Dedicated to Nigeria's socio-political issues
October 3, 2007 - December 2, 2007
Soccer Like Life – Only The Goals Count
Farouk Martins, Omo Aresa
July 25, 2006
Nice guys finish last as the saying goes. It is so true, it hurts. I watched Ghana teach Brazil the game of football, as we call it. In the first half I felt real g-o-o-d! As it turned out, Ghana lost by three goals. How could that be? Yeah, find all kinds of excuses – weak shots etc. We were thought that the slow and steady horse wins the race. Ghana was steady but by no means slow. Each time I flipped to that Spanish Station with that famous announcer some of you may have seen shouting his brand of G O A L! I felt some pain. He probably thought that he is Ishola Folorunsho! One of the world’s best in his days.
Zenedine Zidane of France got thrown out for unruly behavior in the final game with Italy after he was provoked by raining abuses on his mother and sister. We all know, no matter where you come from that if you do not mean business, there are certain words you do not use like mother, the N word or P word as in pig or the B word as in bitch or bastard. Say what you want about anything but not mother. There is a special attachment to sweet mother. If you do not come back on a vengeance, no be him mama born am!
Yet some of us have been trained to reach for higher ground. After all, they say bones and stone may break your bones but words do not hurt. Sure right, they only send you mental. I got to learn bad words in Nigerian major languages in primary school. As we used to stand against one another and exchange words, I realized that when my opponent ran out of words against me, he devised a trick of answering me with only one word. All of a sudden he was getting more laughter than me. So I later asked my supporters what had happened. They told me what that one word meant, my mother. From then on, I mastered bad words in major Nigerian languages; but was never used in front of girls.
Life itself is not supposed to be easy and if you mix it up with soccer, it can be the most exhilarating experience or the worst of it. I felt disconcerted when I watched and read about the African player in Europe that was shown banana and called all kind of names. He finally broke down and cried. It was easy to identify with him. In my first couple of years in Diaspora, I was lucky to get one of those jobs that paid very well but I had to quit when school load increased. There were all kinds of ethnic jokes about Irish, Jews, Indians, English and of course Blacks. My primary school training jokes came to the rescue. All I had to do was twist their jokes around and applied it to them. One lumber jack as we called him then got so mad because I got more laughter, he went for my throat. He thought because he was bigger he could knock me down, but I hardly saw a black man loose a fight. Abi you ever see Dick Tiger or Hogan Kid Bassey or Rafiu King Joe loose a fight, apart from magomago? He found himself on the floor. Everyone saw him come after me, instead of loosing my job, we were warned.
Children, things are different these days. Nobody fights with fists anymore. They use guns. Moreover, racism is more subtle but just as devastating if not more these days. I think the French Captain was so provoked, he lost it. The African player who broke down and cry never expected that amount of racism. He was not prepared at home because we only expose the best part of Europe and America. If many of us were as honest and worked as hard in Africa as we did in Diaspora, Africa would never be a place to run away from risking death in the desert. We squandered passed legacy from our parents.
Hypocrites would ask you not to react violently in the face of racism, after all you are well paid and there are adequate due process of the law one can follow to report such insulting behavior. Sports itself can be a violent game. Indeed, soccer is a game that can be easily emotional. We know that from our primary school days. We used to beat opponent sometimes, win or loose. Some of my friends got suspended for that. As we moved to secondary schools, it became more civilized but still emotional. I think we left all those behind by the time we left high school anyway.
It may be more difficult to explain the behavior of the English hooligans that are known and banned from stadiums in their Country and outside their Country. So when we see unruly behavior among professional teams, we are surprised and my brother who broke down crying must have been equally caught unaware. Could it be the same Europe he had wished for all of his life to get to?
It is the same Europe where Teslim Thunder Balogun played. Can you imagine what they absorbed in those days? When he went to Europe, he was a star in Nigeria but decided to learn about Printing before he found himself in Peterborough United. Whenever there were important games, he was flown home to play for Nigeria. Nigeria was a hot football arena right from those days, even before my time. It was a matter of debate among many Nigerians whose shot was more powerful - Thunder Balogun or Etim Henshaw shots.
Violence in football/soccer then was if that shot would kill a goal keeper who dared to stand in the way. Before people call me to order and remind me that there were more violence than that, let me open up. The police team always played Ayo Olopa in those days. All they did was shooting to the sky trying to score in the heavens. Once they lost, everyone had to scatter for cover because of indiscriminate arrests. As for abuses, we used to play marble, and stations an agbalumo seed. If one missed by a whisker of the finger resulting in a weak shot, we exclaimed – esun gbe omo ale!
