Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Nigerians’ craze for European football

“Sport is art, amplified! It is dance, music, theatre, and drama combined. The stage (the sports field) is the biggest theatre in the world. And the actors, some of the highest paid. The major difference between conventional theatre and this, is that sport is unscripted drama.”
 –Ex Green Eagles Captain, Segun Odegbami, in Saturday PUNCH, July 10, 2004
How true! Mathematical Odegbami was spot on with this remark made some nine years ago. There are over 60 sports in the world. Some of them are boxing, high jump, triple jump, long jump, weightlifting, discus, table tennis, lawn tennis, javelin, swimming, gymnastics, hockey, cricket, handball, volleyball, basketball, baseball and football. There are sports which are very popular in some countries and unpopular in some others. For instance, while lawn tennis, baseball, basketball and boxing are very popular in United States of America, football is not so popular. Cricket is the domineering sport in India and Pakistan while football, arguably the king of sports is very popular in many countries of the world particularly in South America (Brazil, Argentina, Mexico,  etc), Europe (in countries with strong soccer leagues like United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain, Germany and perhaps Holland and Portugal). Many countries in Africa also dote on football.
While the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Athletics Championship took place in Moscow from August 10 – 18, 2013, the entire world attention was focused on the sporting fiesta.  A big shout out and hearty congratulations to Nigeria’s golden girl, Blessing Okagbare who  ended Nigeria’s 14 years medal drought at the World Athletics Championship by winning silver medal in long jump and followed up with a Bronze medal in 200m women’s final.  As the IAAF fiesta ended over the weekend,   European football leagues commenced actions for the 2013/2014 league season. While German Bundesliga started on Friday, August 9, and French Ligue 1 took off on August 10; the English Barclays Premiership and Spanish La Liga commenced football hostilities on August 17, 2013. Italian Serie A is scheduled to start on Saturday, August 24, 2013.
As the European football season commences in earnest, so starts the craze of the fanatical European football supporters in Nigeria. The English Barclays Premier League, in my estimation has the largest fan base in Nigeria. The top club sides with highest supporters are Manchester United Football Club otherwise called the Red Devil; Chelsea FC also known as The Blues; Arsenal FC better known as The Gunners and to a limited extent Manchester City FC and Liverpool FC. In Spanish La Liga, Barcelona FC and Real Madrid FC are the two club sides with large following in Nigeria. I am not very sure if there is huge followership of French, Italian, German, Dutch, and Portuguese leagues in Nigeria. It is not uncommon to see members of the same family supporting different football clubs.   It is a regular phenomenon to see friends who support different club sides in Europe engaging in heated argument about who will win a particular game or the league or tournament for the season. Many passionate lovers of European football in Nigeria follow the happenings in their clubs so much so that they are aware of new players signed on, the cost of their transfers and their antecedents. They know the names of most of the players and even the coaching crew.
The time has come when newspaper vendors will sell more of sports newspapers and magazines while audience of sports radio and television programmes will significantly increase while the European football season lasts. Many viewing centres will also make monies as those who could not afford satellite T.V subscription that will enable them watch live matches will not mind paying token sum to watch at private viewing centres. Some restaurants and liquor bars will also cash in on the fanaticism of Nigerian European football supporters to boost sales by offering free viewing of matches to their customers while they relax with drinks and snacks  at their relaxation spots. Those who will also do brisk business are those selling souvenirs of popular European football clubs. Many supporters of these teams do buy mementoes such as branded jerseys, bed-sheet and pillow cases, key holders, car seats, mufflers, T-shirts and fez caps, jugs, posters and many more to show their loyalty to their darling clubs.  They have also established fans club where they pay subscription and organize elaborate parties when their team wins trophies.
What I found incredible is the act of pool betting or gambling which even predates the recent era of telecast of live matches. Many smart entrepreneurs had, many decades ago, established pool betting where ignorant and greedy men and women are made to predict the football teams that will play draw. If they predict rightly, they are paid much more than the amount they stake. Of course, many of these pool betters are only doing guesswork. Some make their draw prediction based on previous season’s outcome between the two football teams they are making prediction on. Many people have lost fortunes staking their hard-earned money on making foolish draw prediction in a game of football which is totally unpredictable.  Unfortunately, those pool betting organisations are still in business as many still patronise them out of greed.
While so much passion, craze and doting is showered on European football club sides and footballers, reverse   is the case for Nigerian club sides and football players. With the exception of when the national teams such as Super Eagles are playing crucial matches, stadium is hardly quarter-full when Nigerian club sides are playing. Even though there are clubs with good pedigree such as Shooting Stars Sports Club formerly IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan which gave Nigeria her first continental trophy, African Cup Winners’ Cup in 1976; Enugu Rangers who also won the Winners Cup for Nigeria in 1977 as well as Enyimba International FC of Aba which won the elusive CAF Champions League back to back in 2003 and 2004 seasons, these club-sides do not command the fanatical support Nigerians show to Chelsea, Man U. or Arsenal.
The reasons are not far-fetched. Nigerian football league leaves much to be desired. Players and coaches are not well remunerated. Players are owed sign-on fees while coaches and players’ salaries are not paid as and when due.  The club owners sometimes behave like Emperors or tin gods. The regulator, Nigerian Football Federation, has been in perpetual crises with litany of litigations from aggrieved members and those seeking to control it. The State and Federal Government under whose auspices the Nigerian stadia are, leave them to rot. Though almost each of the states has at least one stadium, many of them are in deplorable conditions due to utmost neglect. With bad football pitches and unprofessional management of football nay sports in Nigeria, little wonder football fans take solace in watching and supporting European football. Yet, this beautiful game holds the key to Nigeria’s unity. It is the only game which when being played, suspends all primordial sentiments – tribe, creed, gender, status are relegated to the background with all official and non-official supporters praying fervently for their team to win. I do hope  governments at all levels will do the needful to transform Nigeria through football and by extension all sports.