A Nigerian entreprenuer has more to think of to survive in a tough economy like that of the most populous black nation in the world, Nigeria.
The long phase of challenges has compeled a lot of potential entreprenuers to drown in an ocean where sharks freely swinm, though creativity is an important element to navigate but the heavy wave of challenges has left some who can’t swim to drown.
Football club owner, Akinyelu Ademola Olajide is one of the very few who seem to have sharpen their skills to not only rely on creativity but a little much more.
Football is the number one sport in Nigeria, the fans leave everything to see the Nigerian national team play, but it takes a lot much more to own a football club and successfully such club.
The founder and owner of Gabagada FC, Akinyelu Ademola Olajide who loves to refer to himself as a club manager hints on how he started the club based in the commercial nerve center of Nigeria, Lagos.
“For me it all started with the dream of becoming a professional footballer, the fame and money that comes with being a successful footballer motivated me.
“So growing up watching the English Premier League, I just wanted to be a footballer. But after playing for a while, I knew the standard and the quality of play I saw on TV and I knew my level, I wasn’t just good enough so I had to forgo that dream of a superstar playing football. So 2010 I had to make that decision of doing something else with my life.
“Because of my love for the game, I couldn’t not just leave football and the closest thing I knew I could do was to coach. Growing up watching these EPL games, I can easily analise a goal, while something happened during play, assuming we did or that, we might not have conceded that goal.
“Right from time I’ve always read about coaching, I read books written by top coaches just because I wanted to know why they some decision and all that. So coaching was the nearest thing I could do.
Though he thought of starting abroad, specifically in the Initee Kingdom but the reality zoomed in he opt in to start from where he is.
” I wanted to start abroad, I got admission into a school in the United Kingdom to study Sports Science and football coaching but it was expensive. It’s a three year course and a fee of ten thousand pound (£10,000 ) per year, excluding accommodation , feeding etc. I just couldn’t afford that, that was in 2011.
“Then this came, even if you raise the needed fund for the first year how will you survive the next two years? So I knew it wasn’t a project I could go on with so I had to drop it.
“The only option was to start from Nigeria , I went through all our University programme and surprisingly no school offered any degree in football coaching. Then I heard about the Nigeria Institute of Sports . A school that’s not popular outside of those in sports. I signed up at the school in 2013 and that was how my coaching carear started formally.
” But before I started the course, I’ll lead some young chaps where i live to play football. I was then the coach player (laughs), captain and I’ve had to start every game since I didn’t have the strength to play 90 minutes.
” But basically the whole dream of Gbagada FC started in October 2013 after I completed the one year course at the Nigeria Institute of Sports. At the time, I’ve learnt the basics of coaching and I’ve to be attached to a team as an intern. I checked at two teams but wasn’t given a chance so I felt since I have a group boys playing in hood, I decided to just use my team as the practical and that’s how the whole idea of Gbagada FC started. Back then , we used call ourselves G-Boys (Gbagada Boys FC), we were all boys from the same estate coming together to play football.
” I told my team mates that I’m now a certified coach and it’s time to get serious with the club to help talents in our area make it through to the professional level. So it was more like a community project.
“So we launched the team official in October 12 2013 at the National Stadium Surulere. We started getting in Gbagada, Bariga and other communities just around our base. We were doing things differently from the norm, the players were excited about the project then we started participating in grassroot competitions. We did that for around two years (late 2015). So one of the top football persons in Gbagada, that’s Kema Keminna just called me and said that he thinks it’s best for me and the team to go into organized football. He then suggested that I should I sign up my team to the Lagos FA Cup which is expensive. Before then, I think it’s only two teams from Gbagada has played in the Lagos FA Cup before us in the history of Gbagada. He took me to the Lagos State Football Association office, we signed up.
” Unfortunately we got knocked out in our first game, it was an experience we appreciated and then that defeated us went on to reach the last eight of the competition. That was in 2015 but people knew more about us in 2016.
“We went into the FA Cup in 2016, we knocked out the former champions, same as Nigeria Professional Football league team, Ikorodu United, that year we got to the quarter finals. I was awarded the best coach of the tournament and the Lagos FA sent me to Abuja for my CAF C coaching license.
“Something change for me at that training because I met coaches from top clubs and I knew I was on the right track. So I felt I should join the league system. The dream of playing in Nigeria’s top league started after the CAF C experience with this coaches.
“I got back to Lagos and told my players that we should get into the league. I went back to the Nigeria Institute of Sports to complete the second stage (Diploma) which is two years course. In 2017 we join the league system at the fourth tier in 2018. We got promoted in our debut season and in 2019 we played in Nigeria Nationwide League 1 ( third level league).
