These are trying times for retired players of the Spartans Football Club of Owerri (now known as Heartland FC). In their heydays, they were the toast of the South East region, where alongside Enugu Rangers, they dominated the Nigerian football.
The players, now in their early 60s and 70s, made Imo State a place to reckon with on creation in 1976. Apart from many local conquests, they took the battle for honours to the West Africa region, where they narrowly missed the WAFU Cup in 1982.
But today, they seem helpless as their vigour and strengths are gone. They now rely on the fruits of their labour, which unfortunately has not been given to them for more than four months.
Narrating their ordeal to The Guardian at the weekend, the players, who pleaded anonymity, said they have been forced to take their case to the Imo State Governor, Hope Uzodinma, after many years of waiting on the pension board.
“We were alarmed recently when Governor Uzodinma said he had settled all the pensioners in the state.
“We are more than 40 former players of Spartans and many other retired workers of the Imo State Sports Council, who have not received our pension for four years. Some have not seen theirs for more than six years.
“Many of us have resorted to begging on the streets because it is difficult to survive in this country now without money. These are people, who were treated as heroes a few years ago now reduced to beggars. It is the worst thing that can happen to a man.
“We understand that the government is trying to fish out ghost workers, but we plead they treat our case before we all die. We have lost some colleagues to hardship. The times are hard, especially with this coronavirus menace,” two of the former players told The Guardian.
Recently, the Imo pensioners took to the streets to protest the non-payment of their gratuities. This, they said, was aimed at drawing the attention of the government to their plight.
THE GUARDIAN NG