Has Stationery Stores FC gone for good?
Call them ‘Super Stores’, ‘Stationery Stores’,’ Adebajo Babes’ or ‘Flaming Flamingoes’,etc, you are not mistaken. It is the same one and only Stationery Stores Football Club, the darling of Lagos football fans. It was the reigning football club in Lagos between late 1960s and 1990s.
In those good old days before satellite television became popular, Stationery Stores Football Club, a.k.a. Adebajo Babes supporters used to storm every stadium in Nigeria in “high Spirit.” They didn’t just come to town; they came to intimidate the home club and everyone that would watch the match that day. They came like bees, in large numbers, chanting all over town: Up Flaming! Up Stores!
Stationery Stores Football Club was founded in 1958 through acquisition by the late Israel Adebajo, a business man who renamed the club with the same name as his stationery trading and paper converting business – the Nigerian office of the Stationery Stores Supply Company.
Although Stationery Stores Football Club had been in existence, it however, did not come to national limelight until “refugees” of the political turmoil in the North were linked with the emerging budding talents in Lagos to build a formidable team which formed the bulk of the national team during the period. For example, Peter Anieke and Tony Igwe left Jos in the North due to the crisis in 1966 to play in Lagos for Stationery Stores.
The team immediately established themselves as one of the dominant football clubs in the area and the country, supplying the bulk of the first edition of the national team and winning a total 13 Lagos State Challenge Cups, the preliminary round for the Nigerian FA Cup. In the 1968 Mexico City Olympic football event, 10 players from the team including Sam Opone and Peter Fregene, represented the national team. They played 3-3 with the legendary Brazilian team. This early success endeared the team to the Lagos crowd and was given the nickname and logo “FLAMING FLAMINGOES” and “Adebajo Babes”.
The club’s glory years started in 1967. Their fluid and entertaining style of play endeared the club to Lagos fans as they delivered two FA Cups within that period. Between 1973 and 1993, Stores was in the top division of Nigerian football. Throughout those years, they enjoyed a particularly brutal rivalry with Enugu Rangers International F.C., going back to the East vs. West feelings from the Biafran War.
The national team of the late 1960s was even called the Lagos Eagles because on several occasions only Samuel Garba was the addition from the North to the national team. Israel Adebajo’s Stationery Stores was the first great modern clubside in Nigerian football after independence in 1960.
Although ‘Super Stores’ was not a rich club, it produced many of the most gifted and renowned players in Nigerian football. Haruna Ilerika, of course remained the most popular. He had a magical left foot and popularised several tricks such as ‘window’ which was the act of putting the ball in between the marker’s legs and invariably leaving the marker sprawling shamefully on the turf, and ‘heighting’ where the ball is knocked over the marker’s head and controlled. However, there were also Sani Mohammed, Yakubu Mabo, Olumide Banjo, Tarila Okoronwanta, Yisa Alabi, Arthur Moses and so many others were also household names. In fact the reputation of Stores was such that even average talents became overnight superstars when they played for Stores: Godwin Obiyan and the funny-looking lad called Idi-Iso came to mind.
Sam Opone, nick-named ‘Zagalo’ by fans, for his majestic dribbling and shooting skills. He was also one of the great players of all time in the history of Football Association Cup. He led his team, Stationery Stores to the 1967 final’s win, making them the first privately owned club to do so, with the feat repeated the following year in 1968. This earned Opone the chance to captain the Nigerian side to the 1968 Mexico Olympics football event, along with seven other team-mates from the 1968 Stores Football Association Cup winning side.
Stores didn’t win many national trophies after dominating the late 60s, but their reputation for ‘good football’ just kept soaring. Only very few teams achieved their mastery of the smooth ‘Brazilian’ flair, and these were all temporary: Ismaila Mabo’s Mighty Jets of Jos and Josiah Donbraye’s Sharks of Port Harcourt in the 70s, the massive Felix Agbonifo – led Bendel Insurance of Benin, Isong Isang – marshalled Calabar Rovers team between 1983 – 87, and of course, the star-studded Leventis United where Wole Odegbami and James Etokebe knew no rules or restrictions when it came to dribbling.
The frenzy around the Nigerian league in the 1970s and 80s could be likened to that of the English Premiership today. For instance, Rangers International F.C. of Enugu could be called the forerunner of today’s Chelsea. Their football was direct, business-like and devoid of fantasies. But ask which team provided Nigerian soccer fans with 100% guaranteed entertainment; no fakes, no pretensions? One only needed to come to Lagos and meet the great team with the cross-striped yellow/maroon shirt while white hankerchiefs flew everywhere. No controversy, it was ‘Adebajo Babes’, ‘Super Stores’, the legacy of the late Israel Adebajo, the pride of Lagos! They could be called the Liverpool/Manchester United of Nigeria.
In those days, football was football. One would be happy supporting one team or the other. Nobody had time for European football which was left for pools stakers and gamblers who wanted to bet and win money and not really to watch or support a particular team.
