Football is weird.
I was briefly into football. I remember watching the first world cup that Nigeria qualified for back in 1994. I was quite young but I can never forget what that was like.
The build up to our first match created so much excitement that I remember reading all that I could lay my hands on about each player. My brother was a walking football dictionary and had composed a silly song with all their names starting with
Peter Rufai… Peter Rufai… Peter Rufai…(that was the chorus and he sung it in a whisper.)
He linked all their names… Siasia, Finidi, Oliseh, Keshi, Yekini, Okocha, Amokachi….
It was no joke.
The match against Bulgaria was our very first match. Words cannot describe the chaos in our sitting room that day. We all huddled around the TV. This included the people that lived in our quarters and my uncle came from his house because he did not want NEPA to interrupt and we did not use NEPA.
When Yekini put in that ball, madness erupted not just in our house but everywhere. He grabbed the net and shouted out some things in jubilation. My sister’s friend who had always called him ugly screamed at the telly in Hausa
“Ugly man that does beautiful work! Ugly man that does beautiful work!”
We won the match. Yes us. 3:0.
Winning football matches is practically the only thing that makes US proud to be under one umbrella. We say ‘We’ and ‘Us’ without arguing or hesitation.
Everyone was happy. I woke up the next day happy and life just seemed poised on the edge of more beautiful things.
Till we met Italy.
A set of twins lived in our BQ then. My uncle was born a twin but his brother had not survived. One of the twins was the panicky football fan watcher. Every single time our goal post was approached, she would shout:
“They will score! They will score!”
When we lost that match, a fight broke out amongst my uncle and the twins. He accused her of using her twin magic to curse Nigeria. He did not remember that she had done the same thing when we beat Bulgaria. Ironically he also forgot that he was a twin as well. Why didn’t he use his own powers to win us the match?
My mum had made rice and beans with stew that evening. I had no appetite. I covered my dinner and opened the fridge to keep my food only to meet several other plates there. I was not the only one who could not eat.
Waking up the next morning to the reality of our defeat was hard. I felt a sadness I cannot describe.
But I vowed that day never EVER to watch a Nigerian match again. I ended my tryst with football and life has been the better for it. My heart can’t invest in another heart break like USA 94. The emotions involved were too much for this fragile heart of mine.
Football is weird.
It has to be more than a game.
The power it has to wield powerful emotions cannot be underestimated. A guy in Jos jumped over a fence when Nigeria won the gold medal in Atlanta 96. In the euphoria, he did not even realise he had broken his ankle till he got to the main road that was about 400 metres from his house.
If religion and ethnicity polarises the country, football unites us as nothing else can.
On Friday, I did not watch the match. But I was interested in knowing how it played out. My neighbourhood erupted and that told me there was good news. I checked twitter and voila, we had won.
A country that has seen strife and division so well enhanced that we found ourselves onthe brink of the push for a split. There has always been Biafra agitators but this time last year, it stopped being a fringe movement to a mainstream idea.
We have been subjected to ridicule not only by the unfettered careless utterances by our leader but also by the things that happen here daily. We are infamous for a million and one things.
While Nigerians do not hate Nigeria, there has not been a reason to celebrate us recently.
Friday changed that.
Friday was like a drop of water on a parched tongue. It did not matter the problems that we have had internally. Nobody cared that Musa was Musa. It only mattered that he was Nigerian and we were Nigerian.
People exchanged hugs and hit their chests in pride.
“Our boys did it.”
I wondered for a moment.
What if we do make it?
I even said a word of prayer.
Not because football changes anything.
But because we desperately need something to celebrate. We need to see something thrive.
We are thirsty to celebrate this country.
We all know all the things that are wrong here.
Let one thing be right for once.
Go Super Eagles, kiss the sky and get that cup for us.
(And do correct shaku shaku on that field.)