It was the famous English Premiership League (EPL) football commentator, Peter Drury who made the iconic statement that football is a game that “feeds the soul and hurries the heart” in one of his celebrated poetic commentaries through which he narrates and adds colour to the legendary legworks, tactical maneuvers and beautiful soccer artistry marvelously displayed by professional footballers of the EPL.
The advent of the ESLF Football Tournament to the sporting turf of Benue State, Nigeria and indeed, the sporting world to mark Eunice Spring of Life Foundation’s 6th anniversary of service to humanity, elicited remarkable reactions in many, “feeding the souls” and “hurrying the hearts” of budding soccer talents in the State, ex-football internationals outside the State like Emmanuel Babayaro and Tijani Babangida, as well as football administrators outside the country like Mike Potempa, thereby bringing home that iconic statement by the legendary Drury.
When the good news of the novel ESLF Football tournament filtered into towns, villages and hamlets across the State, their various football pitches came alive and bubbled again with renewed energy of the Benue youth, as well as a reinvigorated passion for the round-leather game by skilful but yet-to-be-discovered grassroots football talents; lush green fields began wearing new looks adorned by various colours and shades of ESLF-branded sports jerseys, ESLF tracksuits and soccer boots that bounced with dexterity, greater pace and passion from freshly-motivated teenage soccer talents as balls of hope came rolling back into their lives, firing them up with renewed audacity to dare and dream of a finer future filled with the endless possibilities which only soccer glory could bring.
Thoughts and talks of the tournament dominated discussions in many places; from the mountains of Ikyogen in Kwande to the hills of Obagaji in Agatu; from the plains of Ipav in Gboko to the heartland of Edumoga in Okpokwu, in various places in the State among youngsters, soccer pundits, football enthusiasts and footballers, the grassroots soccer initiative of Benue’s First Lady and Founder of ESLF, Dr. Eunice Ortom reverberated through the land.
The tourney which began on May 9th, 2022 with a kick-off by the First Lady in the ancient town of Otukpo, was followed by the Local Government Area play-offs in which nearly 100 football teams participated. From that stage, one male team each emerged to represent each of the 23 LGAs at the Zonal play-offs hosted in 3 zones across the State: Adikpo for teams in Zone A, Gboko for Zone B and Otukpo for teams in Zone C.23 “winning male teams” from the LGAs plus three “best-loser male teams” making 26 male teams, slugged it out at the Zonal Stage from which 4 male teams emerged for the Semi Final round of the tournament which was played in Makurdi, Gboko and Otukpo.
Another spectacular feature of the tournament which was a deliberate drive for inclusion, was the registration and participation of female players as 7 female teams and 2 teams from the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps got the ticket to play at the Quarter Final stage, a move that stands the ESLF Tournament out as one that promotes the interests of the vulnerable in line with the central promise of the 2030 Agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals to “Leave no one behind” (LNOB).
Although a yawning gap still exists between the very limited number of female teams that registered as compared to their male counterpart which registered up to 100 teams, the 7 registered female teams was proof that ESLF had started the process of closing this gap and exposing more women and girls to the opportunities that abound beyond the traditional gender roles forced on them by the society.
The tournament came with many advantages for youths as crime thoughts crept out of their lives and mischiefs missed from their daily routine. Loneliness fled from them and the menace of cultism naturally thinned out, now replaced by that all-important feeling that they now belonged and were connected to something noble and greater than themselves.
What began like a flame of thought and ideas had become a fiery flame of passion and energetic play of the round leather game and in over one month since it began, the tournament has seen spectacular display of skills and football artistry from skilful soccer talents, striking shots by many pinpoint strikers, sensational saves by agile goalkeepers and solid defence by many gallant defenders.
The ESLF Football Tournament serves as a “life-line” to budding talents which, if left unharnessed, would probably die off like many never-discovered talented footballers and covered-up stars who only in the past, had the grace to have blazed the soccer trail only for a short while like comets, but fizzled out undiscovered, unharnessed and undeveloped.
The Foundation’s goal is to discover scores of Sadio Manes from villages and towns across our talent-filled State and filter them out of the dust of grassroots soccer; ferret out more Asisat Osoalas and Francisca Odegas from the hinterlands whose drive and dream to be discovered have probably been bursting at the seams for years. We are on the lookout for young ones who have the will, the dream and the drive to strive but lack the chance to showcase to a football-hungry world the stuff they are truly made of and the magic they could conjure with their nimble feet chasing after football on pitches anywhere in the world.
Benue is home of the legendary Moses Kpakor, the Olympics Soccer Gold medalist Daniel “The Bull” Amokachi, Ogenyi Onazi, Moses Simon and, of course, the hard-fighting Francesca Odega who is proudly flying the Benue football flag in Nigeria’s Super Falcons as well as in her club, Levante Ud Feminino.
As the tournament begins the home stretch journey, the public is encouraged to be part of this historic trip and be part of the Semi Final matches of the tournament on Saturday 11th June, 2022 and the Final Match this Sunday 12th June, 2022 at the Benue State University Football Pitch.
The ESLF Football Tournament 2022 to mark the Foundation’s sixth anniversary is anchored in the Foundation’s firm belief that youths of the State and beyond can have the needed platform to pursue and actualize their dreams which itself is firmly rooted in the Foundation’s vision “to build a society without barriers to decent living”.
WRITTEN BY EMMANUEL ENENCHE UMELE, ESLF MEDIA OFFICER
©ESLF MEDIA 2022