Super Stores then was the ‘Pride of Lagos’. The shout of ‘Up Stores, Up Flaming’ would take over the whole arena with the supporters flocking in droves from one place to the other. Not even the rivalry of NEPA FC or ACB FC or First Bank or Julius Berger FC could stop ‘Stores’ from being the peoples club.
With the likes of Wakilu Oyenuga, Olumide Banjo, Tarila Okorowanta, Haruna Ilerika, Godwin Obiyan, the Adi Brothers and Joe Ashinze to mention a few in their top forms, there was no way to beat ‘Stores’ at home. That was how the team got the nickname “Flaming Flamingoes” because of the sparkling form of the players which could burn any team.
If Stores was playing at the dreaded UAC Stadium, Surulere, Lagos now Teslim Balogun Stadium or the Onikan Stadium, Lagos, it would be full to capacity as early as 10am for a match billed for 4.30pm.
Before 12noon, the whole stadium would have been full that one could hardly find a seat. The flyovers would not be left out as those who could not afford to pay for the match tickets, found solace watching from the bridge or climbing trees to get a glimpse of the match. Before the commencement of the match, souvenirs of the team and that of their opponent would have been completely sold out. Fans would want to see their stars in action and some of them would even want to touch the stars before the kick off.
Supporters of Stores would storm the stadium with a charged atmosphere wearing white handkerchief as a necktie or as Plaster of Paris rolled round their left hands. The air would be filled with the smell of Sosorobia scent, the typical fragrance worn by supporters of Stores. There would be free for all smoking of India hemp (Marijuana) and perhaps, the performance of some make-believe fetish rituals. If they were playing at home, you dare not support the opponent team or you risk being beaten up. The opponent team was threatened as well as the referee. Stores must win the home game or someone might be hurt. One is not trying to create the impression that only ‘Stores’ fans are violent. It is just that the club has a very formidable fan base that would intimidate the opponent in such a way that the latter would lose focus.
In the mid 1970s and up to the early 1980s, arguably the good times of soccer in Nigeria, the European Premier League was no match to the national league and Challenge Cup tournaments. At the time, people looked forward to titanic confrontations between the IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan (otherwise known as the Industrial Investment Credit Corporation and the incomparable Rangers International of Enugu. There was also, the delightful epic battles between the Stationery Stores Football Club of Lagos and the Kano Pillars, just to mention a few. Whenever these clubs meet, an electrifying atmosphere and a full stadium are guaranteed.
Stores brought to sports a new kind of play named “Go on soun” football with players such as Ibitimi Barbwire Collins , Tessy Fatusi . Auther Moses, Ike Shorunmu, Abiodun Obafemi , Ndubisi Chukunyere, Ibrahim Babangida and the rest of class of the 90s. These players brought the heat to any game be it home or away.
A memorable game of this time was the Challenge Cup final of 1990 with Rangers International of Enugu at the National Stadium, Sururele, with the first match ending one goal. There was a rematch at the same venue where the Flaming flamingoes ran away with the cup. After a 120 minutes grueling and nail biting tension soaked encounter, Stores won on penalties with Ike Shorunmu saving two.
Though Israel Adebajo was the founder of Stores, most of the supporters were members of Nigerian Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and the Yoruba Tennis Club, Onikan. They ran the club themselves. They decided which coach or player would be signed for the club. They also got involved in the payment of the players’ salaries too. The supporters were actually stakeholders in the club. Stores enjoyed a phenomenonal support in Lagos. They were the Lagos darling club, owned by Lagosians themselves.
As a matter of fact, a lot of people believed that the big wigs of Stores supporters controlled the Nigeria Football Association (NFA) at Ogunlana Drive Surulere Lagos then. They also believed that it was Stores supporters club that metamorphosed into Super Eagles supporters today.
Unfortunately, Stores is no more. Those days have gone with the time. Chief Israel Adebajo, the founder of Stationery Stores Football Club of Lagos, died on July 26 1969 at the Royal Free Hospital, London. After some years, his club went into the waste bin and today unfortunately, no one hears about ‘Flaming Flamingoes’ anymore. The ‘Adebajo Babes’ died in the struggle for ownership by the Adebajo family and all the supporters dispersed like the birds of the air.
Responding to an interview by a national daily newspaper, Yomi Peters, a former Stationery Stores player, captain, coach and team manager explained the reason for the demise of the club. The incident, according to him started in 1990.
