From being an evening pastime for people to relax after work, Gbagada FC has grown in the last 7 years to become a standard community football club, now known as the Blue Eagles. The club now plays in the third tier league in Nigerian football and is focused on winning the hearts of and entertaining residents in the Shomolu local government area of Lagos state.
Founder and club chairman of Gbagada FC, Olajide Akinyelu, says that inspiration for the club came after he bagged his certification as a coach, and decided to turn what had been an evening past-time into a proper grassroots club. This informed the name – Gbagada FC.
Akinyelu who despite his love for the game, missed out on being a professional footballer himself, has hopes that Gbagada FC has talents who would take football on as a career and go international.
“There is no football club based in Somolu in the top tier. We currently play at the third tier and we hope to play at the first tier in due time,” Akinyelu said in the Nairametrics Business Half Hour Show.
At the third tier level, Gbagada FC has to play with other grassroots clubs run by individuals, religious bodies and other groups.
Like every other sport, soccer needs funding to thrive. Support from corporate bodies and organizations have played a critical part in Gbagada FC’s growth but the club has also had to explore several sources of funding to push through the years.
“The higher you go, the easier it becomes to generate funds in the football league. At the third tier league, our model is built around our home games and that is what we present to these corporate bodies that support us. We have people coming to watch our games.
Of course, like you see from the big clubs in Europe, there is money to be made from transfers and all that, but such money is reinvested into getting the same quality of player back into the squad. We understand that within here, even without selling a player, we can actually sustain the club. We raise funds from match day tickets, sponsorship from the corporate world, like shirt sponsors, slip sponsors and other packages that we have. That is how we do it currently and how we intend to go,” Akinyelu explained.
The 2020 coronavirus pandemic did take its toll on availability of funds from corporate bodies but the club was able to fall back on its alternative plans, and push through the football season. The target is to recruit talents at the local level, keep them busy with the training and build them into players that can play at the international level.
“In terms of recruitment, we have about five or six prospects we believe strongly can make it pro, young players doing really fine. We believe we are on the right track in terms of getting the players, working on them and getting them ready for the real deal” Akinyelu said.
Footballs is a sport that has the ability to bring young boys in the community together for relaxation, but in order to be taken seriously, Gbagada FC is a step ahead. The club has a media team that consists of young men and women who handle social media, photography, graphics, and website maintenance. There is also a commentator that keeps the games alive with a well-spiced up commentary.
One would expect that a community football club has to deal with competition from other football clubs but it is not so for Gbagada FC. According to Akinyelu, competition comes in form of other pastimes competing for the same audience, and other forms of entertainment competing for funding from the same corporate bodies.
When music and comedy concerts are to be held, it is the same Corporate bodies and organizations that receive applications for support, and every organization can only have so much to invest into the entertainment industry. In this way, the football clubs have to compete with other entertainment outfits for the same limited funding.
There are also sports betting platforms to compete with, as this also appeals to the same football audience. “You find that someone can use N1000 on sports betting daily but will find it difficult to pay N500 to watch one of our games. So, the direct competitor for us is the betting companies because the kind of audience they have are the ones coming to our games, and they are the ones getting the money from our audience,” Akinyelu explained.
The goal is to get to the higher tier where the audience will now pay more to see the club’s matches during the weekend matches and friendly games.
“In the next 10 years, we should really be at our A-game, playing at the NFL and maybe at the CAF competitions. We also hope to own a 30,000 capacity stadium within Gbagada because that will really help us achieve all that we want to. It is all about passion, and at Gbagada FC, we dare to dream,” Akinyelu said.