” What I just said now that looked smooth was filled with so many challenges between 2017 till date but what has truly got us going is that the feedback we get from the little we’ve done has been hugely encouraging. The reception we’ve gotten from football fans, the business aspect were getting gradually has kept us going. We’re not there yet though, we’ve not gotten to where we see ourself but we’ve accepted that are still an amateur club trying to things the right way to become a professional club to achieve that big dream. So that’s how I became a club owner.
“The moment we decided to join the league system we thought it will be good start from the third tier. To get started one must buy a slot and that was expensive. When I heard of the amount needed to buy a slot I tried to save and for three years I couldn’t save that amount and that was just the truth. In 2018 when I figured out that it’s time to start, I still couldn’t figure how to get the money to buy the slot and you know when you train players preparing for a major league season and all of a sudden you had to face them to let them know that in 2018 again we won’t be able to meet up with the demand of playing league football because I couldn’t raise the fund to buy the slot. It was a sad day when we had that meeting, players were moody, we took a couple of days off then we came back to decide on what’s next.
“So I sold it to them that what if we start from the fourth tier and they all consent to that and even said we can all work as a team to gain promotion. But for a small club like us, the funds to even run at that level was still a challenge because we didn’t have any sponsor then. I was running the show from my pocket so it was very difficult. But before we went into the league system we knew that we’ve got to run the club as a business, we have to sit down and generate funds for the club and try to run at that level with what ever we had. If instance; if you’re bringing two million naira and you’re trying to run like a hundred million naira club you’ll definitely crash immediately. We tried but nothing happened. There’s something I know, when you keep at what you’re doing it’ll happen. So I found someone that was will to give me the slot to pay instalmemtally and that’s how we got started. If the person had insisted I pay at once definitely I won’t be able to. So the first challenge was raising funds to get into the system.
“Good thing at the start in Legue we gained promotion with a 100% record winning all of our games without conceding. Some of the business ideas we implemented worked like raising funds through jerseys sales. However it wasn’t easy. When I started I was told that we can’t sell the jerseys above two thousand five hundred naira (N2500) but that didn’t go down well with me. So we figured that we increase the quality of the jerseys considering that people pay for quality. We sold our jerseys for five thousand naira (N5,000) and in the first year in the league we sold quite a number ( around four hundred). We happy about though we don’t have the right number yet but I knew it will work.
“Promoting to the third year we knew we have to improve on what we’re doing. One thing we’ve gotten right is telling our story the right way and this reflects in every little thing we do, we tell our story. With our little budget we tried to achieve with what we had and like I said earlier the feedback has been massive.
“In the second year in the league we had a verbal agreement with the so called jersey maker who said he’s going to kit us for free but along the line that didn’t happen and we just four weeks to the Lagos FA Cup and the season opener and we didn’t have any jersey so we had to look at other options. We ended up making our jerseys ourselves. Once you keep pushing you’ll hit a break through. Later I met someone who was willing to do the jerseys and get paid after the sale of the jersey. That worked wonders and we did that through the season.
“Playing in the league system was a big challenge. Look at, everything we do at Gbagada FC, our goal is to see our the club can sustain itself. So in 2019 we had one mini breakthrough, at least we got sponsors on board and that was huge for us. We were able to secure those sponsors because of the little we did the previous seasons. They saw that we’re headed some where and they supported us in their own little way.
“It’s really expensive playing in the league system, yes we got sponsors, the funds helped get some where but it wasn’t enough. The season was very tough for us on and off the pitch. We couldn’t win games. We had five draws, won one and lost four in our ten league games. That wasn’t good enough. In the Lagos FA we got knocked out so on the pitch j it wasn’t just good enough for us. We struggled on the pitch but of the pitch we were making some level of success. Our fan base was growing, sold more jerseys, got sponsors and it was good.
“I’ve been hearing those funny stories of when they tell you referees manipulate games. I won’t say that was why we didn’t do well in the season because out of ten league games we played seven we very okay (in terms of officiating) but we just couldn’t win. But we had one game that it was so bad, the officiating was an embarrassment. I remembered after the game, I call d the Football Association office that I wanted to pullout of the league, it was that bad. Having so much off the pitch and on the pitch preparing then one man in the center will act as a spoiler. It’s been happening for years but it hurts more when it happens to you. I almost threw in the towel. After all, playing in the league doesn’t give clubs back anything financially. If you like finish top, nothing happens.
“We’ve had over a thousand fans come see us play with tickets sold at one thousand naira (N1,000) and it worked. People paid till the fidtj game but something I realised was that attendance dropped because of our performance. So we made enquiries with the fans and some said what’s the point of coming all the way see a match I know Gbagada FC won’t win because they ain’t ready to bribe the referee. So you can imagine that affecting attendance. If there’s consistent good officiating, if games are allowed to be played on a fair level ground the fans will come out and watch. So there’s a whole lot wrong with our system but we won’t give up.