Red Atlas Lions of Morocco won the Africa Nations Cup for the very first time in 1976. The Green Eagles were there in Ethiopia after a dismal debut at Ghana ’63 and smiled back home with a bronze medal. The Nigerians lost twice to the Champions.
In 1980, Nigeria hosted the tournament.It looked strange that the Nigerian Supporters club could invade Ibadan to support the same Morocco in the last Group B match against Ghana. This was because when Ghana hosted and won in 1978, the Black Stars struggled against the Green Eagles in Accra and were lucky to end it 1-1 after Segun Odegbami’s rattler.
However, the Nigerian Supporters teamed up against Ghana because they saw the Black Stars as a bigger threat to Eagles’ ambitions. Victory for the fellow West Africans, meant they would finish as runners-up in Group B. And that scenario signaled a confrontation with Group A leaders, Nigeria.
A convoy of buses left Lagos for Ibadan drumming support for the North Africans against Ghana. Algeria had emerged as Group B leaders and would face Group A runners-up, Egypt in the other semi-finals. The backing paid off as Morocco defeated the Black Stars 1-0.
Dr. Raufu Ladipo, who was carrying the Nigerian flag for the Supporters club at the time, later explained that they feared Ghana would be more difficult to beat in the semis if they qualified.
Morocco succumbed to Nigeria in the semi-finals and the Eagles moved on to thrash Algeria 3-0 in the grand finale to win the cup for the first time. This meant that the Supporters were right after all. In 1990,Ladipo became the Chairman of the Supporters club and took it to the next level.
At the Bauchi ’90 Ecowas Cup, the Supporters Club came in handy when the Nigeria Army band failed to show up during the Opening ceremony. As the participating countries- Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Liberia, Cote D’Ivoire and Guinea marched past, the club supplied music.
At the USA ’94 World Cup, FIFA president, Sepp Blatter described the Nigerian Supporters Club as the best behaved. At that time , Dr. Ladipo and his crowd had grown so popular at home that General Sani Abacha received them at Aso Villa. They had become part of the Eagles contingent.
It was also not always a sweet song for the club. In a Senegal ’92 qualifier between Nigeria and Burkina Faso in Ougadougou, the hosts chased them away with Bees. Eagles Manager, Clemens Westerhof, was given a red card by the referee. The match ended 1-1.
That was a lesson. When the Eagles returned to Ougadougou in 1998, led by another Dutchman, Thys Libregt, the Supporters club arrived in larger numbers. Two Chisco luxury buses ferried members to the Burkinabe capital. Again the game produced no winner. It was goalless.
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When Enyimba made history by winning the CAF Champions League in far away Ismaili, Egypt, the Supporters club flew on the same ADC flight with the team. Ladipo who had become President General was not available. The mantle fell on new chairman, Yusuf Aderenle. And they aslo had on board, one of their major sponsors, Chief Modupe Badero, of Naira Pools.
The hotel reserved for Enyimba, As Saalam, was taken over by the Supporters and accompanying journalists. It was indeed a game of wits. The Egyptians planned to keep Enyimba players in an accommodation that lacked international standards. And they flooded the place with noisy urchins who made noise to distract the boys.
Members of the Supporters club sang and danced all night, drinking in the process. The Egyptians were surprised that some of the dancers who they thought were going out to play the next day really had time to drink and make merry. When the truth stared them in the face – that Enyimba players were in another part of town- they dispersed. Enyimba lifted the trophy and, of course, the Nigerians were attacked by their frustrated hosts.
The Supporters club has also given much to Nigerian soccer. Cudjoe Alakija and Bamidele Johnson became Team Managers of the Eagles. Prince Isidore Oduah made the NFA board. Ishola Folorunso turned out to be one of the best radio commentators in the country.
Prominent backers of the club include Chief Moshood Abiola, Princess Bola Jegede, both owners of football clubs, Alhaji Garba Hamza, patron of the Youth Sports Federation of Nigeria [ YSFON] and Dr. Mike Adenuga.
The club was formed in 1955 by, Harty Allen, whose husband, R.B. Darby Allen, was chairman of the NFA. She frequented the King George the Fifth [KGV] Stadium, Onikan to watch the senior national team, then called ‘The Red Devils’. After her came Folorunso, Deacon George Osho, Alhaji Bashiru Ogunsiji, before Ladipo.