Ajegunle To Stardom: The rise of Nigerian football stars from a dreadful slum

Ajegunle To Stardom: The rise of Nigerian football stars from a dreadful slum

Several Nigerian football stars including Samson Siasia, Taribo West, Emmanuel Amuneke, Ikpe Ekong, Brown Ideye and current highest paid African player Odion Ighalo all grew up from the 'dreadful ghettos' of Ajegunle in Lagos.

Ajegunle To Stardom: The rise of Nigerian football stars from the slum

Samson Siasia, Odion Ighalo, Brown Ideye and Amunike all started their careers in AJ City.

AJ, as the small 'city' is proudly called by residents, is a place elite Nigerians regard to be a den of robbers, hoodlums, prostitutes and people with all forms of social vices.

Most people who have never been to this environment also believe it is a home to the extremely poorest. But it turned out to be the starting point for most household names in Nigerian football and music.

Location of Ajegunle

Ajegunle is Yoruba word which is broken down as Aje gunle meaning a place where riches dwell. In other words, a land with raw and untapped treasures (talents).

The neighbourhood is located in the heart of Lagos state, Nigeria in Ajeromi-Ifelodun local government area.

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Ajegunle To Stardom: The rise of Nigerian football stars from a dreadful slum

Locals performing on the streets of AJ

It is bordered on the west by Apapa Wharf and Tincan, two of Nigeria's biggest sea ports, through which over 70 percent of imported goods come into the country.

The Maracana stadium in Ajegunle

This is the main pitch where all the football stars from Ajegunle began their career. It was founded in 1979 by some youths who decided to clear the massive bush to play football.

Ajegunle To Stardom: The rise of Nigerian football stars from the slum

A goal-post at the Maracana Stadium in Ajegunle, Lagos. Photo: Babajide Orevba.

The first football club there was named Marine Dynamos. A top member of the Maracana All Stars football team Felix Ganagana who also had a stint in France disclosed how they came about the name 'Maracana'.

"We used to play for Marine Dynamos in 1979 and used to train and play matches inside the Tolu Complex," he started.

"But when Governor Lateef Jakande won the election at that time, he promised free education and the school compound was to be rebuilt, so we had to look for a place to continue with our game.

"We cleared this pitch in October and then started playing here by November 1979."

Asked why the place was named Maracana, Ganagana revealed that the name was inspired by the famous Maracana Stadium in Brazil.

Ajegunle To Stardom: The rise of Nigerian football stars from a dreadful slum

A typical street in the slums of Ajegunle. Photo: Babajide Orevba.

"I remember at that time, we had a meeting and one of the members of the team Tata Dickson said this place is wide, let us name it after the Maracana stadium in Brazil. We all agreed and this is what we have now."

Ajegunle, the breeding ground for Nigeria's national teams

The people there are soccer-crazy. From the little child to the aged, both male and female have an unbelievable passion for the game.

Football competitions at every level from the under 8s, 10s, 13s, 17s, 20s and to other age levels are played day-in-day-out in the city.

Ajegunle To Stardom: The rise of Nigerian football stars from the slum

Home of the Ighalos, where Super Eagles striker Odion Ighalo grew up. Photo: Babajide Orevba.

Surrounding the famous Maracana Stadium is the Tolu Complex which is said to contain a massive 14 Secondary Schools and 18 Primary Schools, you dare not imagine how the field will look-like after school hours.

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Most of the boys resume to the famous pitch as soon as their school closing bell rings.

Future stars without any standard stadium

"We have written series of letters to the Lagos state government," coach Michael Adewale Adebayo began.

"We know Governor Akinwunmi Ambode has good plans for us and in fact we are working on something at the moment.

"We are working in collaboration with the Senior Special Assistant to the President Abike Oluwatoyin Dabiri-Erewa who is getting in touch with the Lagos state governor on our behalf as regards the development of this environment," he added.

Ajegunle To Stardom: The rise of Nigerian football stars from the slum

R-L: Coach Felix Ganagana, a team member, coach Michael Adewale Adebayo and Pastor Sunny Egboma of Maracana All Stars. Photo: Babajide Orevba.

Coach Adewale Adebayo who is also the president of the Maracana All Stars football team also appealed to the government to look inwards and also fulfill its promises to the people.

"I want to appeal that government of the day should come to our rescue. Having a place like this which chunks-out players day-in-day-out, we plead that the government give us a stadium here.

"To be specific, I believe Governor Ambode will do it, he has told us not once, not twice, I am certain we will have a good stadium.

Elders of the community also believe that more stars will rise from the area who will bring glory to the nation.

Meanwhile, check out the top stories from last week in our weekly compilation of THE SCOOP.

Source: Sports.naij.com

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