MY CHILDHOOD FRIEND
Football to me is more than a game. It is my sweetest friend, and we play together with my other friends as a kid! Those beautiful days are long gone, when we played football; playing it very hard until our legs go sore!
I was among the privileged few who had toys as a kid in my community. Being the only son of my mother and the last born of the family, I was brought up with love, care, attention and luxury that most of my mates were denied.
I own what most of my peers’ only dream of and part of my possession as a kid, was a beautiful branded round leather object known as football. My football; was branded by coca-cola. A regular corporate gift from relatives.
I grew up in a rural-urban area, where we have mixed kids from diverse ethnicities and family backgrounds.
I have lots of friends as a child because of my ball and what we spent most of our time doing is playing football after school hours, this we do until late in the evening when MAMA calls. When she calls, I ran inside take a cold bath and sit with my sisters to eat amala and ewedu with catfish. After eating, I normally crawl to where mother is and sleep on her laps.
We normally choose ourselves into a team of four or five depending on the length and breath of the road, piece of land or field we are using.
After selecting the first and second team, the others will form a team that will play with the winner between the first and second team.
I always make the first team on most occasions because of my ball except on few occasions when I have wounds or injury.
We played this passionate game of football with barefoot or slippers, only few of us have football boots or canvas we played with. Whenever we have inter-street competitions the others find ways to borrow boots to play with.
We call ourselves names of football players like Austin J.J Okocha, Roberto Baggio, Roger Miller, Kanu Nwankwo, Diego Maradona and Abedi Pele etc. we tried as much as possible to play like our football mentors. Then it was a real passionate football and nothing can be compared with it.
In 1993, I started noticing the impact football had in my community. I remembered vividly during the U-17 world cup in Japan, where Nigeria won Gold and the likes of Kanu Nwankwo and Wilson Oruma shone like stars in the firmament.
Adults in my community would stay up till 2am-3am to watch Nigeria matches because of the time zone. Sometimes, I was chanced to watch part of this game with them but on most cases, I was always sent back to bed because of school.
I didn’t put much thought on Italia 90, then I was a 5-year-old boy and there was no much commitment to international football in those days if Nigeria is not participating.
USA 94 was when I fell in love with football. Earlier that year, Nigeria won the African cup of Nations and football was a force to reckon with at that time. The super eagles of Nigeria played their first World cup in USA 94 and I watched all their matches and some other matches as well which include the final between Brazil and Italy.
When Nigeria lost to Italy in the second round of USA 94, Roberto Baggio became one of my heroes.
I was more passionate about football than most of my peers. I celebrated my 9th birthday during the USA 94 and as a 9-year-old boy, I could analyze the sport more than my peers and even the adults in my community sometimes ask for my opinion on matches. During this era Nigeria ranked as high as 5th in FIFA football ranking.
In France 98, Nigeria won their first match against Spain, a match that has now become a classic but in the second round the Super eagles were beaten mercilessly by Denmark and Austin J.J Okocha was the only player on the field that precious day. Anyone who watched Nigeria and Denmark match would testify boldly that J.J Okocha is one of the most talented players of his generation.
In 1998, I was already a teenager and I was deeply aware of the happenings in my country. As a nation, Nigeria was going through one of her worst moments. Citizens were calling for democracy and the military era was in a state of confusion. In fact this has been the state of the country since the military took over. There has always been tension, assassination, murder, coup-de-tat, frustration, poverty and crisis in the country during the last 4 decades 70s-2010 and football has always been one of the most potent forces that unite tribes together in the country.
During the annulment of the 1993 presidential election, Japan 93” and USA 94” played a major part in stabilizing the country. In 1996, when Nigeria won gold in the Olympics, it brought great joy to the country despite the level of corruption and murder under the dictatorship of Gen. Sani Abacha.
Over the years, football has developed rapidly in most African countries but reversal was the case for Nigeria because of factors like corruption, complacency from the players, poor management skills, and lack of infrastructure, greed, nepotism and mediocrity on the part of the football association.
Nigeria as a nation spends more money on football than any other sports and yet we have only few medals to show for it- mostly bronze. Our domestic league is so bad and poorly managed that even Nigerians are more informed on foreign leagues than domestic league. When I hear comments of young boys now are days, I get so sad because at their age, football was my love and on some occasions, my uncles do take me to Lekan Salami stadium to watch the shooting stars football club of Ibadan.
As a young boy, if I was asked whether Nigeria can host the world cup, I would definitely say yes without hesitations, as a teenager, I would say yes with hesitations but now as a young man and pondering on the situations of things in the country presently, if I’m asked the same question, I would say yes, only if Nigeria can bribe FIFA. It is not that Nigeria does not have the resources to host the world cup, in fact we have more than enough resources to host the world cup three times in a year if possible but we lack the skills, man power, integrity and organization, commitment and mindset. Apart from the mentioned facts, our stakeholders are too corrupt to handle such a noble task as hosting the world cup. This is a scenario into how worst corruption has destroyed a beautiful platform like football in our nation; the truth of it all is that corruption, greed, nepotism and the negative influence by majority of the stakeholder have tarnish the image of the great country and destroyed platforms erected by other sports as well.
As a boy, I fell in love with our indigenous football, then it was great football but now I simply fall in love with good football wherever I see it; but I hope if change and revolution comes; my kids will have the same privileged I had to watch the greats of their time.
Austin J.J Okocha, Kanu Nwankwo, Rasheed Yekini, Daniel Amokachi, Wilson oruma, Celestine Babayaro, Peter Rufai, Stephen Keshi, Austin Egueavon, Samson Siasia, Sunday Oliseh etc. these were some of the greats of my time, and I enjoyed watching them until our football was turn into dung by those managing it.
Only a radical change initiated by those passionate about the game of football can clean our system and recreate a new generation of stars…. And I anxiously await this change!
This is an excerpt. From my manuscript to be publish soon.
Title: Nelson Mandela’s Cup.