There are moments that are dear to a football club. One of such, is a trophy-winning moment; and even dearer is when it is the club’s first ever trophy. A trophy that was the reward for sacrifice and consistency in aspiring for excellence.
832 days after VFC’s founding, history was made on December 21, 2021 when Olalekan Abdulsalam scored the only goal of the Lagos Football Association Cup Final, at exactly 78 minutes and 17 seconds.
ROAD TO THE FINAL
It was Vandrezzer FC’s debut in the 50 year old prestigious competition. The campaign was preceded by the unveiling of ten new signings for the team, spread through all departments. These new players would form the core of the FA Cup team, and were expected to use the competition mainly to ‘blend’, ahead of the coming season.
It turned out though, that as the Lions threaded deeper, winning the prestigious competition started becoming a possibility and as we would later find out - a reality.
The Lions of Naija headed to Lagos from their Uyo training base on December 1, 2021, to play in the Lagos FA Cup, which also featured 93 other Lagos-based football teams.
The journey started in the round of 32, with VFC handed a ‘bye’ from the playoffs as one of the National League sides in the competition. JO Sportyne FC were the first opponents on Saturday December 4, at the Alade Stadium. The grueling encounter saw the Lions snatching a narrow victory, the only goal coming from midfielder Isaac Saviour, who was voted Man of The Match. That was followed by a tense 7-6 penalty shootout victory over 36 Lions FC on December 8th, at the same venue, after a goalless regulation time scoreline.
In the quarterfinal, the Lions of Naija cruised to a 2-0 win against tough talking Messiah FC, courtesy of goals from Somtochukwu Abraham and Olalekan Abdulsalam.
Making it to the final four, anything seemed possible at this point.
SEMI FINAL: Humbling of the Cup Holders
The semifinal was against two-time champions and cup holders, Smart City FC on December 12, 2021. The game was live on VFCTV, with subscribers all over the globe and fans at the stadium treated to the lovely spectacle at the Teslim Balogun stadium, Lagos.
And the Lions started with a bang!
A misplaced back pass was intercepted by Somtochukwu Abraham, who outpaced the defender and smartly rounded the onrushing goalkeeper to score VFC’s first in the 9th minute.
City's response came half an hour later - they equalized in the 39th minute through a shot that deflected off Odiong Bassey. The defending champions then took the lead at the stroke of halftime after a low shot was parried away by goalkeeper Obinna into the path of Ekeocha who fired in.
The stadium was alive with shouts from the Smart City fans, who were hitherto quiet for most parts of the half. Some fans were heard in the stands saying in pidgin English “dis Vandrezzer bin dey do gra gra, dem go collect today” meaning “Vandrezzer were only teasing at first, they will fall today”.
Little did they know, Smart City just succeeded in waking up the Lions!
Behind at the break, assistant coach Yemi Daniel who did most of the work on the day as Tony Bolus was still recovering from flu, made three changes - bringing on Fawaz Otun for Saheed Obisesan, Chukwuebuka Ogbonna for Gideon Monday and Olalekan Abdulsalam for Elisha Jonah. The substitutions would produce a positively devastating effect, which saw a quick VFC goal at the start of the second half.
The Lions restored parity just two minutes after the interval with Chukwuebuka on the scoresheet, after connecting what could be described as the assist of the tournament - a 30-yard pass from Isaac Saviour, VFC’s midfield wizard. Saviour, who received a pass at the centre circle, spurned his marker and with the outside of his right foot, scooped a through ball over the top to the path of Chukwuebuka, who steered the ball around the onrushing goalkeeper to level scores.
Chukwuebuka and Saviour went close to increasing the tally but it was midfielder Kabiru Poopola (a.k.a The Governor) who achieved that in the 56th minute, turning Saviour’s deflected freekick into the net for 3-2.
VFC extended the lead to 4-2 from Saviour’s 64th minute corner kick which found Chukwuebuka at the far post - the forward steered the ball unto the path of Lekan Abdulsalam who headed in, despite the close attention of the goalkeeper.
