An English friend once told me of his ‘out of body’ experience drinking Nigerian Guinness and watching a live Premiership game in his Lagos hotel.
He appeared perpetually bemused as he recounted his experiences whilst we ironically shared some bottles of the black stuff (made in Oba Akran, of course!!) at a Nigerian restaurant in London whilst we watched…..you’ve guessed it……another live Premiership game.
He had been to Nigeria three times in one year and quite naturally, it had altered his world view and coloured his thought process.
“I just couldn’t believe how fervent the support for the English clubs was,” he screeched.
“That is Nigerians for you, we don’t do things by half,” I replied with a shrug and a knowing smile.
“You can say that again. Even the support for sports at the younger levels is phenomenal. Under 17 and 21 football is hardly viewed in the UK, but in Lagos, it was as if I was watching the World cup. Simply unbelievable! Why do you think this is the case?”
I sipped my fresh pint, giving myself a cream moustache in the process. In truth I was buying time before replying to a question, for which I genuinely had no profound answer. Saying we are a passionate and sports-loving people, will obviously make sense, but in this politically correct age, it could also be deemed a subtle insult to my English host.
I rested my pint on the table and cleaned off my now disintegrating moustache – this took another precious fifteen to twenty seconds. My host was at his English best, quietly restrained and patiently waiting for my answer. It was time to say something.
“I think it is linked to our ability to find something we like; immerse ourselves in it and hold on without restraint,” I answered feebly, as I took another gulp of my drink.
My friend picked up his glass as I lowered mine, all the time wearing an unfulfilled face. He clearly had other ideas.
“Maybe you are right, afterall you are Nigerian and I am not, evidently. But I truly believe it extends further than the reasons you just articulated. I think it’s a spiritual thing and I am convinced people who have a high degree of belief in God, have a corresponding fervency in their chosen sports. Do you remember the worldwide Religious Belief poll conducted a few years ago? I am not sure now if it was the BBC or TIME magazine, but in any case; I think it was Nigeria and Poland that led the way. Have you ever seen a football game in Poland? It’s an experience let me tell you.”
I was about to reply, when I noticed the closest table to us had a group of Arsenal fans, all donning their red and whites. They had somehow run out of things to say and had come to the decision that our conversation was worth joining. The chubby one with a goalkeeper’s frame was the first to speak.
“Igwe, e be like say your oyibo boy get point. Nobody fit worship reach Naija. Even some of my oyibo colleagues at work no dey believe the passion we bring to the table.”
An equally huge, but fitter member of the group was not so willing to jump on the bandwagon.
“What has God got to do with football? I think the answer is much simpler; Nigerians like to outdo each other. So once we like something, it is our moral duty to prove we are better at doing that thing than the next man. Shikena! It is not complicated at all.”
My friend moved to reply, but I was quick enough to nudge him into silence. He resorted to raising his hand to generously order drinks for both tables. The discussion was now gathering momentum and we had consensually joined both tables, physically and otherwise. I had a quick glance around and realised we were now the focal point of the room.
I looked across at my friend and all I saw was a confidently relaxed person, who displayed none of those ruffles foreigners manifest, when discussions amongst Nigerians go from Heated to Ogbona Feli Feli! He was clearly in his element; he had started a discussion which contained all the juicy bits of life…..God, religion, sports, colonialism (apparently, the EPL is another instrument of English cultural domination), colonial mentality (someone from another table accused us of loving English things more than our own).
One of the Arsenal fans actually thought it had more to do with the fact Nigerians more than any other people; appreciated hard work, talent and the resulting beautiful expression when both things come together.
|Nigerian Billboard announcing the imminent arrival of the Arsenal team.|
An hour later and nearly everyone including the restaurant owner had joined in (to the annoyance of her boyfriend who sat stone-faced in the corner), but it seemed we were still far away from agreement. Seconds turned into minutes and then into another hour before we decided to courteously announce our departure.
Somehow, the initial stirring had now turned into a full sandstorm, which had degenerated into pockets of verbal combatants who had now decided the consensus of table arrangement was a thing of the past. The majority of those pockets were now arguing about who were the most passionate Premiership fans in London and judging by the animated state of the restaurant owner, this was not going end any time soon.
“Once my friends leave, can you roll down those shutters,” she shouted to one of her staff.
My friend and I exchanged the customary farewell handshakes. He succeeded in amusing everyone with his ability to click fingers with ease. The young guy, the one charged with closing the shutters, followed us out and waved goodbye with a few words.
“That’s how it is here every weekend! Drogba this, Osaze that. The players don’t even care about these people and they will never receive cheques for their support. Na wa o!”
A few minutes on the roadside and our taxi pulled up. The driver, a seemingly meek man (who just so happened to be Nigerian) had only been driving for a minute when he suddenly exploded.
“I am sorry sirs, but my blood is still boiling. Can you believe this Arsene Wenger man? We are talking about winning trophies, he is talking about development! How can you develop when you never win any cups? How can you progress when we don't buy players? Premiership, zero! FA Cup, zero! European cup, nothing! Carling Cup sef e no fit win. Abeggi, please return to France and let Klopp come and do the job!”
My friend and I exchanged glances, both nodding at the driver.
We had to…...we didn’t need an agitated person at the wheel. Besides, he had turned his neck almost 360 degrees to start the conversation with us.
Swift agreement was the fastest way to avoid a death ride.