Sunday, August 19, 2018
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Nigerian youths, soccer fans and fanatism

“Man U 4 Life, UP Chelsea, Arsenal Till I Die” these chant from soccer fans or fanatics are often endless! Whenever it is chanted by soccer-loving Nigerian youths, it elicits diverse reactions. Sometimes cheers, while sometimes, boos depending on where you are or your response to those chants.

On my way from Jos to Abuja recently in a commercial vehicle, a heavily-armed Police patrol team waved us down to conduct their routine search, so they said.

In their characteristic manner, they demanded for one document after another from the driver, who swiftly obliged. However, when they discovered that our driver is not defaulting in any way, they asked him, “which football club do you support?” I giggled. It was then it dawned on me that we were in for a drama of some sort on that journey.

Most of the passengers who incidentally were youths, including myself wondered how club affiliation relates to the police’s “stop and search” functions. This question by the patrol team, in no small measure left all the passengers, punctuating the air with remarks, though in low tones so as to avoid thrown-up charges of “interfering with their job” from the visibly angry policemen. Now, one of the policemen reminded us of their slogan “Police is your friend” and they do not mean any harm. So, like other passengers, I kept mute hoping that we would not be harmed at the end of the end, as it was getting dark.

Now, our driver got more confused because he does not know what would be the outcome of naming a particular club. So, he kept mute wishing that he be asked to “carry go”. Looking at our driver, I guess he was bemoaning his fate and why such patrol team met him. While he was gazing around contemplating on what to say, the patrol team continued their stop and search on other on-coming vehicles. At a point, pressure began to mount on our driver from the passengers, so our embattled driver decided to take the risk to name a particular club. In a fear-ridden tone, he uttered “CHELSEA!” That answer saved the day. Obviously, the search teams were Chelsea fans and so we were released to continue our journey.

As the driver turned on the ignition, the Patrol team in a cheerful tone wished us safe journey and with repeated shout of “Up Chelsea”. I wondered what would have been our fate if the driver said a different team.

To the uttermost surprise of other passenger, a passenger shared a story of how he was stranded in Lagos in the previous month. There was no one to help him as everyone was suspicious of the next person, and it took only a fellow club supporter to house him that night, prepared delicious dinner for him and gave him transport fare as he was leaving the following day.

As we continued the journey, the incident at the check-point dominated discussions in the fast moving vehicle. The passengers were divided along club side affiliation and this was visible at all point. For instance, a passenger bought a bunch of banana and said it was only for Manchester United’s fan, and then the driver stopped and said non-Chelsea fans should alight from his vehicle. What I heard from different soccer fanatics with me about opposing clubs was unimaginable-may be a gist for another day.

On getting to Abuja my destination, I had to board a taxi to my friend’s house where I would put up for the weekend; the story was not different as passengers discussed that days crucial encounter between Manchester United and Chelsea. As passengers alighted at different bus stops, they bade each other farewell with “we go trash una ass this night and so on and so forth.”

Getting to my friend’s house, it was even more dramatic. I stepped into their house about 5 minutes to the commencement of the match. My friend is in his early thirties was dressed in Chelsea’s jersey hugged me severally, while his wife who was dressed in Manchester United’s jersey did same afterwards. From the mood in the sitting room where I met them, I needed no soothsayer to tell me that that night’s match would generate so much drama. So, I decided to sit and watch to see how the much talked-about match would end.

Interestingly, as we watched with their two kids, I noticed that their two kids were torn between supporting their dad or mum. My friend brought another Chelsea jersey for the eldest child to wear. My friend’s wife went inside too and brought out another Manchester United’s jersey for the eldest child to wear it over the Chelsea’s jersey, but my friend said that will not happen. So the drama ensued. Seeing that the drama could lead to fight since my friend and the wife are die-hard fans, I pleaded for decorum which fell on deaf ears.