Kabiru grabbed his brace with a searing shot after a swift backheel from Somtochukwu on 72 minutes, and Lekan still had time for one more, his own brace at the dead, converting a pass from substitute Anas to make it 6-2. The Lions thus devoured the defending champions and favorites, in one of the greatest victories in the competition’s knockout phase.
It was also reportedly the heaviest defeat Smart City had ever suffered in their history as a professional club.
The emphatic semi final win over the cup holders gave everyone at VFC renewed confidence, and we instantly became favourites for the title. But the technical crew knew that finals can be tricky, so the lads were prepared technically, tactically and psychologically for the task ahead.
FINAL - December 21, 2021
D-Day finally came.
The players sang praise songs with the loudest of their voices on their way to the Teslim Balogun Stadium (named after a former prolific Lagos FA Cup/Challenge Cup goalscorer). On getting to the stadium, the Lions met a sea of Box2Box FC supporters (our final opponents), and some VFC supporters who were gradually trooping into the stadium. Due to the massive media publicity sponsored by our Global Principal Sponsor, Vandrezzer Energy, we were likely to have a packed stadium. And in the crowd, we were sure to have some new VFC fans who must have recently been won over by the beautiful display of the Lions in the competition, especially after dispatching the defending champions in the semi-final.
It was a special day filled with historically high anxiety levels for both teams. One of them would win the prestigious trophy for the very first time. Box2Box were also on a fairy tale run, eliminating another tournament favorite Gbagada FC over penalties to book the final ticket.
If you could smell focus with your nose, you would perceive it from the players and coaches of both sides; stadium branders, match broadcasters and all involved in ensuring not just good football was on display, but also seamless broadcast and quality stadium entertainment; all to make December 21 a memorable day in the lives of football fans in the stadium, across the state, country and the globe. Indeed, stadium wore a very beautiful look, worthy of comparison to Wembley during the English FA Cup final.
It was the first Lagos FA Cup final to be broadcast live in many decades. VFC media partners Stream Media Entertainment (SME) were ready for the task, and they indeed delivered to the satisfaction of the global audience, via the SME Sportz and VFCTV applications. Also, Live radio commentaries sponsored by our Principal Sponsor were also on Sports Radio Brila FM, Lagos, and Comfort 95.1 FM, Uyo. Ace sportscaster ‘Mighty’ George Essien led the commentary team which also had Mmeyeneabasi Akpan.
At 15:55 West African Time, the Lions finally emerged from the tunnel to the roar of their supporters who were now in sizable numbers. The VFC coaches made just one change to starting line up that demolished Smart City ten days earlier, with midfielder Saheed Obisesan making way for forward Olalekan Abdulsalam. Led by the elegant captain, Samuel Edoho, who ensured his orange armband was firmly tightened to his left hand, VFC in their white and blue home kits, arrived the pitch, in company of Box2Box players who wore orange and black. All eyes were on Olalekan (3 goals) who was on course for the golden boot of the competition; Kabiru Popoola (2 goals), Somtochukwu Abraham (2 goals and 2 assists); and midfielder Isaac Saviour who won Man of The Match awards in almost all VFC games in the competition, for his direct contribution to about five of the Lions’ nine goals enroute the final.
Goalkeeper Obinna Akuchie had kept a respectable sheet going into the game, while the central defence pairing of Bassey Odiong and Ibrahim Owolabi were always solid at the back and trusted to start the final game.
The stage was set, history was about to be made, and the centre referee Faro Abdulrahman blew the whistle for Box2Box to get the game underway.
There was heavy adrenaline rush early in the game, and everyone watching could feel the tension with every touch of the ball; and each tackle by the Box2Box players, who seemed like they were instructed to kick the hell out of VFC players.
It was in that heat that Isaac Saviour received a very dangerous tackle on his head in the 7th minute by Box2Box defender Ndubuisi Paul. The sort of tackle that could completely neutralise Israel Adesanya in the UFC boxing ring. The referee and players of both sides stood over Saviour as the medics attended to our midfield maestro. It was a heart-in-the-mouth moment. He was eventually taken out on the motorized stretcher, and it was right to assume that was the end of his contribution to the game.
