There is the story of a Manchester United fan, at home in Lagos, Nigeria, watching the epic final football match with Chelsea. Suddenly there was power outage. He did not have a standby electric generator to power his television set. Desperate not to miss any action in the match, he dashed into a hotel that has a viewing centre. Unfortunately, the place was thronged by Chelsea fans.
He burst into the centre shouting Man U for Life. The Chelsea supporters there promptly threw him out. Man U eventually won that match to the chagrin of Chelsea fans. Oh! Hell was almost let loose in Lagos metropolis. Man U fans celebrated, though in a subdued tempo because Chelsea supporters almost went on rampage. So many blames by the Chelsea fans. Oh! The referee was partial; there was not enough extra time; Didier Drogba did not play well enough; so many blames but the fact remained that Man U won on penalty kicks after both teams drew level at the end of extra time.
Come and see celebrations by Man U Fans. Three days later, they were still celebrating. Even married women joined in the fray. One madam, a Man U supporter threw open her restaurant and offered customers, ostensibly Man U fans, free drinks. The Man U fever is very strong in Nigeria. To say that Chelsea fans were… disappointed… that is being charitable; …bitter… yes, because that was the first time, I was told, their beloved club got very close to clinch the UEFA Cup. And they missed it.
Even the support for European clubs trickles down to families, sometimes breaching the peace at home, causing friction among children and creating challenges for parents in managing their childrens’ support for European soccer clubs
Take the story of my family of four sons (aged 17, 15, and 10) and a daughter who is just five, and does not know any club yet. Chidubem my first boy is a diehard supporter of Liverpool. Enter his room; you will see a life size poster-picture of the entire Liverpool team pasted on the wall. The second boy, Chibuzor, is a fanatical supporter of Barca. I had never heard that name before. When I asked him which club is that, he promptly told me, “Daddy, you are behind time,” chuckling. “Who is Barca,” I asked in amazement. “Barca means Barcelona,” he replied My boy taught me that. I thought I was current. Chika the youngest boy loves Chelsea.
Whenever their favourite teams wins or loses, come and see the commotion in my house. It could be jubilations, if it is a win, or taunts from other brothers if it is a loss. Should the match be between Liverpool, Barca, or Chelsea, there are fights in my house, so serious that that at times I have to threaten to discipline them if they continue to disturb the peace at home. The youngest boy Chika is always on the receiving end. Should Chelsea win Liverpool or Barca, the little boy is in trouble. The bigger brothers can even bully him if I or their mother is not around. On one occasion, they ran after him to beat him up, and he dashed off running to me for rescue. I did. If Chelsea loses, Oh! Come and see the taunts from the big brothers. In that situation, I usually placate Chika, assuring him that Chelsea will win another day. Such is the impact of European soccer on Nigerian families, sometimes polarizing family members.
It is not only European clubs that are celebrated in Nigeria. The players are revered too. Big names like Didier Drogba, David Beckham, Merci, Christian Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and many others are revered. They are not only big soccer brands in Nigeria, they are idols. Nigerian youths see them as status symbols and role models. The average Nigerian teenager has large size pictures of European soccer superstars pasted in their rooms. Nigerian youths know the movement and transfer fees of European soccer stars much more than that of Nigerian soccer stars also playing in European clubs.
The story of European soccer brands is not only about play. It is also about business. People gamble before matches, some even going into bets. Viewing centres are springing up all over Lagos fitted with flat screen tv’s and connected to cable television channels. Match fixtures are displayed on blackboards planted on street sidewalks for the attention of passersby. These centres charge gate fees for soccer fans who want to watch matches.
Some hotels and hospitality outfits have joined the fray of showing such matches to attract more patronage. Many of them on match days bring out flat screen television sets out in the open for free viewing. But every patron watching the match is required to buy drinks.
But the viewing centres are running into trouble now with DSTV, the cable tv company in Africa that has the franchise to beam these football matches in the African continent. DSTV wants the viewing centres to pay fees or royalties to the company because they charge soccer fans money to match. The cable company’s position is that the channel is for home entertainment by subscribers, and if any patron charges money for viewing, the person or company has to pay something to DSTV .The viewing centres are crying foul, saying it will squeeze them out of business. A showdown is imminent.
Besides, there are many sports souvenirs… T Shirts…Pictures…Wall Papers…Give Aways and other consumer items sporting European soccer stars and their clubs are sold in Nigeria. It is big business. And there are many newspapers dedicated exclusively to football. They come in different shades of tabloids, are cheaper than mainstream newspapers, and are heavily patronized by soccer loving youths to keep track of the fortunes of their favourite players and clubs. However, club loyalty does not stop them from loving any player, and they sometimes wish the player they love sign -on for their favourite clubs. Merci, the youthful Barcelona player is loved by Nigerian youngsters. They like his diminutive size and deft moves in the field of play. Nigerian youths believe this gifted Argentinan boy has football sense. Same for the Brazilian, Ronaldinho.
And so anytime you see European soccer on air, know that the fever is very 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