When sports loving Military Administrator, the late Navy Captain, Joseph Adeusi arrived Akwa Ibom State, he decided to establish a football club and the task fell on the CAF General Co-ordinator, Paul Bassey, who was mandated to source and establish a state football club. This was in 1996.
In less than three months, Paul Bassey hit gold when he stumbled on the information that Nitel was in the process of doing away with its Enugu based club, NITEL FC. Paul Bassey moved to Lagos and in top discussions with NITEL FC management represented by son of the soil Ini Edoho (Amama). Akwa Ibom presented the best bid, a deal was struck and the club was bought, registered and renamed Ibom Stars Football Club.
The team began her professional campaign in the 1996-97 Pro League season (the second tier football league).
Barrister Assam Assam was the Pioneer Chairman of the Club, while Coach Bernard Ogbe was the first Technical Adviser.
The team played its home matches at the Uyo Township Stadium using Red colour jersey with White Jersey for her away games.
Local dominance and rivalry
There were two clubs in Akwa Ibom state that played in the Pro league; State government owned Ibom Stars FC and Multi National Company owned Mobil Pegasus FC of Eket.
The rivalry between the two teams both in the Pro League and in the Challenge Cup was so fierce that heavy security presence was usually required any time the two teams met either in Uyo or Eket.
Ibom Stars was a dominant force in the state. They won the state Challenge Cup seven times in ten years between 1996 and 2006.
After paying her dues in the Pro League (Lower Division) for almost ten years, Ibom Stars gained promotion to the Nigeria Premier League in 2007-08 season. The story of that promotion was surrounded by controversy following the team’s 13-0 thrashing of neighbours Calabar Rovers at Oron Township Stadium on the last day of the season in the Pro league to edge Bussdor FC and qualify to the top flight.
The management of the Club led by Mr. Chris Ekong applied for a change of name which was duly granted by the League body. Ibom Stars was gone and Akwa United FC was born, nicknamed The Promise Keepers.
In their first season in the NPL, the team competed as Akwa United FC and played its home matches at the Uyo Township Stadium. They adopted Blue jersey for its home matches and White Jersey for its away matches.
The team attracted many big names from other clubs around the country. The then Chairman, Mr. Chris Ekong signed coach Charles Bassey (MON) to take charge of the team and he was assisted by coach Emmanuel King.
What followed was arrival of some household names including former national U17 players Ambruse Vanzekin, Kingsley Udoh and King Osanga. Others were Innocent Ozurumba, Otanwa Otanwa, Abdul Haruna, Stanley Amadi amongst others. The newly recruited players teamed up with some indigenous stars to build what was one of the best squad in the country that year.
Akwa United played her first Premier League match against El-Kanemi Warriors of Maiduguri at the Oron Township Stadium and won 1-0. Midfielder Emmanuel Ekpo entered into the club’s history book as the scorer of Akwa United’s first goal in the Premier league. Their 1-0 victory over Nasarawa United in Lafia was the team’s first away win in the Premier league.
Crowd trouble and rivalry with Enyimba
Akwa United’s first season in the Premier League was not without friction. A big distraction set in when Akwa United was hit with a heavy fine and banished from Uyo Township Stadium for three years after crowd trouble disrupted a league match against Enyimba.
Problem started when a female referee Felicia Okugbe awarded an injury time penalty to Enyimba with Akwa United leading 2-1. The home fans were furious and invaded the pitch.
In a stadium that was still under construction, missiles were littered everywhere and hell was let loose as the match was brought to an abrupt end. One person was believed dead while many others sustained various degrees of injuries.
The aftermath of the problem had a psychological effect on the team’s performance. Akwa United struggled throughout the season but succeeded to stay afloat.
In what was a turbulent first season for the club, they recorded vital wins at home and picked some important points on the road as well. The team finished their first season in 14th position with 48 points after recording 14 victories, six draws and 18 defeats.
The Promise Keepers second season in the Premier League was not as smooth as the first.
Coach Ime Uko was appointed by the club’s management to take charge of the team and he was assisted by coach Godwin Morgan. The team faced many challenges in the 2008-09 season as some of her top players left the team for greener pastures. What followed was poor form and results. The team was struggling in the relegation zone for most of the season.
In a bid to salvage the situation, coach Godwin Uwua was contracted to save the team from the drop. Coach Uwua battled tooth and nail to get results but to no avail. He later resigned his appointment.
