It was an exciting moment for football lovers from every nook and cranny of Yenagoa metropolis as the final blast of the whistle went to seal victory for the state-owned male football team, Bayelsa United as the champions of the 2020/2021 Aiteo Cup.
Sports enthusiasts in the state were seen jubilating lavishly not just because it was the first time the male and female team in the state won double trophies as well as the millions that came with it but also the opportunity for Bayelsa United to represent the state and the country at large at the continental level after several years of absence.
The team was last seen playing continental in 2010 after they finished top of the 2009/2010 Nigeria Premier League table but unfortunately, was eliminated in the group stage before going into relegation the following season, precisely in 2011.
They are currently occupying the second position in group B2 of the Southern Conference in the Nigerian National League (NNL) and have a great chance of bouncing back to the premier league next season.
The Aiteo Cup final, which ended 4-2 in a penalty shootout against Nasarawa United after scores at full time stalemated at 1-1, at the Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin city, the Edo State capital, attracted the sum of N25 million for the Prosperity Boys.
Bayelsa United had defeated arch-rivals and Premier League side, Rivers United in the semi-final at the Agege Township Stadium in Lagos after Inikurogha Okardi scored the lone goal in the second half of the encounter after both sides failed to score in the first half of the game.
Similarly, the state female team, Bayelsa Queens received the sum of N10 million having emerged champions after defeating FC Robo of Lagos 1-0 earlier to secure the female category of the Aiteo Cup Championship on the same day and at the same venue.
The Gloryland Girls defeated 2020/2021 Nigeria Women Football League (NWFL) Premiership Champions, Rivers Angels by 5-0 during the semi-final clash at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium training pitch in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, to secure a spot in the final.
However, in its effort to celebrate the current Champions of the Men and Women’s competitions of the 2021 AITEO Cup, the Bayelsa State Government said that it will declare a public holiday in the state in honour of Bayelsa Queens and Bayelsa United.
The state governor, Senator Douye Diri made the disclosure when he visited players and officials of the state teams in their camp in Benin City shortly after their victories in the tournament.
Describing Bayelsa United as “giant killers” for defeating other top teams in the Premier League to lift the trophy, Senator Diri, who was represented by his deputy said the outstanding performance of both teams have shown that the sporting revolution of his Prosperity Administration was on course.
Nevertheless, now that the Bayelsa United and Bayelsa Queens have been crowned Champions, what cogent plans does the Prosperity Government have to discover more capable youths that are out there roaming the streets of Bayelsa in the area of talent discovery especially at the grassroots?
What efforts are the state government making to nurture a new set of talented sports men and women that are capable of bringing more laurels to the state in national and international competitions?
There is no gain saying the fact that most of these players in the state’s male and female teams being celebrated today are products of the grassroots. Many are still out there who are even more talented than what we currently have in the teams but waiting to be discovered to exhibit their talents.
The likes of silver medalist, Blessing Oborududu who made history at the just-concluded 2020 Tokyo Olympics 68kg freestyle wrestling and other Bayelsa-born athletes that have represented the state and the country in other areas of sports, were also discovered at the grassroots.
In the glory days of Bayelsa United Football Club, most of the players were called up from the feeder team to the main team which is also applicable in all the football clubs in Europe. It has however become very pertinent for the Prosperity Government as well as the officials of the state-owned team to restore the feeder team where young, talented players will have the opportunity to gain more experience to feature professionally.
Speaking in an exclusive interview, the Chairman of Bayelsa United, Ebiki Timitimi, disclosed his plans and measures to set up a feeder team for the state club by next season as well as gain promotion into the elite professional league.
He said, “For now there is no feeder team. We came on board mid-season and there isn’t much we can do but I can assure you that by next season we plan to put one in place. Our plan in this direction is to engage the local government council chairmen, visit their headquarters to discover talents at the grassroots.
“When we put this is motion, all we will require from the chairmen will be accommodation, feeding and of course, small logistic support for the officials who will conduct the screening of the players. This was how a good number of us got to where we are today. I am a product of the Porbeni Football Cup Competition. A good number of us were picked from that grassroots competition. We were subjected to rigorous screening and the successful players formed Bayelsa United. That was how the club came to be.”
As the government and people of Bayelsa State are basking in the euphoria of the spoils raked in by the state male and female teams, it is a wake-up call for the prosperity government of Senator Douye Diri to map out aggressive policies that will discover more talents from the grassroots by declaring an emergency on sports development in the ‘Glory of All Lands’.