It is not the best of times for Shooting Stars, the Ibadan-based club that is one of the most traditional sides in Nigerian football. On Wednesday, the Oluyole Warriors lost their 12th game of 20 in the 2015/16 Nigeria Professional Football League season. They have won just six matches and lie in 18th spot with a -13 goals difference and could be set for their third relegation in a decade.

With the present economic difficulties being faced by state governments, who also double as club financiers, it is not far-fetched why the Oyo State-run club is swimming in relegation waters as players are being owed salary arrears for up to five months.

Yet the club, the first Nigerian side to win a continental title, and considered a heritage and tradition of Ibadan people deserves better, according to one of its biggest fans, businessman Akin Alabi, who owns the betting company NairaBet.

“The first time I attended a Shooting Stars game was in 1987, they were playing at the Liberty Stadium then and it was a game against Iwuanyanwu Nationale,” Alabi told Goal in his Lekki office recently.

Even though they lost that game, Alabi never stopped loving the club.

He has since put his money to support his passion. NairaBet signed a multi million naira contract with the club that includes shirt sponsorship and a team bus was handed to the side at the beginning of the season. Still, Alabi wants to do more in order to keep the club afloat.

“In an ideal world, Shooting Stars should be in private hands,” he says, but he knows it would be a difficult thing to do. “If I was in government and a custodian of the club side I would be very reluctant to sell it. The club is a tradition, it’s a monument, a history, it’s priceless.”

Despite the emotional value that is attached to it, Alabi says that the working model presently being used by government is not feasible.

“If we’re looking at economic value then we can argue that club sides in Nigerian football are not financially viable. “Most of them lose money, they don’t make money. You wouldn’t want to buy it even if they will pay you money.

“There should be very limited participation of government in football. There are so many things the government should be bothered about – raising IGR, infrastructure, schools, education, security, etc. they should not be pumping money day in, day out into football clubs that aren’t bringing any returns,” he said.

While Alabi is not new to running a private club, why would he want to add Shooting Stars to his collection? “This year we’ve sponsored the team but obviously it isn’t enough. I thought to myself that we’ve done sponsorship [running into millions], but maybe one day we’ll go beyond sponsorship if the government permits.

“If it is put up for sale I’d definitely signify an interest,” he concluded. The Oyo State government was unreachable for comments.




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