BY KUNLE SOLAJA.

The Nigeria Professional Football league, currently lockdown like most others around the globe clocks 30 this Tuesday, 12 May.

It was on 12 May 1990 that Nigeria changed the status of its elite players from amateurs to professionals.

Without any fanfare, such that heralded the first North American Soccer League (NASL) in 1969 and the J-League of Japan in 1993, professional league kicked off in Nigeria.

The pioneers were the now defunct Lagos ACB, BCC Lions, Bendel Insurance, Bendel United (now defunct) and Enyimba.

Others were Highlanders of Jos, Iwuanyanwu Nationale, JIB, Kano Pillars, Obanta United (later VIP), Ranchers, Enugu Rangers and Stationery Stores.

An attempt to have one of the pioneer clubs pitched against the Crystal Palace of England, as a symbolical kick off of professional league failed.

After years of prolonged debates, the professional league finally kicked off with a Super Stores versus Iwuanyanwu Nationale opener at the Onikan Stadium, Lagos.

The Owerri-based Iwuanyanwu, now renamed Heartland, dictated the pace of the away tie, winning 2-1. They kept their form and the pace until the season ended, winning the inaugural championship.

Apart from Iwuanyanwu winning the inaugural match of the professional league, two other clubs also had away wins in their first outings. Enugu Rangers beat their traditional rivals; Shooting Stars 1-0 in Ibadan, while JIB Rocks (later renamed Plateau United) won their first away game, 3-0 against Obanta United (later renamed VIP of Lagos) in Ijebu-Ode.

To make the league higher and make teams have appetite for goals, a new point-scoring device was adopted. Traditionally drawn games attracted just a point.

But the then NFA awarded two points for score draws and one for goalless draw games. The point-scoring device was in use from 1990 season to 1994. Three points are however awarded for won games.

Across ages, Enyimba have been the most successful, winning the professional league eight times. They are followed by the crowd-pulling Kano Pillars who won four times.

Shooting Stars, Heartland and Lobi Stars have each won twice. In 2012, the Nigeria Professional League had its best ranking as the topmost in Africa and the 24th in the world.

The ranking was by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics

Pix show NPFL stakeholders in Spain at a top management and marketing study session as part its partnership with Laliga.

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