Recently Imo State marked its 40th year anniversary with pomp and pageantry. The state governor, Rochas Okorocha rolled out the drums to mark what is seen as a hallmark event in the annals of the state nicknamed ‘Eastern Heartland.’
While enumerating the achievements of his administration, Okorocha listed the back-to-back Federation Cup victories recorded by Heartland FC in 2011 and 2012. Incidentally, that has drawn criticisms from Heartland FC faithful who believe the club has had dwindling fortunes due its neglect by the Okorocha administration.
The poor financial state of the club is reflected in their position on the NPFL log where they currently sit in 16th place, just a place above the red line. Two points separate the club from the 17th placed team. Things got worse when the club recorded a second home loss of the season against Rangers last weekend.
Last weekend’s loss did not come to many as a surprise. The club was in dire financial situations due to delayed release of its monthly subvention from the government, a situation which fans say has become a norm since Okorocha assumed office. Prior to the game, morale at the club was at an all-time low as players were leaving the club in droves. Paucity of funds meant the club couldn’t make quality recruitments at the beginning of the season. And during the mid-season window, the few good ones were looking at the exit door. Akwa United alone poached four from Heartland, Ifeanyi Uba is taking two just as it was learnt striker, Ifeanyi Onuigbo could have played his last game for the club against Rangers.
The danger is that Heartland, a club that holds the enviable record of never going on relegation since inception, is under serious threat of going down. Formed in 1976 at the creation of the state as Spartans, the club metamorphosed into Iwuanyanwu Nationale and now Heartland. The club have won the league five times, FA Cup thrice and lost in the final of the CAF Champions League twice in 1988 and 2009; obviously, one of the most successful clubs in the land.
Callistus Onyegbaduo coordinator of Concerned Heartland Supporters International can’t imagine seeing the club in the less-fancied NNL.
He stated, “Why would Rochas be celebrating Imo at 40 when a club that is as old as the state is relegation-bound as a result of his lack of attention? It is sheer hypocrisy for him to even list the club’s two Federation Cup victories to his administration because we know how they won that cup. If not for Fan Ndubuoke (then Heartland General Manager), that wouldn’t have been possible. The governor was not releasing money.
“Fan would go to his eatery (Mr. Fans) and collect money to meet the club’s daily needs. That was how they were honouring league matches every week. The players will be hungry; he will tell them to go to Mr. Fans and feed. There may not be money to pay salaries, but he helps the players financially for them to keep body and soul together. That was how they were motivated to win that cup. But the moment they qualified for the final, Rochas rushed to Lagos to take a lap of honour at the Teslim Balogun Stadium. Today he is taking the glory for the victory.”
Onyegbaduo’s group is at the forefront of ensuring that Heartland does not get relegated.
“Rochas should know that this club is the pride of the Imo people. There had been no governor or military administrator that had folded his hands and watched the club go down. This should not happen under him. Generations unborn will not forgive him if this club die under him. We have supported this club from childhood. Some of us live abroad but we still have Heartland running in our veins. We are appealing to him to do the needful and save the club from collapse,” he added.
Heartland captain, Chinedu Efugh, threw more light on the mood in the team.
“We are really training hard; sometimes the this distraction about money plays a role too. It’s part of it (why the club lost to Rangers) , but we believe that everything is going to turn around. To boost the team, we need the government to help us,” he said.
Onyegbaduo believes the club have the potential to be competing for laurels but was undone by the Okorocha administration.
“Fan was trying to put together a team that could do a Pillars and Enyimba and raid clubs for their top talents. But in recent times, due to the club’s precarious financial state, it keeps losing its best legs. The likes of Osas Okoro, Bobby Clement and Kalu Orji that bolstered Rangers yesterday, were snatched from Heartland penultimate season. A team that won the FA Cup back-to-back are good enough to win the league but this government’s neglect over the years has turned them into perpetual strugglers,” he added.
According to Onyegbaduo, the situation is even more disheartening taking into cognisance what is happening in neighbouring Abia State, which has two teams in the NPFL: Enyimba and Abia Warriors.
He said the government expends over N60m on both clubs. Recently, Abia Governor Okezie Ikpeazu donated two luxury buses to both clubs.
He added that Heartland’s monthly subvention was cut from N28m to N18m yet it wasn’t coming in good time. In the past five months, instead of N90m, the club has gotten N47m from government, Onyegbaduo added.
“When you take into cognisance that Imo gets more allocation than Abia, you wonder why this only child of an affluent father is less comfortable than the two children of a less illustrious father. It is all down to the fathers’ priorities. One cares so much about his children’s welfare, the other doesn’t a damn whether his child feeds or not.”