However, we enjoyed the game most of the time. There was a shocker in Lagos in 1953 that I was too young to remember. Kano XI was a selection of players from the City and they were the first to win FA cup from outside Lagos. In case you are wondering what the big deal was, they defeated Lagos Dynamos made of “timber and caliber” like Thunder Balogun, Dan Anyiam and Baba Shitu. I was too young to know if my parent gave me food that night or if they ate because all parents talked about the defeat for a long time.
Luckily I got old enough to witness none violent games that we were all proud of. Most of the world class players were flown in like Thunder was. Onyeali comes readily to mind. The home boys were not less skilful either. It was Olu Onagoruwa or Ezekwe at the goal post. Olu was calm and gentle but Ezekwe was one crazy magnet. There was Baba Yara and Onyeama at the back. I did not know how any Ghana player passed them. Fabian Duru and his free kicks was something else. Dejo Fayemi was just too good so were Dongo Yaro, Nnamokwo, Onyewuna, Omokachie, Fregene and Naquapor. If Blackson ever got the ball in front of him, nobody could catch him on the run. We had so many I can not remember now from different parts of Nigeria. Referees like Badru never tolerated nonsense as the Russian referee who threw out four players in 2006 World Cup.
Soccer did not just rise up in Nigeria. We were practicing from our mothers’ the womb. That is why our pregnant mothers complain of kicks. There were play grounds all over Nigeria and when there was none, we turned streets into one, especially dead ends. It was our recreation that kept us out of trouble. In Lagos, it was Onola, Campus Square, Evans, Elegbata and when we move to that bush in New Lagos, there were adequate space at Ifelodun and one by Olaiya Stadium Hotel. We also had Boy & Girls clubs where girls played net-ball. During excursion to the North and the East, we played soccer with our hosts, after the game, win or loose, we had dinner and fanta drinks together. Obviously, the same pattern of the game was demonstrated in all nooks and corners of the Country. Life was so good, one of my childhood friends threatened his dad that if he did not bring him back from London, he would just appear. Now think; the kids were in foster care.
There were some players in high schools in those days that also come to mind. Amu of St. Gregory’s was like Duru and his free kicks. His name would be called from the time he kicked the ball until it landed in the net. Lateef Gomez was also a high school goal keeper. It was Indiana Asiodu of Kings College we knew that if he could not score a penalty kick, nobody could. He was suspended for one game after he missed a penalty. Bode Lawal of Baptist Academy was simply “ball control”. Of course, Osode of Ahmadiya College with his rascality, Tunde Disu, Empire Kanu, the other Asiodu of Igbobi College, I think. So many of them made football fun in those days. How can I forget the IONIAN colleges in the West that glamorized competition for us? There was a boy from Christ the King College, Onitsha. After paying in Lagos, he was hijacked into Kings College for Higher School Certificate. Boy, he mesmerized Lagos.
Amu of St. Gregory must not be confused with A. K Amu, the 220 and 100 yards runner during the era of Akraka Water, Idowu, Erin Ile the huddler and David Ejoke that gave us their best at UAC playground in Surulere.
Before I get carried away with the old days, violence still reign not too long ago when Nigerian won the World Olympic Cup. Those boys were just dazzling, teaching the world how to play soccer. There were some skeptics at the beginning when the referees would call every tackle by African players. The commentators would say our players lacked international experience. The calls got to a point when I almost punch one of them in the TV. I think we defeated Brazil first before we went on to beat Argentina. Our Embassy was set ablaze in Brazil. Well, Brazilians live, breath and worship soccer. I did not remember hearing from Nigerians in Brazil if they were treated differently as a result of the Nigerian team prowess. But I could imagine then that they were on their best behavior in order not to attract hooligans into their space. In Columbia, Escobar who mistakenly scored into his own net during international match was shot dead when he got home.
Soccer is the world’s most important game. We should not be too dismay that violence has gone into it. It is also a very emotional game that has been highly commercialized. The scandals recently exposed and that is being investigated in Italy may also tarnish the game. But most of us just enjoy the game and must not loose focus of the togetherness and joy it brings us. I find it highly fulfilling when any African team is playing and we all unit behind “our“ team, even when we have been individually defeated. It does not matter if it is a Jamaican or Zimbabwe team.
Some of us have our reason for supporting the French team alright but the type of racist comment from an Italian politician that the team is made up of Muslims and Blacks is uncalled for. That is what leads to violence. As the women joined world class soccer, men have women to look up to for gentle and milder reactions. We tend to behave better around the ladies.
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This page was last updated on 10/27/07.