I've been well opportuned to witness the â€˜fussball saison' or as it is called in Italian, â€˜Calcio Stagione' with all its fever, craze, razzmatazz, glamour and paparazzi in Germany, France and England, right in the heart of Bayern, Stuttgart, Paris including London and Liverpool, and never has it been as heated as I've seen on the streets of Lagos, Abuja and indeed all across Nigeria cities. Typically, during the football seasons in many of these European cities. The football stadia are bursting, noisy, fanatical, sensational and full of enthusiastic fans waving, singing and oozing of all sorts of alcoholic concoctions all in total support of their respective clubs from Liverpool to Monaco, Stuttgart, Boudeaux and West ham.
Most often, each football match during the seasons are marked by hooliganism, thuggery and all sorts of social misdemeanours by hardened fans who act under the influence of alcohol such as Stella Artois, Pilsner, Carlsberg, and Kanterbrau to mention few. In England and Scotland, or better still, the United Kingdom at large, football is known as the number one factor that spurs hooliganism and social misconducts and it is in such seasons that the police are sent out in large numbers to crowd the potential problems that may arise from clashing football fans. When these fans clash, it is always a matter of superiority and defeat. Sometimes, fans get as mad as smashing public transport and destroying public infrastructure. But for sure, all these craze lasts not for more than one hour after the football match and the fate of every club and its fan have been known. The same happens in France, Germany and Italy where although the fans are also crazy and caught in social misconducts most often after football games, however, English football is most especially renowned for its peculiar hooliganism and notoreity.
In Nigeria, it's a totally different ball game. Football has gone more than fever which it gives modest fans like me during tournaments such as World cup and Nations cup. It has gone more than sports or the mere entertaining game which it is meant to be. It has now become life and in fact â€˜madness' cannot describe the rate at which Nigerians both old and young are now subjecting themselves to the whims and excitement that comes with their almighty football game.
In essence, the craze meant herein is not that of football itself, but that of Nigerians' support for chosen international premier league clubs. Not even the local ones like Kwara United or El kanemi warriors or Abakaliki Stores. But star rated clubs such as (Gunners, United, Blues and Baca) these are the names given to respective football clubs like Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Barcelona to mention few. During the football matches of different rival clubs, for example Chelsea vs. Arsenal, the frenzy, madness, noise, argument and vehemence becomes more than troubling, it gets unsettling, contentious and rowdy. You need to watch a premier or UEFAcup final in Nigeria and you'll think it is world cup grand finale.
Given the limited resources such as electricity and comfort with which the Nigerian environment is characterized. Fans go the extra miles to watch football matches live when they are been played. Most often, this requires the carpenters, commercial motor cycle operators, touts, and mechanics and indeed responsible young, middle aged and old Nigerians to abandon their work and pay about (50-100 Nigerian Naira) to watch live matches in a local public place set up by young entrepreneurs who cashes in based on the madness and patronage of football fans. I've seen an entrepreneur who usually empties his sitting room during famous football games and uses his connectivity to cable TV to broadcast live matches to numbers of football fans. These fans sit on rented chairs taken by the entrepreneur from the local rental service and enterprising people like him on a typical day makes about 2500-4000 Naira per match. In a typical football season, the profit could be in the range of 20-30 thousand naira or more. While this takes place on one hand, there are people who cashes in on the sales of Jerseys, scarves and souvenirs on the other. In fact, a friend recently explained how he sold one container of jerseys shipped from the UK within 2 weeks for Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United fans at about 7-8 thousand naira each. This makes me ask: are ordinary Nigerians this comfortable?
I've seen Nigerian fans wear Manchester United or Chelsea head warmers and winter scarves during the dead heat of 33 degree during football matches of either Man U. Arsenal or Chelsea in Nigeria. These football games do not only spawn an array of public madness especially in cities like Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kaduna and Lagos, it equally puts money in the pocket of enterprising people who makes use of the slightest opportunity that comes by. This games also helps as well as it kills many people who bet on their thousands of money, cars and belongings. While it divides people as much as it unites them.
What interests me the most is the depth, passion and vehemence with which many Nigerians argue about football in a protracted, unrelenting and witty manner. Listen to them:
Arsenal Fan: "Gunners for life...If I catch Chelsea this season, I go beat you like piken, abi una no dey fear?, na me get that cup for sure (O ri wa ti foka sibe), u no dey shame wey you dey carry that blue rubbish about: I beg commot make better club talk, I no fit buy Chelsea if them sell am for me 10 kobo".
Chelsea Fan: "Up blues...See this one sef dey talk, u wey be say I don beat you many times for your house, I beg go sit down, Na your type them dey talk? Gunners you are dead life...Una wey be say all of una players no dey top shape again. How many times I beat u last season. I no no why, una go dey happy with that red devil shirt wey una dey carry. Sey na club u be abi na wetin sef. Your players' worse, Na God know whether una coach get sense sef".
Manchester United: "truth is painful! Chelsea fans are no true fans! They are just Chelsea fans because of their recent successes, some don't even know of past players of the club like ZOLA, Ravanelli etc. Talkless of the history of the club, U can't compare them with UNITED fans or arsenal fans. UNITED WE STAND UNITED WE FALL".
These are the typical arguments of Nigerians about football and these goes on and on and on hours after the football matches have been concluded. In fact for days and weeks, the rivalry, debates, arguments and analysis continues. Go to beer parlours and see how football dominates all the discussions. Even in schools, amongst secondary and University students, club rivalry is the order of the day. Every young Nigerian in most cases is a football analyst and this they do with passion and conviction. Recently, the Yoruba movie industry of Nollywood has released couple of movies on football support and the growing craze amongst Nigerian fans. In addition, see facebook and many of such social networking sites including blogs and see how much groups have been created by Nigerians for foreign football support.
It has been recently announced that Dangote, the richest man in Nigeria is in a bid to buy a 16% stake in Arsenal, and if this comes true, it will only spur the love, craze and fanaticism that Nigerians have for football given that the thought of a â€˜Suis Generis' by Nigerians will set in. â€˜Na we Man get am, so we go support am'. The same has happened in Thailand where because of Shinawatra's ownership of Manchester City, many Thai's have reined their support for the club. However, as this craze grows, one can only wonder where it is heading - as it also brings some serious problems for a country already saddled with political issues and socio-economic challenges. The questions remain if it will not trigger thievery, hooliganism and other social misconducts which it has started to brew anyways. For example: just months ago, three fans of Chelsea were reportedly killed by accident on Motor cycle in Delta while jubilating their success against a rival. This has been the case on many occasions with football fans dying; drink driving and becoming excessive in their ways in a country where the police and authorities are losing it.
I have nothing against football but I do have plenty against Nigerian fans. Instead of getting crazy about foreign football, Nigerian fans can simply throw their supports, enthusiasm and passion behind local leagues, this supports will go a long way in helping the local leagues to develop and at least become recognized and a force to reckon with. But is that going to happen any time soon? That is surely a million dollar question to ask. However, Nigerian football fans can pleaseee spear us of their craze and intense arguments about football in occasions where people would simply rather want to enjoy their hot Suya with a bottle sweating Baba Dudu.
United....Abakaliki for life