The management in a desperate attempt to avoid being relegated appointed Coach Patrick Udoh to take charge of the team till the end of the season.
Despite a late charge which saw them pick up some interesting results and also produced the league highest goal scorer of the season, Orok Akarandut with 17 goals, they were dramatically relegated on the last day of the season on goals differential following Kaduna United’s 9-0 defeat to Zamfara United.
Akwa United garnered 48 points from 38 matches including 14 wins, 6 draws and 18 defeats to finish in 17th position.
When Akwa United returned to the lower division in the 2009-10 season, the management team led by Obong Isong Isang promised that the team would return to the Premier League and kept his words.
Akwa United made a return to the Nigeria Premier League in 2011-12 NPFL season (two years after their relegation from the premier league), and put up improved performances throughout the season to finish on 50 points from 38 games comprising 15 victories, 5 draws and 16 losses, finishing in 12th, (the club’s then highest position ever on the log), under coach Solomon Ogbeide.
The management brought in two indigenous Coaches. Patrick Udoh, the Technical Adviser and Chief Coach Emmanuel King, both handled the team in the 2012-13 NPFL season. They started the campaign on a brighter note and topped the log for five weeks, but a dip in form saw them drop drastically in the mid season though they managed to retain their top flight status when they ended the season one place above the relegation zone with 51 points. Their 14 wins, 9 draws and 15 defeats dropped the Promise Keepers to 16th position.
In 2013-14 NPFL season, one of Nigeria’s most experienced and widely traveled coach, Justin Tenger, was given the nod to take charge of the team. But after a bright start at the beginning of that season, the team’s fortune dwindled yet again. They survived the drop on the last day finishing in 16th place for the second straight season.
The usual trend continued in 2014-15 NPFL season with the arrival of a new Coach in Zachary Baraje. The team played few matches at the Old Uyo Township Stadium before the League Management Company LMC declared the Stadium as not befitting of hosting Premier League matches.
Akwa United then moved to the magnificent 30,000 capacity Godswill Akpabio International Stadium built by former Governor, Godswill Akpabio.
Although the story of escaping relegation on the last day was the same, Akwa United defeated Lobi Stars of Makurdi 1-0 with Abdulazeez Awakan scoring the only goal of the match to help the team stay up. Their 13 wins, 8 draws and 17 defeats pushed them to 15th position, two places above the drop zone.
Federation Cup glory and Continental qualification
The 2014-15 season was to be a standout season for the club for many reasons.
The team, under coach Zachary Baraje made history by winning the Federations Cup in November 2015 beating Lobi Stars of Makurdi 2-1 at the Teslim Balogun Stadium in Lagos to lift their first major trophy and qualified to play in the 2016 CAF Confederation Cup. Then Captain, Nnamso Edo and Abdulafeez Awakan were the scorers.
Belgian Coach Maurice Cooreman was appointed the new manager of the team at the start of 2015-16 NPFL season.
Cooreman led the team to two trophies before the start of the 2015-16 NPFL season.
Akwa United claimed the 2016 Super Four pre-season trophy, after playing out a draw with Enyimba in the matchday six tie at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium on 5 February 2016.
The Promise Keepers notched up nine points from six matches to top the four-team group which include Nigeria’s other 2016 CAF Confederation Cup representative, Nasarawa United and 2016 CAF Champions League representatives, Enyimba FC and Warri Wolves.
Akwa United added the 2016 Super Cup charity shield to their trophy cabinet on Wednesday, 17 February 2016 after overcoming 2014-15 NPFL Champion, Enyimba 4-3 on penalties at the Abuja National Stadium.
The match which served as the curtain raiser for the 2015-16 NPFL season ended 0-0 at regulation time, before Enyimba’s Ifeanyi George and goalkeeper Theophilus Afelokhai missed their penalty kicks to hand Akwa United the trophy.
Cooreman also led the team to their first ever outing at the continental level where they were knocked out in the 2016 CAF Confederation Cup first round by Congolese side Vita Club Mokanda in Uyo. After winning the first leg 1-0 in Congo, courtesy of Ubong Ekpai’goal, they lost at home by the same margin and were knocked out 4-3 on penalties.
The team’s 14th place finish without the sweat of relegation worries was well celebrated and was attributed to the effort of a seasoned journalist turned football administrator, Elder Paul Bassey who was appointed Chairman of the Club during the mid season of 2015-16 by the State Governor Udom Gabriel Emmanuel.
