Why Are Nigerians Crazy About Premiership Football? By Bayo Olupohunda
It was a Saturday. It was one of those weekends when football was in the air. In far away England, two Premiership matches were billed to be played. In Spain, Barcelona Football Club was squaring off with another La Liga team. In Italy, the two giants of Italian Serie A are locked in an explosive derby. In Lagos, the atmosphere was tense. In my part of town, you would think the matches were being played at stadia around town. Supporters of the European teams were decked in favourite club merchandise. They danced, sang and matched from street to street. It was a carnival.
Welcome to Nigeria, a country where made in Europe football has become an obsession.
Last week, I witnessed firsthand the madness this passion has become in Lagos. Over the years, I have observed European football cult following among football fans in Nigeria. Now it borders on fanaticism. And when I single out the Premiership, it is because the success of English football has come to define the major leagues in Europe. Now its following among Nigerians borders on fanaticism. In all parts of the country, apart from religion, European football is the opium of the people. From the few following the Premiership commanded in the seventies to near extinction in the eighties through the 1990s when the Nigerian League ruled Africa, European football has become a movement. The following is such that every household and individuals now identify with a European team. It has become a culture. Now people introduced themselves first with their club allegiance. You will often hear a Nigerian proudly say: ‘’I am a Barcelona or Manchester United fan’’. You will even get a strange look if you do not identify with any club. I was once derided for being a proud supporter of the IICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan. Now that is the damage being done to our local league. A whole generation of Nigerians is being weaned on European Football. But years ago, our League was a crowd puller. What went wrong?
It is incredible how these Leagues have gained cult following. In every home, office and on the streets, Premiership matches dominate discussions. Even women are not left out. The following also cuts across social, religious and ethnic barriers. For example, the man from Kano who is a supporter of a European team with a South Southerners rejoiced and hugged one another, quaffing several bottles of lager at the weekend when Liverpool defeated Manchester United. It did not matter. In that moment, ethnic and political leanings can take the back seat. It is Premiership all the way. At the weekend when the match between the two English top clubs was ongoing, my neighbourhood was like a graveyard. Earlier before the match kicked off, young men and women spotted favourite club merchandise.
They hired a band and danced round the adjoining streets. At the street intersection, the two fans squared off. At a point, some boys belonging to an opposing club became unruly. A mild scuffle broke out. Missiles were thrown. Some sustained injuries. They dispersed when some elders and members of the Landlord Association who also spotted clubs jerseys prevailed on them to sheathe sword. When the match began, the neighbourhood was quiet except for the occasional roars from fans. The match which was eventually won by Manchester United snowballed into a full-fledged fight. Fans of Manchester United wore sombre looks as if they had just emerged from the funeral of a loved one. Liverpool fans celebrated the win. But they soon drew the ire of Man U. fans who engaged them in a bloody fight. People ran everywhere in panic when bottles and dangerous weapons were used freely. In Lagos, viewing centres have proliferated in all nooks and crannies. During matches, football fans will cram the viewing centres. On match days, they pay a certain amount to watch the matches live. For them, it is worth any prize to see their favourite teams and footballers. Now many Nigerians would give an arm to watch the derbies that pitch clubs and players together. Football discussions often centred on who is the best between Lionel Messi and Ronaldo.
Many Nigerians now look forward to the weekend when a Premiership matches are played. Matches in Lagos for example are like carnivals. Football fans even place bets on their favourite teams and players. On match days, the bars in Lagos are said to make huge sales. I once visited down town Lagos where a whole street was painted in the murals of Barcelona Football Club. In the adjoining streets, the entire place wore Arsenal colours. Even the traders spotted Arsenal jersey. One proudly introduced herself as an Arsenal fan. She said even her husband and children are proudly Gunners while her cousins are ‘’Barca for Life’’ In a public bus, I once witnessed how an argument over who was the best between Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar became so heated that it resulted into a fist fight.
At an eatery a few days ago, I saw a family of four in complete Liverpool merchandise. The children were excited. I observed the woman debating the League features with another. But European Football has also claimed its casualties. In recent years, people have died celebrating club wins. In Lagos, a boy lost his life while celebrating. He was knocked down by another fan. He was the only son of his mother. In Port Harcourt a few years ago, a group of celebrating fans were run over by an angry fan whose team had just lost. It was a massacre. The Port Harcourt deaths brought to the consciousness of Nigerians the ugly truth of this generation’s obsession with European football. Even our leaders are not left out. I once listened to a governor who first congratulated his Premiership Club before a speech. He apologised for coming late, because, according to him, he had just finished watching his favourite Premiership team. I thought it was ridiculous.
Honestly, I do not know of what to make of our obsession with European Football. However, I must admit that the standards are quite impressive. Of course, our football administrators can learn from the organisation, management and financial success of these leagues. I also know that the Leagues have helped the careers of our local footballers who have made good fortune in recent years. But is our obsession with the European football healthy? For me, I see some downsides to the fanaticism. For one, our League is as good as dead. But I remember that in the 1980s and early 1990s, our leagues were better organised. I also know that, a match between Rangers of Enugu and Shootings of Ibadan would draw more crowd that any of the European derbies. In stadia across the country, matches involving top Nigerian clubs were sold. But not anymore, the attention is now on European football. Even top local league matches are played in empty stadium. The stadia are also run down. Such is the rot. We need to bring our local league back. As for me, it is Sooting for Life.
•Follow me on twitter: @bayoolupohunda
Do not hesitate to leave your opinion in the comment section below.
To contact Abusidiqu.com for Article Submission and Advertisement or General inquiry, send a mail to email@example.com