Nigeria Youths And European Football
Bosah Chinedu Donald
National Secretary of the ERC
Football like other sports is entertaining. It is the most popular game at least for now. The viewer ship and follower ship is unparallel. The game has attracted so much money from big businesses. Wealthy individuals and corporate organisations are moving their capital to football- Abrahamovich and Chelsea, Thaksin and Man City, Glaciers and Man United etc. Clubs and teams that have not attracted big money cannot compete favourably and thus only few clubs stay on top. That explains why 4 big teams in the English Premiership remain on top for several years. Football and sports in most countries are now subject to the dictates, whims and caprices of big business and financial capital. Football and sports that are supposed to be for exercise-keeping fit and relaxation are now more to speculation and fanaticism.
Nigeria is not left out, there is growing fanaticism among layers of youths in the country, which has almost aped English fans and hooliganism. It was most unfortunate that before, during and after the last UEFA champions’ league match between Chelsea and Man United on May 21 2008, 7 youths lost their lives while several others were badly wounded in different parts of the country as a result of clashes and celebration. In a match between Bolton and Arsenal about 2 years ago an Arsenal fan was stabbed and rushed to Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH). Nigeria is a backward country with a decaying infrastructure and so sports like other sectors suffer seriously. In the 1980’s we used to have much more entertaining and attractive league compared to what we now have - apparently better funded than the present charade. Football is influenced by three factors: tradition, organisation and adequate funding with quality facilities. While Nigeria still have the tradition, we have lost the other factors.
Pathetically, organisation and facilities are now missing and that is the why we have one of the worst leagues in the world. Sometimes one wonders how Nigeria youths who still manage to play good football cope. Though inspired by players who play in big clubs in Europe-the Ronaldos, Lampards, Drogbas, Okochas etc., they are more attracted by the money than good football as a means of escaping the excruciating poverty. What keeps the Globalcom league going is the resilience of the Nigeria youths. Resilience of the Nigerian people is what still keeps this country going-be it in football and the economy.
Brazil does not have the level of facilities England has, but she has one of the best football tradition and organisation and that explains why it has not only lifted more World Cups (five times) than any other country, but has also participated in all competitions since inception in 1930. Egypt has quality facilities and organisation, which explains why only very few players in its national team ply their trade in Europe. It came to the last (26th) Nation cup and won with predominantly home-based players while Nigeria participated virtually with European based players had a poor outing. Egypt has also lifted the African Nations cup 6 times out of 26 times between 1957and 2008, and it is the highest so far. USA for example is the biggest economy but without football tradition but the best in basketball. The point is that every country must match tradition with good organisation and facilities before it could excel in any sport. But without the facilities and organisation in terms of planning or if the facilities keep decaying the tradition will collapse-is just a matter of time.
It is the three factors that are affecting Nigeria sports generally. It amuses me when sports analysts keep arguing over foreign and home based coach. The supporters of foreign-based players often swallow their words whenever a foreign coach fails to deliver the same for local coach. We keep jostling between foreign and local coach like gamblers. Very soon the NFA will from time to time consult soothsayers before hiring a coach. No doubt a coach can make a difference but it is not the ultimate decider. What is the state of the league? What is the state of the facilities? What is our national policy on sports? Assemble the best coaches in the world, if do not have a functional league, your level of success will be strictly limited. In the 1980’s the league is far stronger than now. Fans watched league matches in capacity filled stadium. The enthusiasm was high. Nigerians support teams like Ranger, Stationary Stores, Calabar Rovers, IICC Shooting Stars, Ranchers Bees, the just relegated Bendel Insurance etc. Even public institutions and private like NEPA, NITEL, Abiola Babes used to have viable teams. One can tell the players that play for a particular team and the highest goal scorers. Where are the Isa Shofoluwe’s, Rasheedi Yekinis of today? The Nigeria premiership league is one of the funniest and most corrupt in the World. The referees are at the mercy of the home team - it is either he is induced or intimidated by the home fans. How would one explains: the first 4 teams (Kano Pillars, Heartland, Bayelsa United and Sunshine Stars) in the just concluded Globalcom league had 69 wins-63 home wins, 6 away wins and 252 points while in the English Premiership, the first 4 teams (Man United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool) had 97 wins-55 home win and 42 away win and 331 points. The total away win recorded in the Globalcom Premiership league were 12 while the English Premiership recorded 104. To win an away match in the Nigeria premier league is like asking the visiting team and the referees to engage in an obvious risk. There is lack of security at match venues. Even if you want to be bold watching the matches on the television, the first eyesore is the pitch that is not only galloping but also look like where cattle grass.
