Arena/Stadium: Okigwe Township Stadium
Owners – N/A
Chairman: Charles Ezekwem
Manager: Fidelis Ilechukwu
Nickname(s): Soccer Scientists, Spartans, Naze Millionaires, The Hearts
|NPFL GROUP B
Heartland could perhaps be the only Nigerian club side that has had two name changes but never legally permanently changed ownership. Founded as Spartans FC of Owerri in 1976 by the then newly created Imo State, it became Iwuanyanwu Nationale in 1985 and was returned to Imo State in 2006 by businessman, Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu who funded it for 20 years.
The club shares history of formation with two other prominent Southeast clubs, Rangers International and Enyimba International, all of whose formation was superintended by Chief Jeremiah Enyeazu, a former Director of Sports in the Old East Central State and Imo State.
At inception, Spartans FC was made up largely of the Imo State National Sports Festival team dubbed Trojans that won the gold medal of the football event of the 1977 National Sports Festival hosted by Kaduna. After several years of moderate performances, Spartans FC became a force to reckon with in National football from 1979 when it finished second in the National League qualified and followed through with another impressive run in 1981 but narrowly missing the National division one league title on the final day to regional rivals, Rangers International.
That feat was sufficient for them to represent Nigeria in the WAFU Club Cup in 1982 and they went all the way to the final but were edged 1-0 on aggregate by Secondi Hasacas of Ghana. Three years after the impressive WAFU outing, Spartans FC experienced funds paucity and an undertstanding was reached with Philanthropist and businessman, Iwuanyanwu who accepted to take over the club and in 1985 he renamed it Iwuanyanwu Nationale. His takeover attracted national media attention when he sent 42 players and eight officials to Brazil in January 1986 on three weeks training tour.
They would place second in the 1986 season and from 1987-1990, captured the Nigeria league crown including the inaugural edition of the Nigeria Professional Football League (NPFL). It was also the period the media nicknamed the club, the Naze Millionaires and they went on to add to their laurels another league title in 1993.The Owerri side also have in its trophy cabinet, five FA Cup titles won as Iwuanyanwu Nationale three times and twice as Heartland FC in 2011 and 2012.
Heartland as the club is known today may not have had an illustrious run as its predecessor but It also has enjoyed some performances of note such as the second-place finish in the 2007/08 and 2008/09 seasons behind Kano Pillars and Bayelsa United respectively.
Heartland also won Federation Cup back to back in 2011 and 2012 at the expense of Enyimba and Lobi Stars Heartland suffered a major setback, the first in its history across the three names when in the 2016 Nigeria Professional Football League season, it finished on the 18th position and relegated to theNigeria National League. However, it regained a place in the NPFL the next season and hasretained the spot As Iwuanyanwu Nationale, Heartland flourished and made marks on the continent, though failing to win any major continental title.
It reached the CAF Champions Cup finals in 1988 but lost to Entente Setif of Algeria 4-1 on aggregate. In1990 and 1991, they were eliminatedat the semi-final stage by Nkana Red Devils of Zambia and SC Villa of Uganda respectively. Following their 5th league title success in 1993, Heartland were back on the continent and this timewith the season’s top marksman, Tony Nwaigwe and then youngster Nwankwo Kanu who would inyears ahead win the FIFA U-17 World Cup and the Olympics gold medal. In the course of their campaign for the Africa Club Cup championship, the team was involved in a plane crash near Tamaransett, Algeria before eventually getting knocked out by Esperence of Tunisia. After many years of absence on the continent, Heartland were back in 2000 but lost in the semi-final to eventual Champions, JS Kabylie of Algeria.
Nine years after that, the club was to reach another final, beating another Nigerian side, Kano Pillars 5-0 aggregate before losing to TP Mazembe in the finals on away goals rule. In 2010, Heartland could only muster a group stage finish in the CAF Champions League.
Heartland played in the 2011 and 2012 editions of the CAF Confederation Cup but were on both occasions eliminated at the preliminary stages including a walk-over by US Bitam of Gabon in 2013 due to travel booking lapses that saw them arriving late at the match venue. It will take a whole book to list important players who have been fielded by Heartland but the most prominent include former Super Eagles captain, Uche Okechukwu, Kanu, Ben Iroha, late Thompson Oliha and winger, Friday Elaho. There are also Mobi Oparaku, Friday Ekpo, Etim Esin, Edward Ansah and most recently, Super Eagles goalkeeper, Ikechukwu Ezenwa.