At the end of the day, both jerseys were slightly-torn. Eventually, the match kicked off amidst cheers from both my friend and his wife. The wife informed us that if her club losses the match, no dinner for anyone and that frightened me. Since I was hungry having been on a journey for several hours and it was already night and I do not know anywhere around to go and have dinner. I began to pray for my friend’s wife club to win so that I can take dinner. I prayed, prayed and prayed, even calling down fire in my mind. My friend was visibly disappointed in me for supporting the wife against his wish (and against my own wishes). As you read on, you will hear how the match ended.

I could recall that before I embarked on that journey to Abuja, similar situation presented itself in Jos, where a couple smashed their only television set over which channel to watch because of club matches. It was indeed, funny. As I was narrating how it happened to my friend after the dinner, my friend told me how a guy lost his car to match-betting.

Just yesterday, I went to buy the Nigerian “pure water” in a store, I gave the store-owner N500, instead of giving me N495 “change”, he gave me N1000 because all his attention was on the match he was watching in the store. He probably would have lost that money which was the total sale he made that day, as he later thankfully told me when I reminded him of his error.

I was told of a guy who was celebrating a goal by his club in the highway and was crushed to death by an on-coming vehicle.

I attended a wedding recently reception recently, the wedding souvenir given to me bore Arsenal logo all through, can you imagine that?

Almost all the guys in my area now bear name of their favourite footballer and inscribe it boldly on the back of their T-shirts. A cursory look at the fans behaviour suggests that European clubs with African players enjoy wider support than those without African players. One of them told me that his kids would be named after favourite clubs. In this guy’s home, window and door curtains, bedcover, clothes, wallets among others are purchased with club logos boldly inscribed on them. His computers and phone screens are already adorned with his club logos. This guy told me he prefers soccer to food.

When the FIFA 2010 world cup was few weeks away, he took 2 weeks leave from work so he would not miss any match, especially matches’ involving his favourite players.

Within the last 6 months, soccer viewing centres has doubled in my area. In fact, the youths in my area have Manchester United’s supporters association alongside other clubs supporters with presidents, financial secretaries etc. Mourinho, Arsene Wenger, and other coaches would be amazed anytime they would visit my area.

Last week, a boy of 7 years was telling his friend the sign-on fee for Ronaldo, Messi and Maurinho. I was shocked at the boy’s accuracy. So, I asked the boy the name of his school headmaster but he does not know let alone the governor of his state.

During the 2010 FIFA World Cup, I was in Jos. The Military peace-keepers mounted projector TVs in public places at night to show matches, and I saw young people both muslims and Christians gather to enjoy the matches-a situation that was rare in Jos at that time that there was crises. Soccer is indeed, a unifying factor, as it knows no religion.

Not that those who patronise soccer viewing centres have no television at home, but the ecstatic feelings they get when they watch it with fellow youths gets them frenzied.

A neigbour told me, “Obinna, my husband skips meal when his club loses match.”

Though most of the youths are jobless and do not know where the next meal will come from, they hang around on empty stomach for several hours at the entrance of the viewing centres in search for who to pay their N50 gate fee for them per match. One of them told me that after a good match, “I do not think of food.”

Jersey hawkers are also making good business there alongside other petty businesses. I am thinking of floating one viewing Centre after I saw one of the operators bought a posh car recently. But again, I wonder if I can cope with noise, odour and nuisance that such places generate?

The way things are going in Nigeria, I am afraid that pastors in church may soon begin to serve Holy Communion based on club allegiance since some church services are re-scheduled so members would not miss “crucial” matches. I even foresee a situation where appointments into government offices would be based on support for a particular club over the other since office closing hours are no longer observed whenever there are “crucial” matches.

Finally, a lady in my neighbourhood turned down a marriage offer from a guy who is not a Chelsea fan, or ‘the Blues’ as they are fondly called. The guy almost committed suicide because he loved that girl so much and was hoping to convert her to Man U’s side.

This soccer fanatism is assuming a frightening dimension and I am afraid of this trend because I am STILL SINGLE and SEARCHING!

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