Millions of Nigerian ball fans are in tears now that the European football season is over. These madcap fans cannot just have enough of the English Premier League.
Time was when Surulere, Lagos was known as the sports-city on account of the exploits of local Nigerian players playing on the fields in the municipality.
Not anymore, because all the noise now is about foreign players and some overseas-based Nigerian pros fed to Nigeria via the ubiquitous satellite television.
It is now the norm to see crowds gathered before television screens within the National Stadium, Surulere premises watching matches involving the famous English, Spanish, Italian, German and French clubs.
Nigerian kids can name off-hand the squads of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, PSG etc.
In short, European football has colonised Nigeria for good.
During the just-ended European football season, there was no quiet moment anywhere, from Lagos to Maiduguri, once the games were on.
On one Lagos evening, I went out to have a quiet moment with a friend only for wild uproar to break out from a nearby bar where scores of soccer devotees of Chelsea were going mad as ever.
I lost my beer in the melee that followed. Enough said!
Surprise is the name of the game.
Any true ball player worthy of his ball must take the victories with the defeats unlike some of the fanatics who kill because of football.
There’s the protracted case of one fan of Man U who is always rushed to the hospital after every match, win or lose.
After diagnosing the fanatic the doctor said, “I don’t know which is worse: your acute palpitations when Man U wins or your chronic depression when they lose!”
Somehow, soccer survives sickness, like the Arsenal fan that was nearly stabbed to death by a Chelsea fan in Lagos who reportedly woke up after prolonged anaesthesia and surgery with the exclamation: “Up Gunners!”
Football ought to be fun and not a life-and-death matter.
But the legendary Liverpool manager, Bill Shankly, differs markedly as he famously said: “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don’t like that attitude. I can assure them it is much more serious than that!”
A game that is more serious than life and death is obviously no longer a game.
Little wonder the ill-fated soccer player Escobar was killed in his country, Colombia, after scoring an unfortunate own goal in the World Cup!
Shakespeare wrote in Julius Caesar: “The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones.”
It is in football that this expression finds its full bearing. Godwin Odiye who distinguished himself as the last man of the Nigerian national team alongside Christian Chukwu is today remembered because of the own goal he scored against his goalkeeper Emmanuel Okala in a World Cup qualifier against Tunisia back in 1977 at the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos.
Any back-pass to a goalkeeper has since been nicknamed “Odiye” because it may end up as an own goal!
World football teems with many ribald tales.
There is this story that the legendary George Best of the old Manchester United team took the ball in his stride straight from kick-off and undertook a dribbling run that would never end until the other players had to go to the match referee, saying: “Ref, please give us another ball because George Best has taken the one ball we have!”
In Nigeria, there was the case of our own legend, Thunder Balogun, after whom the other stadium in Surulere is named, who was once reminded by a fan to remember his dangerous left foot whereupon he unleashed a thunderous left-footer that instantly killed the keeper and tore the net at the same time!
Sadly, I did not remember to check the authenticity of the story with Thunder Balogun’s son, Kayode “Zege” Balogun, who was my teammate back then at Great Ife!
Even as the European clubs’ league season is over, there is the European Nations League of national teams just won by Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal.
This way, the European football fever never really ends.
It has to be readily admitted that the fun of the European football madness continues on end.
Foreign football has completely killed the Nigerian League and football in general, but that is another matter for another day.
It only suffices to stress that now President Muhammadu Buhari has renamed the National Stadium in Abuja as Moshood Abiola National Stadium, many soccer aficionados are complaining that no football is being played there again as it has been completely overtaken by weeds to become only a grazing ground for herdsmen!