It is not just the league that has problems but also grass root football that comprises of secondary school and community football. What has gone wrong with the prestigious principal cup in Lagos State and all other states? What about the challenge cup and its final that keeps Nigerians focused? In Lagos and Ogun State that I am familiar with, most secondary schools have coaches. Today schools in Lagos and elsewhere don’t have enough teachers let alone coaches. Education policies that lack chairs, desk and classrooms will also lack sporting facilities. What has happened to the good old St Finbars College, Eko Boys, United Christian, Ifelodun secondary school (Sinclair)? Playing to the gallery is now the order of the day. Gov. Fashola of Lagos state has invited Rio Ferdinand to Lagos state and that is all. Sports policy is more like ‘eko for show’ and nothing concrete. Priority is standing on its head, taxpayer’s money endangered. It is more convenient for the 36 states Governors and the president to expend more public resources celebrating 100 days or one year of inactive governance than what was expended on the so called projects. Though, we have football academies springing up but academies and clubs will definitely rely on the schools and communities as raw materials, but like we all know nothing is happening in schools.
With the entire crisis confronting the youths and the collapsing economy, football has lost its tradition. Those who play obviously do it in order to escape poverty. They get to know about thousands of Pounds Sterling paid to some footballers per week and they are motivated. Because of the money involved, if the opportunity is there for Nigerians to travel to Europe to play football, I am too sure old men and women will readily get into their jersey’s and queue up. When you visit some viewing centres, you just have to study the environment before openly lending your support to a particular team or you might be doing it at your own risk. The passion for the game most especially the English Premier League is fast growing. The Chelsea Man United final is a case study. There is nothing bad in taking interest and supporting a team that plays good football. The fact remains that youths in Nigeria do not have anything to be proud of. The fanatical ones cannot boast of their contribution in the society whether in sports, production or otherwise and pride themselves with it. Just a few can be proud and be satisfied with it while the vast majority have been abandoned. The economic survival of Nigerian youths hangs in the balance. No jobs, no homes, the next meal is never guaranteed and like the late Fela puts it: “my people are suffering and smiling.” In every corner of the streets and in groups they discuss about players in Europe and how much they earn. They know the names of every player in big teams than the names of their neighbours. The support is like their life depends on it. Their pride is not in anyway depended on what they do and can achieve but on what other people do. That explains why several youths died and several got injured across the country as a result of last UEFA Champions final match that was played in Europe where nobody sustained any form of injury. Life as a result of the crisis, has no meaning for our teaming youths and in some cases whatever they embark on is not given serious consideration.
Sporting is now an exclusive preoccupation of a few and not an integral part of human life. Sporting like other form of art as far as I am concerned is supposed to be a form of relief for workers, community people and students as a result of boredom. It is meant to keep fit. It keeps the monotonous nature of work and study in check. The reverse is the case. Some people get more hypersensitive watching football and other sports. The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) holds that Sports will begin to take its place when it is given proper attention in primary/secondary/higher institutions and sporting facilities put in place in schools in line with proper funding of education. Sports will also take its place when workers after a good days job on weekdays and weekends can take time out to relax either taking part in sports/games or other forms of art. According to the ERC, that can only take place if functional recreational and sporting facilities are put in place in every communities and localities. The Education Rights Campaign (ERC) hereby call on 773 local government authorities, 36 state governments and the federal government including the Federal capital Territory Abuja to as a matter of policies begin to build public sporting and recreational facilities in schools at all levels, communities and workplaces that can encourage virtually all youths and adults to participate in sports. That can only be possible if massive public investment is carried out on the power sector, education, health, transportation etc., such that can guarantee quality standard of living for Nigerians. To us in the ERC, sports will become far more qualitative when its planned such that virtually everybody gets the opportunity of participating in it (football, basketball, chess, volleyball etc.,) and that is when it will be liberated from the shackles and dictates of big business and the speculation that comes with it. It then becomes a means of satisfying the needs of all and not the profit of a few. Give Nigeria youths the opportunity to excel and you will be marvelled at what they can do. Motivate, inspire and invest massively in our youths then the sky is less than their limit- that I know and is very certain.