The preparation for the new season for RoPS, Rovaniemi, was difficult as they had been relegated from Veikkausliiga and publicly humiliated by the match fixing scandal which saw seven of their former Zambian players jailed and prosecuted. Local people felt they had been betrayed and sponsors and supporters alike had serious doubts regarding the future of the club.
All this history didn’t make it easy for TopSpot’s three Nigerian born players to start their campaign to promote African football in the city of Santa Claus at the Artic Circle.
To win the hearts of the local people and also some people inside the club together with Alison Ndukaku (Central Defender), Faith Friday Obilor (Central Defender) and Mbachu Uchenna Emenike (Left Winger) we agreed on a common plan, a mission. We wanted to show the people of Rovaniemi that these African players are to be remembered from their good character, dedication, commitment and honesty towards the club, the sponsors and the supporters.
The pre-season matches in March and April didn’t go so well as hoped for and already after few bad results there were whispers behind the tribunes and on the online forums about the integrity of RoPS’s new Nigerian players. It was sort of understandable because of the history of the recent years. It is part of human nature to categorize and label things and therefore regular supporters were asking what made these African players any different than the others that had betrayed the club and the supporters one year ago? However, players are all individuals and what happened in the past had nothing to do with Nduka, Faith nor Emenike, but in a way the players had been labeled as guilty until they started to prove themselves innocent. But that had to be dealt with on the pitch, in the action against the opponents.
It was not just the African players that had something to prove. The whole team faced the same situation. This was the year that they had to show that they were worthy in the eyes of the people.
The path to win the local people over started with a 1-0 victory against AC Oulu. Emenike scored the winning goal and Alison and Faith secured clean sheets with the help of their magnificent goalkeeper Mikko Vilmunen. And this was the beginning of the new era that washed away the trouble in the past!
RoPS went on playing very effective football the whole rest of the season. The midfield maestros Tuomo Könönen (C), Jose Rivera, Ebrima Sohna and Victor Turcios made the game easier for the players in defense and in attack. RoPS conceded only 9 goals until they secured their promotion 6 rounds before the end of the season on 25th of August 2012. Their attacking duo Mika Lahtinen and Aleksandr Kokko had scored nearly 30 goals helped by Emenike who had scored himself 6 and assisted 16 of the goals.
RoPS collected 59 points in the league and won the whole competition with a massive margin. The supporters had found their way back to the stands and press was praising the whole team for their effort.
After securing the promotion Faith Friday was loaned to Veikkausliiga, to FC Inter in Turku. He has a chance to win the Finnish Championship with the team and he is already considered as the best central defender in Finland, not just in 1st division.
Next season will be another huge challenge for the team. RoPS has not been able to secure their place in the top flight during the recent years, but has been considered more or less what we call here “an elevator team”. All our Nigerian players have contracts until end of the next season, which means that RoPS and their supporters can rely on having dedicated, committed and honest African players who give everything for the club on and off the pitch. Mission accomplished!