The Story of European Soccer in Nigeria (1)

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European soccer is making a very impact in Nigeria, captivating the minds and attention of soccer buffs, the young, and the young at heart, affecting the way Nigerians relax and unwind, and throwing up business opportunities for smart entrepreneurs.

And the story of this soccer brand is that of club support, fun, entertainment, gambling, and business in Nigeria, though the game is played thousands of kilometres  away. For Nigerians, soccer is the game and entertainment; football clubs and players are the brands; while viewing the matches is the business.

The big brands of European soccer making waves in Nigeria are, The UEFA Championships, and English Premier League. Whenever teams in these competitions engage themselves in competitive soccer for a cup, Nigerian fans are held spellbound. It is as if the match is being played In Nigeria.

Some fans are strong in their support of the clubs they love. Come and see the campaigns in Nigeria for these clubs before any crucial match. Sometimes, it is fanatical. And in many cases, it results in brawls and big fights between supporters of different European clubs.

The support of clubs sometimes goes beyond the ordinary. At times, emotions run high. The big names are Manchester United, Barcelona, Chelsea, Arsenal, Real Madrid, AC Milan, and others. For these football clubs, their images loom large in Nigeria, and they command large followership of fans that are even prepared to trade blows, fight, or engage in heated arguments in support of their clubs. The impact of European soccer in Nigeria is so intense that it is shaping the way soccer fans relax and unwind amidst fun, food and drinks.

Two  European clubs that the largest crowd of supporters in Nigeria are Manchester United (Man U) and Chelsea. And the curious observer of the profile of these supporters will see clear distinctions or stratification in terms of social class, education, and income power. How?

Man U has captivated the fanatical support of the middle,

professional and upper class, who have flat screen television sets at home, and subscribe to cable television. And after any win by this football club, you will hear shouts of, Man U for Life! by excited fans. This is followed by thronging of beer parlours and pepper soup joints in most cities in Nigeria to celebrate the wins. When they gather there and relish the win, you will hear agitated fans tell so many stories about the match; narrate all sorts of analysis and do rigorous discourse of the game that has just been played. After every big match, there is plenty of soccer storytelling in Nigeria.

Chelsea on the other hand is in total control of the masses, the lower class, the street boys, the motor park touts, jobless youths and street urchins popularly known as area boys, in Lagos metropolis, Nigeria. They are more in number, are fanatical in their support for Chelsea, and are even prepared to die for the team.

Whenever Man U confronts Chelsea in a big match, there is tension inLagos, even before the match day. The UEFA Cup Final for 2007 or 2008(I am not sure of the year now) between Man U and Chelsea was a storm in a tea cup inLagos.

Seven days before the match, the tension was palpable inLagos. Who will win the match? The big question triggered intense debates all over the city and sometimes resulted in pre-match fights between Man U and Chelsea supporters inNigeria. Sports newspapers increased the tempo as they soaked supporters of both clubs with interviews, latest news and rave reviews of the clubs’ preparations, fitness of players, and the final match strategies.

Man U will win; we are Man U for Life! The club’s supporters will chant to the chagrin of Chelsea supporters who respond vociferously with Up Chelsea! Chelsea supporters in Lagos, outnumber the Man U for Life chanters. The Chelsea buffs are everywhere, more in the streets, marketplaces and motor parks. More than 80 per cent of commercial bus drivers in Lagos are die-hard Chelsea fans. And they are very loud. They can throw caution to the winds and fight anywhere with bottles, stones, any dangerous objects, especially if they are high on tobacco and reek of alcohol.

Not so with Man U supporters. They are more cultured, better educated and work in blue-collar and white collar jobs. They are more gentle and refined in their football behavior, though also  fanatical in their support for Man U, hence the slogan, Man U for Life, a clear indication they are not ready to switch their European Club brand loyalty, whether Man is winning or not. And in many cases, Man U wins.

Back to that epic Man U / Chelsea Final. Twenty-four hours to the match, the whole city of Lagos was drowned with the fever of the match. There were unconfirmed reports of clashes between supporters of both clubs in different parts of Lagos. Bus drivers and conductors fought, radio stations rent the air with pre-match reviews and interactive programmes for listeners to air their views on the outcome of the match.

Man U vs Chelsea was so thick in the air that many residents waited impatiently for the match to come and go. Match day, fans thronged viewing centres and beer parlours to watch the  game. If you want to enjoy the viewing of European soccer championships in Nigeria, do not watch it at home. Go to a viewing centre and sit with overzealous fans and listen to all sorts of stories and analysis as the match progresses. You can write a book full of such stories. Football storytelling is strong in Nigeria.


Eric Okeke is a storyteller, editor, business writer, motivational speaker and author of the best selling book: I Want a Husband. He is one of Nigeria’s most experienced financial journalists. He has published several articles in local and foreign publications and in websites such as http://www.ezinearticles.com, www.ezinearticles.com and www.writingcareer.com. He is currently running Infomedia Company, a media consulting and information marketing company. Visit his blog at http://sallywantsahusband.blogspot.com

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