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PASSION AND NIGERIAN FOOTBALL. A TALE OF OLD


The national ethics of this country as written in chapter 2 section 23 of the 1999 constitution are Discipline, Integrity, Dignity of labour, Social, Justice, Religious tolerance, Self reliance and Patriotism.
For every Nigerian born in my generation the class where we learnt about Social, Religious tolerance and Patriotism is the football class. Football class?  Yes football class, it's not the football class where a teacher writes on the chalkboard to teach football but a class where we sit with keen interest to watch football on screens. We learned a lot in that football class.

The first of things we learned is the fairy tale of India vs Nigeria which ended 99-1 with Nigeria declared as the winner because India struck a deal with us (Nigeria) that if we could score just a goal before they reached 100 goals that we would be declared victorious.

Samuel Okparaji sacrificed his life to get us that goal, it was Okparaji to my generation who was the hero that saved us from humiliation. I remember one of my brothers telling me the hero in of the tale in their own generation was Segun Odegbami who sacrificed his left foot to get the goal which abruptly ended his football career...... It took us a long time to come to the reality that it was just a fairy tale. Anyways in the textbook of the Nigeria football history every footballer is a Hero....I would not mention names but you would agree that we've got countless heroes for they goals they scored, the misses when we most needed a goal, the mesmerizing dribbles we can't forget, the great tackles, the amazing saves, the flips and flops, the yellows cards and red cards, the trophies, the goal celebrations and many more. For the beautiful memories they gave us I say a big thank you to all our football heroes and heroines.

Patriotism and Tolerance.
The patriotism we display to the round leather game in the days of old is unrivaled and it beats me every time I see what our football has turned to, how it's managed and the reception it gets from the citizens.

The first I remember is the pronoun "WE". The pronoun WE is what is used by citizens to describe the Nigeria Super Eagles whenever they play against any other team showing the level of connection between the Super Eagles and the Nigerian populace. In my curiosity as a kid I remembered asking my dad once that "you said we are the ones wearing white and green but I can't see you, mummy or myself" he smiled and simply replied we are all on the pitch because it's our country but you can't see us, as I grew older I realized we are all on the pitch like my dad told me. How many people still use the pronoun WE to describe Super Eagles and see themselves on the pitch whenever we play. Last I remember people simply say THEY or Nigeria instead of WE.

The reception our football gets in those days was Mind-blowing  men, women, young, old, traders, artisans, civil servants, bus drivers, just mention it everybody is a fan of the super eagles. Our streets become deserted,shops are closed and transportation is halted. I even remember how people would urge Imams that Zhur prayer (2'O clock Muslim prayer) should be observed before 2pm because super eagles match would kick off by 2pm, the Imams would obliged because they knew only a few people would come to mosque by 2pm, even some imams want to watch the match.

Beer parlours,barbing saloons,record shops,living rooms, and every other place you can find either a black and white or coloured television set would be filled up with people anxiously sitting to watch their darling super eagles play. Religion, social status or ethnicity is always ignored as we speak a single language when football comes around. Everybody get a chance to watch, if this living room is filled up,you would watch at the record store across street or the beer parlour yonder.

How's is it in the part of country you live in,Is it still the same old story or things have changed?Even now that we have viewing centres everywhere, how many people would you see watching Nigeria play against Ghana or Cameroon compared to a EPL London Derby Arsenal vs Chelsea.

Even though it would be unfair to discuss electricity and football on the same piece but we can't take out the drama of electricity and football in those days. We watch most of our football matches with with electricity, even when streets have been on black out for days the the electricity authority NEPA would find a way to "give us light" as we say it just to watch a football match.

I remember how communities would wake up to the responsibility of repairing their damaged transformer when FIFA World Cup or CAF Nations Cup is around the corner. Did it ever happen in your area a black out during a football match, what was the reaction? The reaction in my place is always people popping into the streets and heading towards NEPA office with canes and stones but in the beautiful wisdom of the NEPA officials power is always restored before people gets to their office, in cases where the power is not restored it always maximum beating for them.

Football when our electricity started failing thought us how to power our TV set with car battery, how many people have generator in those days? and the car owners are never reluctant to give their battery or the big brothers would contribute money to hire a battery from the local battery charger, when more people started having generators we still contribute to buy fuel, and how much was the fuel in those days?
Any of the young boys on the street would be ready to run the errand of buying the fuel from the farthest or nearest filling station even it means he treks all to and fro. The reason been that, running that errand guarantees him a front sit on the floor compared to other boys who would struggle to get in and could be sent out if they misbehave. What do you call that? Simply Patriotism=Passion.

When was the last time you had electricity power while super eagles were playing? Or do you still see people rushing home to watch super eagles and boys contributing money to fuel a generator to watch Nigeria play? I can't forget how women joked with men that "we won't cook dinner for you if we loose" like it's those men that would play on the pitch...How disappointment is written all over town if we loose and how the euphoria of wins live with us for days while we look forward to the next match. We never heard of owned allowances or players refusing to honour a call up. We knew the names of our players, their jersey number and the position they play by heart.

Our football was beautiful in those days, not just because of skills and agility of our players, but also our unity and avidity as the twelfth player. We never knew it took a payment of television right to broadcast match on our national television stations or local television stations until our government stopped paying and we had to look up to foreign television stations to watch our national football matches. What happened to our football, what happened to our passion, what happened to our patriotism, what happened to Nigeria. I hope our football and the citizens would find the long lost friendship. Football needs us, we need football, to foster the unity we project in our ethnic, social and religious diversity.

The virus that infested our national football has found its way into the club football in Nigeria and nothing seems to be working. In her presentation as a sport, football holds the keys to the doors of many opportunities in economy, socio-cultural integration, job creation and national integrity. I hope this piece would serve as a clarion call to the Government, NFF and other stake holders in the Nigeria football sphere to save our football from dying by awakening all the pillars that uphold our football when it was the envy of all in Africa and the World at large, so the labours of our football heroes past would not be in vain.

Arasi Senior Kolapo
02:15
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