He said, “Some people came out and said we were not running the club very well and then demanded that the chairman, Chief Femi Oyebanjo and I had to resign. I accepted and I resigned but I pleaded that in no circumstance should Chief Oyebanjo be allowed to go. I told them that they should keep Chief Oyebanjo at all costs or else, there would no longer be peace in the club. Two months after I left, they ganged up and sent Chief Oyebanjo away. When I was invited to their meeting, I told them that they could not send him away because after the death of the founder, it was Chief Oyebanjo who was keeping all of us and was also looking for contracts for the company to pay staff salaries. Then, Niyi Adebajo, who was the second son of Chief Adebajo, was the vice-chairman and he said if Chief Oyebanjo should go, he too would have to go. He said after the death of their father, Chief Oyebanjo stood in and performed the role excellently well. After Niyi left, they now brought in Gloria and Sola Idowu and they were the ones running the club. But not quite nine months after, there was a misunderstanding between them and in the following year, there was no more ‘Stores’. I told them, ‘Don’t allow peace to go’ and when they allowed Chief Oyebanjo to go that was when peace took flight. That was exactly what happened.”
In 1998, the NFA was compelled to cancel all outstanding pro league second division games involving Stationery Stores following an injunctive order issued by a Lagos high court restraining Stationery Stores from playing any pro league games pending the resolution of a lawsuit filed before the court to determine the ownership and control of the club among the Adebajo siblings.
This lingering management crises and festering lawsuits so decimated and depleted this much-celebrated clubside that, throughout the course of the 1998 football season, its players were compelled to campaign without the benefit of formal contracts, sign-on fees, bonuses or club-supplied playing equipment. The team was demoted to the amateur rank in 1999 after the club had been suspended for nine matches in the 1998 season due to the family wrangling. They returned to the professional level in the summer of 2004 but were relegated after failing to make several games and fielding several unregistered players.
The legacy left behind by the late Chief Israel Adebajo endured for several years as the club continued its contribution to the national team, such as in 1973 during the 2nd All Africa Games when the club had three players: “Haruna Ilerika, the late Yakubu Mambo and Sanni Mohammed in the gold-medal winning Green Eagles team. Also, we cannot divorce the superlative exploits of goalkeepers Peter Fregene, Peter Rufai and Ike Shorunmu from their Stationery Stores roots.
One lesson which the late Chief Adebajo has succeeded in teaching the present generation of leaders is the use of his football club to foster peace, unity, love and friendship among the diverse ethnic groups in Lagos State and Nigeria as supporters of the club cut across tribe, age, sex, religion, creed or political ideologies. The club succeeded in employment generation by recruiting players from Nigeria, Ghana, Togo and the Republic of Benin.
It will not be out of place to mention that the declining fortunes of football in Lagos State (and Nigeria) can be traced to the absence of robust competition offered to other clubs by the Stationery Stores FC. Most of the big clubs in the then national professional division one football League (now the Premier League) such as Rangers International FC of Enugu, Iwuayanwu Nationale of Owerri, Eyimba FC of Aba, 3SC Shooting Stars of Ibadan and Bendel Insurance of Benin have complained of poor gatetakings since the absence of Stores FC from the big league.
The positive contributions of the late Chief Israel Adebajo to the development of football in Lagos State and by extension Nigeria vis-a-vis the demise of Stationery Stores Football Club cannot be said to be anything to cheer about.
Lovers of Super Stores are of the opinion that the void created by the departure of the founder should have been filled by the comfortable resources of the state government. The Lagos State Government can take advantage of the tremendous goodwill and support enjoyed by Stationery Stores FC and tap into the goldmine of huge gate-takings waiting to be explored.
In their requests for the Lagos State Government to revive the team, its former players played some matches in July 2008 in an attempt to jumpstart support. In January 2009 efforts gained steam with a launch of a website. The team was supposed to play friendly matches and enter the FA Cup before joining the national league the next season. The team was poised to enter the Nigerian national league in 2012 and play in a pre-season friendly tournament at Onikan but they withdrew from that tournament. Up till now, efforts to revive Stores are still fruitless.
It is vital to remind the Adebajo family again that their father united millions of Nigerians from diverse backgrounds, religion, ethnicity and gender through the instrumentality of Stationery Stores Football Club (SSFC). That team brought joy to many and made Nigeria proud. The least this illustrious family can do is for every one of them to unite and revive Stores. Even in the amateur league, Stores remain one of the most supported clubsides in all of West Africa.
The values of merit, fairness and some limited professionalism that lsrael Adebajo built ‘Stores’ on are the values that won the club many friends, supporters and admirers. The Adebajo family should be mindful of what history will say about them. It is strongly believed that loyalists to the ideals of Israel Adebajo, which exemplified in Stationery Stores Football Club, are ready, able and willing to support the revival of their darling team.
These are some of the matches played by the team
Nigerian FA Cup
Winners 1967, 1968, 1982, 1990
Runners Up 1980 and 1992
Nigerian Premier League
Winners 1977, 1992
Runners Up 1993
African Cup Winners Cup
Appearances 1983, 1991
Runners Up 1981
African Champions League
1993 Semi Finalist
1970 Second Round
1968 Quarter Final
Lagos State Challenge Cup
Record 18 Times Champion
Jan. 26, 1969: Stores 2 Santos FC 2
May 22, 1972: Stores 2 Dundee United 2
June 26, 1976: Stores 1 Ayr United 3
Dec. 4, 1982: Stores: 0 Fluminense 0