By Amaechi Agbo
Like a child destined by nature for greatness, the Opi League also referred to as Eze Arinze Unity Cup, predates decades of activities, events, times and challenges.
A league among leagues, a pinnacle of unity. A symbol of togetherness, a modifier of love. A beckon of hope and future. A league that has produced both local and national stars. International stars? The he goat once looked at his kindred who were lamenting over his lack of height and told them, ‘look, do not bother yourself by my height, pray, that surmounting all challenges, I would be able to live long’. Opi League producing world stars is a matter of time. With a pragmatic structure put in place, that would be a reality in the shortest possible time.
In the building up to this article, aim at getting the history of the first and most outstanding league in Enugu state to say the least, Bestchoicesports.com.ng Editor, Amaechi Agbo made frantic effort to get the actual date the league started but all our effort at this particular time has not yielded fruitful venture.
In the course of our research, however, we understood that Opi League, established by late politician and renowned philanthropist, Chief Eze Arinze dates back to the year 1992.
When the league initially commenced in 1992, it was contested for by the three communities in Opi Land; namely Ibeku, Idi and Ogbozalla. Established on this tripartite stand, the league was played among these communities who featured teams all bearing their various names.
Thus we had teams like Idi Team, Ibeku Team and Ogbazalla Team. They all competed year in, year out in the league until the 2000s.
In an interview with one of the organisers of the league for the past 20 years, Mr Eze Ikerionwu (Isomer), he noted that the league was founded three decades ago and has made enormous impact in the lives of the people, the town and other surrounding communities.
“Opi Football Tournament aka Opi League or Eze Arinze Unity Cup was founded four decades ago. It took off on a tripodal arrangement that saw the three sections of Opi square up against one another in a competitive but fun filled annual football tournament. As time went on the need for expansion became inevitable and the rule that founded the tournament on a competitive tripod was abrogated and the League was liberalised to give room for the participation of more clubs floated without sectional connotations.
“In the new arrangement, clubs owned and run by abroad branches of the Town Union dominated the tournament for several years. Prominent among them were Onitsha, Lagos, Enugu and subsequently Port Harcourt and Abuja. Those were the teams that shot the League to limelight and to whom it owes its current popularity.
“Much later in the life of the League, precisely in the year 2000, Dr Dan Shere took over the sponsorship of the tournament from Late Chief Emmanuel Ogwu (Ochi War) who was the pioneer sponsor whose immense contributions to the founding and development of the League remain unequalled.
“Consequent upon the intervention of Dr Dan Shere, the prize money got increased from the total sum of ten thousand naira (10,000) to the sum of hundred thousand naira (100,000) with effect from 1999 tournament whose prizes where retrospectively redeemed in the new sum of 100,000. With the prize increase, many more teams got on board, swelling up the daily fixtures.
“The debutants comprised mainly the home-based clubs who progressively made their mark till they began to dominate the League as obtains today. The performance of these home-based clubs attracted sponsors for them most of whom are ex-tournament players.
“The tournament has undoubtedly been challenged by dearth of funds. The total prize money and running costs which subsequently got increased to two hundred thousand naira was grossly inadequate to make any meaningful impact on the growth of the tournament,” he said.