Return of Super Stores
•Handled right, its glorious past could point the way to a promising future for Nigerian club football
It probably boasts more monikers than any other club in Nigeria: Stationery Stores, Super Stores, Flaming Flamingoes, Adebajo Babes and Pooku lowo e (Figuratively, Yoruba for “cheap players, great performers”), after it had fallen on a dry patch: a patrician club, constrained to plebeian means, to make ends meet.
That is the gripping story of Stationery Stores Football Club of Lagos, founded in 1958 by the late business tycoon, Israel Adebajo, as a sporting public relations arm of the Nigerian Office and Stationery Stores (NOSS), a firm that deals in stationery and allied matters.
At the peak of its glory, when it corralled two consecutive Nigerian Challenge Cup (FA Cup, now formally known as Federation Cup) titles (1967 and 1968), it had no less than nine players in the Green Eagles, then the nickname of the Nigerian national team.
Indeed, in the Eagles’ 1968 tour of Mexico, Stores had iconic names like Sam Opone and Peter Fregene, the enduring Nigerian international goalkeeper, who even made the Eagles first 11 in the African Nations Cup, as late as 1982, in Benghazi, Libya.
Other iconic names that passed through its great portals included the incomparable Haruna Ilerika (of blessed memory), he of silky skills and one of the most skilful Nigerian football players ever, Yakubu Mambo who was in the Eagles squad that won gold in the 1972 2nd All Africa Games in Lagos, and of course Muda Atanda (nee Yomi Peters), the stormy long-serving captain of Stores, now the club’s team manager, under the chairmanship of Adetilewa Adebajo, son of the late founder.
Israel Adebajo was perhaps the first of an illustrious line Nigerian business royals that invested in sports, among others being MKO Abiola, the late ‘Pillar of Sports in Africa’ and proprietor of the defunct Abiola Babes, based in Abeokuta, and Alhaji Yusuf Salami (also late), founder of Alyufsalam Rocks, based in Ilorin. Adebajo, the Noforija-Epe, Lagos State-born tycoon, inspired an entertaining and captivating style of football that matched substance with style, and made the club the toast of Nigerians of its generation.
The return of Stores is a toast to the irrepressible human spirit. It is also a rekindling of hope for the revitalisation of the Nigerian local league, now that contemporary Nigerians, patrician and plebeian, are hooked to the sweet poison of foreign leagues: Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, etc.
Not too long ago, the passion in the sporting scene was the famous derbies between Stores and ECN (later NEPA) FC in Lagos, and the crowd-pulling contests between Stores and IICC, Stores and Rangers; and even along the West African coast, Stores Vs Ashanti Kotoko, or Stores Vs Accra Hearts of Oak, both of Ghana. Now, all that is but gone!
Stores is a club of great history and character. Like the present-day Arsenal of London, England, it boasted great developmental policies, such that even players that cost virtual peanuts wear the club’s famous white, gold and maroon jerseys, and they suddenly become great performers.
Stores is back in the National League ranks by buying Union Bank FC’s slot in that league. But the directors must be conscious of the sibling “civil war”, between Princess Gloria Adebajo-Fraser and Adetilewa (the current chairman) that nearly consigned the club to history. They should therefore broaden the ownership base of the club, and perhaps invite its supporters to co-own the club, as it is done in many European leagues.
The Stores of 1958 to 1998 (a 40-year period) was a humongous brand, and could yet re-enact its old glory. For Lagos ball fans, starved for too long of a team of high calibre to identify with, Stores might just fill that vacuum.
More than that: A re-enacted Stores, if well run, might just hold the tantalising promise of returning the big crowd to stadia stands. That would provide more jobs for talented local youth, and offer welcome relief from this era of stifling foreign leagues.
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