Frontline football activist and brain behind Community Football Foundation (CFF), Austin Popo shed light on the novel soccer club initiative while going memory lane to talk about his involvement with unionism with Taiwo Alimi.
You are the originator of Community Football Foundation (CFF), what’s the idea behind it?
The Community Football Foundation abbreviated as CFF is an NGO creation to advocate and establish the concept of Community Ownership of Football Clubs, a minimum of one in each Local Government Council nationwide under the PROJECT 77 ORF (Owned, Run and Fund)
The concept is born to address the challenges of faulty club structure we operate in the country where over 90% of our clubs are government owned, run and funded, which is one major problem in the development of league football in Nigeria.
Football belongs to the people and when the community is not involved in football, it is not football. Football is the most democratic game in the world; it is a game of the people, by the people and for the people. Football is business and community driven. These two most important factors are missing. So we need a structure not from the top, but from the grassroots to change the current structure of our clubs. You know the status of a player in terms of his welfare and this is a function of the development of the club. We have seen too many situations where players’ welfare is not taken seriously. These are my motivations
What is the support based like?
The Project 774 – ORF under the concept CFF has not been officially launched. It is still work in progress, and we are just laying the foundation. But plans are on to organise a Community Cup tournament that will feature only clubs that meets the CFF Club Structure framework. There will be two Cups (Community Cup) one for the Southern Conference for the three Zones in the south, while the other Cup is for the Northern Conference for teams from the three Zones from the North. We are also lucky that ex international player and executive chairman of Surulere Local govt has agreed to donate the Community Cup for the Southern Conference.
You have been involved with football unionism for decades, why did you go that way when many of your colleagues chose coaching and administration?
The welfare of players is as important, if not more important than the development of their skill. Somebody needs to play that role, which others and I have decided to fill. Specifically, my involvement came as a founding member of the union, when the club I played for, New Nigeria Bank FC was disbanded and all the players were forcefully thrown into the labour market. There was nobody to protect and fight for their rights. That was the beginning of the players union in Nigeria.
How do you think CFF can improve the financial status of clubs in Nigeria?
The financial status of our clubs even with so much money spent by government is such that only a small fraction gets to the clubs is a major challenges faced by the Clubs . The CFF concept of funding clubs is divided into two major categories; the Household Funding and Corporate Funding. The Household Funding is membership fees, and match tickets. The Members fees are card carrying members and are owners of the club. They elect the directors of the clubs etc.
Most Nigerian clubs are owned and controlled by government; do you think this is proper?
It is not proper. Their role should be to provide enabling environment for clubs to operate, including the other reasons I have earlier mentioned
Tell us about yourself, especially your football background?
I played for teams like Petroleum Training Institute FC, NEPA FC, MC Demmot Jaramac FC , NNPC, all in Warri-Delta State, NNB of Benin, and brief stay in junior and senior national teams
Would you allow your children to play football? Some of your colleagues are not happy about treatment they are getting in retirement?
It is their choice, but education is equally important, that is my saving grace, I hold first degree in Physical and Health Education from University of Benin (UNIBEN). I combined both while playing.