The president and founder of a Pro League side, JM Liberty Football Academy of Makurdi, Jeremiah Avungu in a recent chat with Voicesports’ Terfa Alaghga, spoke on the circumstances that led to his initiating the idea of a football academy, his target for the team, his love for his job as a police officer and why it does not hinder his doing football business. He also spoke on other issues.
Did you play football in your youth?
Yes. I played football in my youth, although, I did not go far but I started playing at the grassroots, to the amateur level.
Which of the teams did you play?
I played for a team in Taraba state, and left for Katsina Ala United FC. I also played for the Police Machine team in Abuja which was playing in the Amateur League, for several years
Was that the reason why you are floating a football academy?
Very well. But first and foremost, I would like to say that I have the passion for sports, particularly football and because of this passion for the young, I looked inwards and said it is good that I do something that would bring the younger ones who want to play the game. And for that reason, I sat down and thought of something that I would do to achieve this dream. That was how I came up with something like JM Liberty Football Academy.
But are you facing any challenges, developing these young talents?
Certainly. There are challenges because you know as well as I do that football is capital intensive and as you can see the structures that I have put on ground here for instance, the football pitches are not a child’s play because for one to put something such as these on ground which I have done, you can see that it is not easy at all. The whole of this area was a forest when I came here and even without being told, you should know that one needs money and a lot of factors to make this place look attractive because it costs a lot of money I was doing it bit by bit and God in his infinite mercy, has been helping me. Secondly, JM Liberty Football Academy is now qualified to play in the Pro League and before we came to this position, we faced a lot of challenges from the grassroots ranging from funding and managing of the players.
What is your ambition for JM Liberty Football Academy?
Having started from the Amateur League and now in the Pro League, I want to take the team to greater heights. That is to say, my target is Premiership and also, for the young players that are here, I want them to play for the best teams in the world tomorrow.
Do you have any child that you wish he or she takes after you at all?
Yes. By the grace of God, my first son who is about fourteen years now and plays for Mess Palace Football Academy in Jos. I also have a set of twin boys who are ten years of age, they also play football, another set of twin girls too who although, don’t play but love football. To be candid, the children want to take after me.
You have promised to take JM Liberty to greater heights and at the same time, said it is capital intensive. So, would you sell it out if you have the opportunity?
I am running the team as a business and so I am not actually intending to sell it to any individual or group now but just like I said, it is a business therefore, that would depend on what the individual or group of persons may come up with. That is, it may be partnership or buying of shares in the club and if the bargain is okay and my interest is still there. But for now, I still want to run the club solely as I have been doing. I know that it is capital intensive but God has been helping me but there are people who have been coming to be partakers, by offering their assistance to the club.
What plans do you have for the land that you have acquired for the club?
My target is that, if in the nearest future God gives me the grace and financial strength, I will lay a synthetic turf on the main football pitch and a mini stadium, build a hostel for the club and an academy as a school for football.
How well have you put your management structure on ground?
Everything is in place. And as you can see for yourself, everything is a gradual process. We were playing in the amateur league and now we are in the Professional league. On the oganogram, the club is headed by myself who is the President, the Team Manager, the Head Coach and the Assistant Coach. I also have a Board of Directors, which my wife is a member, my younger brother and my son for whom I am grooming as a Director and who may likely take over from me.
What is your advise for philanthropists as regards developing the youths?
Football or sports generally, is not what you can advise someone to go into except the person has passion for it. There are a lot of people in this state that have the financial muscle and what it takes to run football but they don’t know the importance and benefits that would be derived from it. So, it is the passion not the advice. But if I am to advise, I would say football is a good business to do in order to encourage those who want to take it as a career and to be also an avenue of taking them off the streets, to help them not to be involved in social vices but contribute meaningfully to the society. This if done, will give them the concentration, make them focused and make them not think evil.
What is your advice for the young and talented players?
They should remain focused, cool headed because nothing good comes easy. They should not think that if they play today, they must expect a breakthrough tomorrow but to first, continue to give their best and commitment and no matter how long it takes, they should know that it is God that does everything, so when the right time come they will be there to shine. No need to be hurry in life.
Since the formation of JM Liberty Football Academy, has any of your players gone to play professional football elsewhere?
Very well. My first player to travel out of this country, was Joseph Fanen to Belarus but he is back to Nigeria today because of the injury he sustained and as soon as he is recovered, he will go back, I also have Chris Tarvershima who is now in China through Galaxy Sports Football Academy of Makurdi.
Why through Galaxy Sports?
He was my player that I groomed and when Galaxy Sports organized a football program, I obliged his participation and he excelled. Back home, I have a player from JM Liberty that plats for Rangers FC of Enugu and then Monday Akile who now plays for Lobi Stars FC of Makurdi.
How do you feel when you see players that you have groomed in JM Liberty, excel and playing for greater teams across the globe?
I feel profoundly honoured and exceedingly humbled because that is all that I want. I want to nurture them and take them out there, so that they can put food on their table, put food on the table of their families as well and also for them to go out there and remember where they are coming from. They should know that as I am running football as a business, it should be important for them not to forget their roots.
As a police officer, how is your journey so far?
As a policeman that football runs in his veins, I started from the grassroots as a constable and rose to the rank of an Assistant Superintendent of Police which is now my position, it is not in any way a mistake that I am running football business because I have passion for it and when I was recruited into the police, I played the Police Machine Team of Abuja as a serving officer. So being a policeman, I didn’t see it as a deterrent to doing football business. There are a lot of uniform men that are into sports business and administration. Take for instance, a former military administrator of Benue state, Brigadier General Dominic Oneya rtd was into sports and because he was knowledgeable, after his retirement, he was made the chairman of the Nigeria Football Federation NFF. If you also look at officiating, there are a lot of serving military and police officers that are referees. There are coaches today, who are either military or police officers. So being a uniform man is not a hindrance for what I am doing and I equally do not have any regrets doing it at all.
In essence, are you saying if you come back into this world again, you would still join the police force?
Certainly as a policeman again because I love the job and I am proud to be a policeman and the business of football, which I do.
What is your philosophy?
My philosophy is simple. It is just to see that football develops from grass to grace because I want to grow from where we are now as a professional league team to premiership and for the whole world to hear about JM Liberty Football Academy of Makurdi, Benue state.
Jeremiah Avungu, President and founder of JM Liberty Football Academy(R), in a chat with Viicesports’ Terfa Alaghga