AHIA MGBEDE: Alex Goma: Outsiders Will Not Fix Our League For Us

Alex Goma. Image: Twitter

It’s not every day you run into company executives who show active interest in the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL) but Alexander Goma is as big as they come and as intense as any diehard fan can be.

Goma, the head of Grand CereaIs, a subsidiary of United African Company (UAC) was one of the over 20,000 fans that thronged the new Jos Township Stadium to see the MatchDay 14 fixture between his favourite side, Plateau United and the visiting Akwa United. 

The fixture made it to the top billing of the MatchDay for a number of reasons with the main being that both sides were led by Managers who were immediate past Dugout leaders for the two teams. 

Kennedy Boboye came with Akwa United hoisting a bragging flag of being the only Coach that has led the Jos side to the league title and riding a current crest of five games unbeaten.

On the other bench is the cerebral Abdu Maikaba, a former college lecturer turned football Coach who at Akwa United, led the team to its first-ever national Cup win in the Aiteo Federation Cup before switching to Jos last season. 

Goma, soft-spoken but very cosmopolitan describes himself as “a lover of the round leather game”. Interestingly, he not just loves the game, he takes part as a player, match official, and fan. He’s a complete football man. 

“I have been a grade 2 referee in the past and currently play weekend football with Belle United FC Lagos, Naija Gunners in Lagos and Pro Leisure FC in Jos. I am a supporter of Arsenal and Plateau United”, he said to www.npfl.ng in a chat.

Goma is not a today’s Plateau United follower, he goes way back and said the affection was generally for Jos-based sides. 

Given that Mighty Jets used to be the dominant side in Jos with a comparatively illustrious pedigree, Goma said of his journey in Jos football: “Well, Mighty Jets has always been there and I admire and support them given they are from Jos plus the defunct Octopus FC of Jos but I grew outside Jos so there was never any real emotional connection. 

“I started watching football actively in Jos when JIB Rocks took over Nigerian Standard FC and the brand of football they played was outstanding. They didn’t care if it was home or away, they played on the ground and made you enjoy the game. Of course, they metamorphosed into Plateau United when the state Govt tried to merge both JIB Rocks and Mighty Jets. Of course the core Jets supporters split and Plateau United stayed on.” 

It would appear Goma has been prepared by Plateau United’s trophy drought to face what he has been going through as a supporter of English club, Arsenal that’s has won titles far and in between. 

Recalling the 2017 season when Plateau United broke their league title bogey, Goma, who has worked as Managing Director, Consumer at PZ Cussons, said, “Oh, It felt good. At least I got some bragging rights especially since Arsenal hadn’t won in a long time. I think beyond football, it was also something positive and of pride to the state” 

“I also liked the manner they achieved the victory by playing good football”.

In Nigeria, rival football fans of mostly European Clubs engage in what is called ‘gbas gbos’, a parlance for banters, something that’s not as widespread in followers of the NPFL. 

But Goma says he still has some friends that he engages in audio battles for his beloved Plateau United. 

“Yes I do have a number of friends though they are less into the local league”, he began and added. “I remember when I got an authentic Rangers jersey for one of them on his birthday. The look on his face was priceless” 

He seems to have found a balance for his dual support for Plateau United and Arsenal, noting that it has been natural to belong to the Plateau United crowd being his city and state club. 

He explains it thus: “Well, I guess for me it’s first about identity. I am proud of my roots and will always support my home club. Arsenal was adopted and initially was more because of the number of blacks that played in the team in 1977 when I started supporting and became stronger when I also understood the club’s philosophy” 

It’s also about the fact that things may be backward with our league and outsiders will not fix it and we have to fix it. The economic, social and psychological value that is waited to be reaped if we get our acts together is unbelievable. You can’t suggest what can be done if you don’t understand the local league”. 

Most often, a good number of those that denigrates the NPFL in comparison with European club football leagues, fail to properly make critical diagnosis of the peculiar challenges of the league, especially in the areas of infrastructure deficit and capacity of the economy to breed companies that can provide the financial muzzle by way of sponsorship of the league. 

Goma agreed that while the league has huge potentials, there are areas that need to be addressed to attract and win over bands of younger generation fans. 

His words, “There are a couple of things I think need to be fixed. We need to make the facilities enjoyable and safe for the family to watch. We have to create that atmosphere in the stadia for people to feel safe and want to come. So the focus on infrastructure should be about what will drive that”. 

He also canvassed that there should be a deliberate approach to improve the pitches and provide conveniences such as facilities for dining or relaxation and safety.

He’s not impressed with security provisions at match venues, saying, “Security today is a Joke, we don’t think of basics like not even allowing bottled water in because it can be used as a missile”. 

From his marketing background, he offers business tips to the clubs,; “The merchandising aspect needs to be developed. It’s hard to find authentic local jerseys. I was lucky to know the shirt sponsor for me to get a Plateau United shirt”. 

Goma also suggested that the clubs must retain trained personnel to manage different aspects of its operations. 

“We need to have professional people running different aspects of a club. Have to create proper academies that teach young people skills and also build their minds and prepare them for a life outside football”, he further advised. 

He suggested that the League Management Company (LMC) may have to consider avoiding timing clash with the English Premier League (EPL) which seems to have become a bug to the country’s huge young population. 

Goma also would love to see the LMC enforce regulations that will place time limits for stadium development as part of conditions to admit a club to play in the NPFL. 

While advocating for holistic government intervention in the provision of infrastructure, he insists that “Yes, it has to be part of the agreement to be put in place before acceptance of a club into the league. If LMC says in two years’ time this will be the required standards, the clubs will put in place. 

“Also the Govt will take that into consideration. The LMC can commission and have like a standard prototype for stadia as the basic and you can go beyond that if you so wish”. 

We returned our chat to Plateau United after the foray into league structure, management, and development. As a football player and analyst, Goma commended the club and their opponent on the day for playing well. 

He said, “the game was solid from them. They had control of the game. I think they have the potential but they have to fix the attacking unit. 

“In the first 15 mins, they could have been 3-0 up. I am not sure they have a clinical finisher 

“Their right-back was exposed a couple of times by the left-winger of Akwa United. He improved in the second half. And some poor decision making overall when they were attacking”, he said of the fixture he watched. 

He would not commit to predicting another trophy season for the side he saw, declaring, “No sure bankers. They should focus on playing well and getting results. I will take it one game at a time Winning is what the Coach is paid for, let him have that headache. I want to enjoy each game and if they win, it will be a bonus”. 

On his return to the stands to watch the NPFL fixture, Goma went nostalgic, admitting that, ‘It brought back memories because it’s been a while since I watched a game there”, promising that he would be inviting along friends with shared passion for the club when attending next time 

On improving the perception of the domestic league football, Goma advised the organisers to create value for the business community to invest in and to those who criticise from afar, he dared them, “You have to come close to understand and that can help in deciding when and how to support. Its a business at the end of the day even though it has social and communal value.