By Ebenezer Bajela, The Punch Newspaper
The Punch Newspaper has exclusively gathered that no fewer than 21 players have left the Calabar-based women’s club, Pelican Stars, amid allegations of unfair treatment and poor management.
The former Nigeria Women’s Football League champions have struggled to pay players and officials salaries in the last four years.
This is not the first time the club will be in the news for the wrong reasons.
In April 2020, placard-carrying players of Pelican Stars blocked the entrance to the office of the Cross River State Governor, Sen. Ben Ayade, to demand payment of their 10 months’ salaries.
Two months later, the players staged another protest at the office of the Commissioner for Sports and Cinematography, Mr. Offu Aya, to demand 12 months’ salaries owed to them.
After surviving the drop from the Nigeria Women’s Football League through the play-offs in the 2020/21 season, Pelican Stars ran out of luck the next season, finishing the 2021/22 season bottom of their group with just four points after 12 games and were relegated to the second division.
However, our correspondent learned the State-owned club paid the players their outstanding salaries after relegation before the club was disbanded and again reinstated.
Speaking with The Punch Newspaper on the club’s latest travail, departing midfielder Ogechi Okwoma said she parted ways with the club following the poor treatment meted out to her.
“I was the first player to leave the club due to the way I was treated,” Okwoma said. “While they owed us salaries, I begged them for my clearance, but they frustrated me. I’m supposed to be a free player, and I needed the clearance to go elsewhere, but they didn’t want me to leave. I had the chance to accept other offers but they made me miss them. I even agreed to forfeit the money they owed me, just to get the clearance but they kept frustrating me until I left.”
Another player, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, “Why would they want us to return after all we’ve been through in the last few years? Owed salaries and poor management are the reasons players left. A lot of us practically had to beg to survive. We got relegated and the team was disbanded as if we were the ones solely responsible for the club’s misfortune.
“The fact that we were sent away means they don’t value us and personally that was why I didn’t return.”
A midfielder, who also spoke on condition of anonymity added, “A lot is happening within the club and I left because I don’t see things getting any better soon. I can’t be in a place where things are not working, that was why I refused to return after we were all invited back.”
Assistant coach of Pelicans, John Odey, however, said the departure of the players had nothing to do with unfair treatment.
He said, “It is true that some players left when the season ended, and because of the poor results, the team was disbanded. I was part of the old technical crew that was dissolved. A new technical crew was set up to build a new team and we were given a new mandate to restore the club’s glory.
“Some of the old players were called back but they refused to resume and we had to add fresh players to the six that returned to build a new team.
“The departure of some players is not about the club owing them because outstanding salaries were cleared last year and we are not owed at the moment.
“Our dream is to be in the top flight and we all know that Pelican Stars have been a team to be reckoned with. It is a surprise to everybody to see us down, but this thing happens in life. We are building a younger team and very soon some of them will be making waves in the national team.”