Meanwhile, the offender was lucky to escape with just a yellow card.
Few minutes later, and to the delight of supporters of both sides, Saviour emerged by the sidelines after giving an all clear by the medics. As he walked back into the pitch, the stadium applauded, as if prayers of almost everyone in the stadium had been answered at the same time.
The game continued, and both teams kept pushing for the rest of the half, but the defenses refused any penetration by attackers of either side.
It was all square at the break.
In the second half, VFC came out playing like a team that must have been giving some extra motivation in the dressing room. Indeed, after the victory, Coach Daniel revealed that he told the players “let’s get this one for our President!”
That motivation definitely sparked up the players who also knew that “winning for the president” also meant they will all smile at the end of the day. So they went all out, boxing the Box2Box players with skills and stamina. The Box2Box players responded with the antics of falling on the turf like a pack of cards, in order to slow down the intensity of the Lions’ push, it would seem.
As the game entered its final quarter, co-commentator Mmenyeneabasi Akpan was heard saying:
"the game is now smash and grab, whoever scores the first goal wins the game”.
Shortly after, the Lions’ moment to grab it presented itself.
Saviour, the man who rose from the dead, twisted and turned, found Lekan on the left, who cut back to his favourite left for a shot which was deflected out for a corner kick. Fullback, Kingsley Akpan was on the corner kick duties, and quickly whipped in a low cross into the box. The ball took a slight deflection but still got to Lekan, who chested the ball down and with a sharp turn, fired into the left corner of the net on exactly 78:17 minutes!
Immediately that happened, commentator ‘Mighty’ George Essien exclaimed in the broadcast:
“Ladies and gentlemen, it has happened!!!”
Yes, it had definitely happened. The deadlock was broken, by the debutants. A goal that befitted their endeavour. The narrative had changed. VFC were about to be known as true “Football” champions, and not just “Branding” champions. The conqueror of the champions were about to become champions themselves.
The stadium erupted, echoes of joy filled the historic arena, the suspense had turned to excitement. Olalekan’s celebration will never be forgotten by those who watched the game. The striker, chased by his teammates, ran to the touch line, and fell flat on his back, with both hands and legs spread wide.
“It was the happiest moment of my life,” Lekan told VFCTV after the game. “The goal came at a very crucial time in the game and being the only goal of the final, it is a thing of joy.”
“At that point in the game, the only option on my mind was to shoot the ball and I did and the ball went into the net. I was so happy that I just didn’t know the best way to celebrate “ added the former Nilayo FC attacker, who had signed a three-year contract with VFC just before the competition.
The Lions repelled all that was thrown at them afterwards, and held on for the remainder of the game, to become only the 12th team to win the prestigious Lagos FA Cup, in its 50-year history.
The trophy was lifted, and the celebration afterwards was well deserved. The bonuses also came in strong and fast from a club management well pleased with it’s players!
“Winning this trophy was the best Christmas gift we could give ourselves, the fans, and club the management; and especially the President, who has believed in us and given us all the support needed to excel. We dedicate this trophy to him”- assistant coach Yemi Daniel.
“The boys showed character, just like the Lion. On management’s part, this is a result of consistency and knack for excellence that we stand for. It’s a happy moment for all of us at VFC, and it will be told to future generations of this great club” said an excited Tupere Bruno, VFC’s Vice President.
And so, the time 78:17 has been etched into the Vandrezzer FC history books and will be used as a symbol of victory and pride for our club, representing the defining moment when our prayers were answered; our toils and persecutions were pacified; and our sacrifices towards achieving excellence were rewarded.
The goalscorer, Olalekan Abdulsalam, has also officially become a club legend, for his doggedness on that day, and also his current record of being the club’s top goal scorer.
Additionally, December 21, every year has been declared FANS DAY, where the team will come together with the fans to celebrate what would be our annual End of Year Party.
The journey has just begun, and we urge you to stay with us, as we dare to keep sailing on these murky waters to amass more honors, break more records and reach more heights; because indeed:
“TOGETHER, WE CAN
ACHIEVE MORE VICTORIES!”
Vandrezzer FC...Victorious Together!