In his first full season in charge of Akwa United as Chairman, Elder Paul Bassey, restructured the team and brought in a touch of professionalism into the administration of the club which has since manifested positively.
Part of the transformation process was the change in the club’s Jersey colour from Blue and White to Orange and White which represents Akwa Ibom State official colours.
Elder Paul Bassey’s led management contracted one of Nigeria’s most experienced and intelligent coach, Abdu Maikaba to take charge of the team for the rest of 2016-17 NPFLafter the Kano-born coach had led Wikki Tourtsts to a third place finish on the 2015-16 NPFL and qualified the Bauchi club for the 2017 CAF Confederation Cup.
Coach Maikaba recruited young, determined and talented players such as Alhassan Ibrahim, Moses Ebiye, Aremu Afeez, Ifeanyi Ifeanyi, Musa Newman, Christian Pyagbara and Emmanuel Iwu and blended them with some star players like Ubong Friday, Otobong Effiong, Godspower Igudia, Emmanuel Ariwachukwu, Cyril Olisema, Chigozie Chilekwu, Ubong Idio, Amaechi Orji etc., who were retained from the previous season.
And despite a slow start to the season which saw the team manage just six points from a possible 18, they picked up and adjusted to the playing pattern of Coach Maikaba.
The result of the blend was evident in Akwa United’s performances and achievements in the 2016-17 NPFL season in which they were seriously contending for the title, but only to miss out in the last four rounds of matches and also missed the chance to pick one of the three continental tickets available through the league format by just a point.
Akwa United finished the 2016-17 NPFL season in fourth place (their then highest ever finish in the top flight).
They recorded 17 victories, 9 draws and 12 defeats with 60 points from 38 matches and also lifted the Nigerian FA Cup (AITEO Cup) for the second time in 3 years, defeating Niger Tornadoes on penalties after a drab 0-0 draw.
2016-17 NPFL season was also the 20th Anniversary of Akwa United, since it was founded as Ibom Stars in 1996-97 season. The team has played in Nigeria Premier League for eight years in its 20 years of existence as a professional football club.
The end of the 2017-18 NPFL season marked the club’s seven consecutive seasons in the Nigeria top flight since the 2011-12 NPFL Second appearance on the continent Akwa United made their second appearance on the continent but were stunned 2-1 by Hawks FC of Gambia, in the first leg of the 2018 CAF Confederation Cup preliminary tie played at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium on Sunday, February 11, 2018.
In the second leg at the Independence Stadium, Bakau on February 21, 2018, Cyril Olisema scored a brace to hand Akwa United a 3-2 aggregate win over the Gambian club and passage to the first round.
Al-Ittihad defeated Akwa United 1-0 in the first round, first leg fixture, only for the Promise Keepers to record the same scoreline in the second leg courtesy of Aniekeme Asuquo’s 46th-minute goal, to go level on aggregate, before edging the Libyan club 3-2 on penalties to qualify for the second round.
The Promise Keepers fell 2-0 to Al-Hilal in the second round, first leg, at the Al-Hilal Stadium on Sunday April 8, 2018.
However, their 3-1 win over Al-Hilal in the second round, return leg at the Godswill Akpabio International Stadium on Sunday, April 18, 2018 courtesy of Denis Nya’s first half injury-time goal and Michael Ibe’s brace in the second half was not enough to take Akwa United to the group stage, as Al-Hilal’s Mohammed Bashir 28′ minute goal qualified the Sudanese club on away goals rule.
Highest position ever on the log
The Promise Keepers finished second on the 2017-18 NPFL log with 41 points from 24 matches, two points behind leaders Lobi Stars in July 2018.
2018 Aiteo Cup quarter final Exit
The two time FA Cup Champions who were hoping to defend their 2017 Aiteo Cup crown were halted in the quarter final via penalties by Enugu Rangers at the Sani Abacha Stadium, Kano on Wednesday, 3 October 2018.
Michael Ibeh put Akwa United in front with a well-taken freekick in the first half, before Okey Odita drew level for Enugu Rangers, 20 minutes to the end of regulation time.
The Flying Antelopes, however prevailed 4-2 in the penalty shoot-outs.
Akwa United management signed former Abia Warriors and FC Ifeanyi Ubah coach, Rafael Everton to lead the team in the abridged 2018-19 NPFL, following the departure of coach Abdullahi Maikaba to Plateau United at the conclusion of the 2017-18 season.
