That Heartland Football Club of Owerri has been relegated to the lower division of the Nigeria league after the 2015/2016 season is no longer news. And that the body overseeing the league, the League Management Committee LMC, has fined the Owerri based club, the sum of N3m is also no new story. But what irkes Imolites is how their darling team was allowed by those charged with the affairs of the club to go into relegation. What went wrong? Many of them are asking.
Heartland FC is the only club from the state that plays in the elite league unlike some states that have two or three clubs in the Nigeria Premier League, therefore allowing the club to be relegated does not speak good of the owner of the club-the Imo State government.
Football, we all know unites Nigerians. In the same vein Heartland FC unites Imolites.
The government at some point during the season starved the club of funds. Players and coaches were owed over five months arrears of salaries and this in no small way affected the performance of the team. To add to the problem of underfunding, some people who have nothing to do with football administration were brought in by the Imo State government to oversee the affairs of the club.
Club football management should not be used as compensation for political loyalty. Political interefence in Heartland’s management contributed immensely to the downfall of the team. Some good players of the team left without replacement as the coach had to make do with the crop of players he had.
Though the team is still hoping to swim up the relegation water by appealing against the outcome of the last match against Plateau United in Jos, the precarious situation it found itself would have been avoided if those saddled with the affairs of the club had done the needful at the appropriate time. Even in relegation, Heartland must not be left to die. Everything possible must be done to ensure that the club comes up to the elite league after the 2016-2017 season.
If the government cannot handle the club financially, it should start now to look for either an individual or corporate body to take over the club as was done in 1986 when the club then known as Spartans Football club of Owerri was taken over by a business mogul, Engr. Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu which made the club change its name to Iwuanyanwu Nationale Football Club of Owerri.
Heartland FC must not die. This is the wish of all Imolites.