football team. For him, it was a way of fulfilling his passion and also giving back to an industry that has a transformational power for young people.

In 2019, Mr Alabi made a tweet about his decision to give up bid to acquire 3SC, his boyhood club. He had challenges understanding the governance structure going forward and also his place in the deal. More than anything, he needed a Club he could build, inspire and grow without interference.

“After discussing with my investors, I stepped away from the decision of the choice of location. The investors decided on Lekki, Lagos. And the club will be called, LEKKI UNITED!” he said on Twitter.

And so, Lekki united was born and is currently engaging in a passionate campaign for promotion to the Division 2 of Nigeria football; Nigeria National League (NNL). Lekki United represents Lagos’ sprawling commercial hub of Lekki, which is also home to Mr Alabi and thousands of other businesses and families. The Club plays in the 1st Division of the Nationwide League One (NLO), which is also the third division of the Nigerian league. The club has high hopes of playing in the Division two the next year and Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL), the year after. With strategic appointments like Mr Biola Kazeem, a veteran sports administrator and football enthusiast as Sporting Director and Mr Ayo Filani as Head Coach, the club continues to learn and grow.

The club is made up of players mostly spanning age groups 16 to 25 and coming from all parts of the country. The 22-man squad registered for the NLO 2021/2022 campaign is often rotated on matchday but there have been some frequent appearances too.

Lekki United’s Tayese has manned the goalpost for majority of the past 6 matches while being protected by Khalid Lawal from the right wing, Bello Kareem from the left wing, Adejuwon Natic and Akinsola Taofiq from the centre back positions. While Mr Filani prefers to rotate his midfield for most of the last 6 matches so far, Bala Ibrahim, Chima Ebube and Ogabi Adewale have mostly featured in the starting lineup as midfielders. Attacking strength comes from the very explosive Sheriff Sholola, Akinleminu Lucky and Fowoshade Aliamin. The team switches between the gaffer’s favourite 433 and 442 formations, depending on the tempo and needs of the game.

Lekki United has continued their bid for a day in the Division 2 of Nigeria football, with a recent dominating performance and subsequent win against Emmydinho FC at the Legacy pitch Surulere in the 6th game of the NLO. Sheriff Sholola who is currently the Team’s highest goal scorer, had slotted in an 85 minute win after successive attacks by Filani’s boys. Lekki United’s victory against Emmydinho FC cements their 2:0 victory over Magate in a previous match where Sheriff Sholola and Chima Oluebube were both on the score sheet. The result keeps them within reach of promotion, after a rocky start to the season.

Every matchday with Lekki United on the pitch, comes with its excitement. From the entrance to the stands, you could see happy and expectant fans donning jersey numbers of their favourite players. The chants across the stadium as Lucky took one over an Emmydinho FC defender and the thunderous uproar after Sheriff completed what started off as a beautiful sequence of attack, gives the impression that Nigerians are ready to give the NLO, NNL and NPFL a chance.

The continued demand for more merchandise from fans show that grassroot football in Nigeria is becoming increasingly commercially viable. What is next? Improved league administration? More commercial and private interest in club ownership? More governmental support in building infrastructure like stadiums? This is left to be seen.

Football remains a popular staple in Nigeria’s pop culture, moreso grassroot football. The NLO touts itself as the world’s biggest grassroot league with 153 teams, 100s of football spectacles to behold and thousands of young people to engage. With private individuals owning a chunk of the clubs, Lagos state remains the state with highest participation in the league, with 38 clubs. This shows that for grassroot football to continue to grow in Nigeria, there has to be a synergy between governments, businesses and private individuals.

Of Course, this also highlights the place of the fans in supporting these teams and their rising stars. Will you be seeing Lekki United play FC Buruj at the Legacy Pitch, National Stadium Surulere?

Today, it is just Lekki United, a little-known club in one of Lagos’ commercial hubs. Tomorrow, it could be the club of reference for an inspirational grass-to-grace story after winning silverwares and helping many Sheriffs and Chimas reach their footballing dreams. Before then, the fans can always support the next games and the one after.