The Brazilian tactician became the third foreigner after Cameroonian Emmanuel Deutsch and Belgian Maurice Cooreman to handle Akwa United in its 22-year old history.
Twelve new players joined the team, including former player and Enyimba captain, Mfon Udoh, 2013 Super Eagles AFCON winner, Juwon Oshaniwa, and 2016 Federation Cup winner, Alberico Da Silva.
The team lost 1-0 at home to El-Kanemi Warriors on the opening day of the league and followed up with a 1-1 draw at Kano Pillars on matchday three, being their second game of the season, after the matchday two tie against Gombe United was postponed.
They drew 2-2 at home against Plateau United on matchday four and lost 2-0 to Nasarawa United at Lafia Township stadium in a matchday five fixture.
Coach Everton side recorded their first win of the season on matchday six courtesy of a 3-0 home win over new comers, Go Round FC and went on an unbeaten run which culminated in a hard fought 2-1 victory over Heartland FC of Owerri at the Okigwe Township stadium.
Akwa United ended the first round in second place on the Group B log with 19 points from 11 matches, scoring 17 goals and conceding 10.
The Promise Keepers resumed the second half of the season with a 1-0 victory over Heartland FC, Cyril Olisema’s strike in the 63rd minute secured the maximum points for the home side, helping them to do the double over the Owerri based team. Few days after recording their first home and away victories over Heartland FC, Akwa United suffered their heaviest defeat of the season losing 4-1 away to El-kanami Warriors in Maiduguri on matchday 13 fixture.
The Promise Keepers bounced back in style to thrash Gombe United 2-0 with goals from Cyril Olisema and Wisdom Fernando. They followed that up with a morale boasting 3-0 victory over Kano Pillars at the Nest of champions with goals from Ndifreke Effiong, Emmanuel Charles and Kodjovi Dadzie securing the win. Akwa United then suffered a 3-0 defeat to Plateau United in Jos but they quickly returned to winning ways recording three successive victories against Nasarawa United 2-1, Go Round 0-1 and Yobe Dersert stars 1-0. Top striker Mfon Udoh, Etboy Akpan and Aniefiok Godspower were the goal scorers during their run of three straight win.
Akwa United went into the last three games of the season having already secured their place in the season ending play-offs. They lost their Matchday 19 fixture against Delta Force 2-1 in Asaba in a match that top scorer Mfon Udoh netted his 10th goal of the season. The Promise Keepers were then held to a 2-2 draw in Uyo by Abia warriors, with Aniefiok Godspower and Ocheme Edoh getting the goals for their side and they lost their last match of the season losing 2-1 to FC Ifeanyi Ubah in Nnewi with striker Ocheme Edoh scoring his second goal in two successive games as Akwa United ended their 2018/2019 Nigeria Professional Football League NPFL regular season on top of Group B and qualified for the season ending play-offs in Lagos.
SUPER SIX PLAY-OFFS
Akwa United along side five other clubs namely; Enyimba International, Enugu Rangers, Kano Pillars, Lobi Stars and FC Ifeanyi Ubah qualified for the play-offs in Lagos and competed for the NPFL title as well as the three slots to represent Nigeria in CAF continental competitions.
The Promise Keepers began their play-offs campaign with a hard fought 2-2 draw against Kano Pillars at the Agege stadium. They came form behind twice to have a share of the spoils through goals from Ndifreke Effiong and Aniefiok Godspower. They recorded their first and only win at the play-offs with a 2-1 over FC Ifeanyi Ubah.
Akwa United then staged a late come back to forced Enugu Rangers to a 3-3 draw before playing a goalless draw against Lobi Stars in their fourth match. They lost their last match at the Play-offs, losing 3-0 to eventual champions Enyimba International of Aba and finished the play-offs in 4th place and missed out on a continental spot.
2019 AITEO CUP
The two-time Federation Cup Champions were aiming to lift FA Cup for the third time in their history when they kicked start their campaign with 2-1 victory over Sokoto United at the FIFA Goal Project pitch in Abuja. Goals from Ndifreke Effiong and Denis Nya booked the team’s passage to the Round of 32 of the competition. But a 3-0 defeat to Rivers United in Enugu ended the Promise Keepers quest for a trophy in the 2018/2019 football season and dashed their hopes of a continental football.