Nigerians love their football – full stop. From fanatically following leagues that are as far from them as the heavens are from the earth, to religiously having faith in the Super Eagles to deliver (many times in vain), Nigerians do love their football.
I can neither wrap my head around the almost palpable passion nor around the game itself, but there are a few unmistakable things I have noticed and numbered below.
- Everything else pales: whether it is the Champion’s League, Nation’s or World Cup, or even worse, the Premier League, Marvin Sapp’s “Nothing Else Matters” immediately comes into play. A plethora of national issues – the fact that polytechnics in the country have been on strike for over seven months, Boko Haram is literally using Nigerians for target practice, more than 60 days after, we cannot account for 200+ girls abducted from a school hostel – are shelved because we’re watching football. Everything else pales.
- We become one: uninterested as I am in the sport, football is the strongest single unifying factor in Nigeria today. When our Super Eagles are in the game, there could never be louder cheering for anyone online or offline. When we are out (and we’ve not won a game at the World Cup in 16 years), we transfer our support to the next African country. How we manage to pick one country is beyond me, but it happens. And in a country perpetually on either side of battle lines drawn around religion, politics, or ethnicity, any form of unity is more than welcome.
- Our implicit belief in the ‘god of miracles without the requisite hard work’: this pattern is clear for fans and non-fans alike, as long as you’re Nigerian. We spend a year, maybe more bandying words between the Nigerian Football Federation and the Ministry of Sports, accommodate a round (or two) of wrangling on things like unpaid salaries for the coach of our national team, and do everything but actually prepping the boys to compete. Then, three months to a major league, a team is constituted (albeit hurriedly), the boys are strained flying in and out of different countries for friendlies, endorsement deals are signed, and fancy adverts flood the airwaves. Nigerians start to either
- Pray fervently/speak positively, expecting a miracle, or
- Hype the boys online and offline, like hype minus preparation ever produced anything.
And somehow we always act genuinely disappointed when they don’t do well. Hilarious.
- Football goes best with friends and a drink: anytime there’s a tournament in sight, viewing centers spring up. Already existing bars and lounges make provision for massive screens, while the new joints lure customers with various promotions on drinks, meals, and snacks. Communities/villages sometimes plop a screen on spacious grounds, and people gather to cheer their preferred team amidst a continuous flow of drinks and peppered chicken, gizzard, beef, or goat meat, depending on what part of the country you’re in.
This fourth point has to be the worst hit by the rising insecurity in the country though, as people are happy (and feel safer) to watch these matches in their homes, away from the crowded joints Boko Haram are wont to attack. That’s when they’re not attacking military barracks, even filming as they go.
And even if people wanted to go out to watch the matches with their peers, scream themselves hoarse in the frenzy that always accompanies the sport, they’re not allowed to, especially in the North East where the military ordered the closure of all potential viewing centers based on intelligence reports of impending attacks.
Who have you tipped to win the World Cup? I say Nigeria, because we have God on our side.