By Sir Amos Agwamba
The shocking news of the relegation of Imo State’s darling sports outfit, the Heartland Football Club of Owerri seem to have died down. The issue now is how to see the club come back where it rightly belongs. No need to cry over spilled milk. Heartland Football Club is a product of Trojans, Spartans and’ Iwuanyanwu Nationale Football Clubs. When Imo State was created in 1976 from East Central State, players of Imo State origin who were playing for Rangers International and P&T Vasco Dagama Clubs of Enugu came home under the then able Director of sports, late Chief Sir. Jerry Enyeazu to form the Spartans Football club which was managed by the Imo State Government for 9 years.
In 1985 the club was taken over and managed by, Chief Dr. Engr. Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, who renamed the club “Iwuanyanwu Nationale”, Under this Pillar of sports, the club took the Nigeria and African football scene by storm.
On the domestic scene, Iwanyanwu Nationale won Nigeria’s National League Championship twice in 1988 and 1989. Not done with that the club won the prestigious Federation Cup formerly called Challenge Cup in 1988 as well as runners up in 1989 and 1999.
When in 1990 the National League was upgraded and renamed the Nigeria Professional league, the all -conquering club clinched the first professional league championship in 1990 and 1993.
At the sub-continental level, Iwuanyanwu Nationale were runners up of the West African Football Union (WAFU) cup in 1980 and 1982. While at the continental level it settled for the Confederation of African Football Championship as runners-up in 1988 and 1989. When the club was handed over back to Imo State Government under a new name – “Heartland Football Club” after 21 years in 2006 the winning streak of the club under private management continued. Hence, at the domestic level the club clinched the Nigeria Professional League, runners- up trophy in 2008 and still very relevant at the CAF level as the club was runners up of CAF Championship League in 2009 and quarter finalists in 2010. The high point of the club at the national level was winning the Federation Cup back to back in 2011 and 2012.
Beside taking the national, regional and continental soccer scenes by storm, it produced very high profile and world class footballers who featured prominantly for the club and foreign clubs in Europe, America and Asia. The players included and not all – late Goddy Agbarakwe former Director of sports and Goddy Ndudi (now FA secretary), Uche Okechukwu, Ben Iroha, late Thompson Oliha. Others include Kanu Nwankwo, Peterside Idah, Edward Ansah (Ghanian import), Vincent Enyema (former Nigerian Super Eagles (goalkeeper), Ben Zico Nwosu, Nwakocha, and Peter Erege etc.
The administrators and mangers that led the club to its epogee include Chief Lemmy Akakem, Chief Uche Ejimofor, Chief Okeahialam, Emeka Iwuagwu, Sir Fan Nduboke, Hon Okey Dike as well as Chief Oscar Keke and Chief Goodfaith Etuemena
The cream of coaches who carve a niche for themselves include both indigenous and foreign handlers. Notable among them were Chairman Christian Chukwu, Joe Erico, Stanley Eguma, Okey Emordi, Maikaba, John Obuh, Bethel Orji and Ransom Madu. The outstanding foreign coach who had few months stay was Netherland’s Kruif.
Regrettably, after 40 years at the top division, Heartland was relegated in the just ended 2015/2016 Football season. Whatever were the reasons should be left for history. All we want is for the club to climb back to where it belongs.
To achieve the expectation of Imolites and the way forward to see the club bounce back, professionals who spent time and money to acquire skills in sports management and administration should be drafted into the club as well as high profile coaches to steer its ship to bring back the club to where it rightly belongs . Dedicated players in the club presently and fresh players who must be well motivated to bring out their best must be recruited. The hire and fire syndrome of coaches in the club should be minimized as the scenario puts them under pressure as they work with doubt and fear.