by Mister Spruce
It was 2’o clock in the afternoon when I walked down the dusty streets of Lagos city. The sun beat down my head which was still tender from the newly made weave on it, sweat poured down my brows, my make-up bearing the brunt of it all; Nigeria.
I imagined my friends in England whining about autumn that had already arrived, the presence of the chill that wouldn’t go away, the chill which was the harbinger of colds and the flu, ha! Humans, never really there, never really not there.
In the midst of all these thoughts jogging through my reasonably small head (seriously, it’s not that big, ask my mum), I was determined to show that the people of this humid, multi-ethnic (we have over 150 tribes with over 200 languages spoken; English is our lingua-franca aka official language), and sometimes unstable country, had one thing that brought everyone together – football.
Now, don’t get it twisted, this ‘togetherness’ that football brings isn’t always lovey-dovey; there are factions, always will be, it’s a bad habit. The factions involve the battle for supremacy of the ‘Super-Power’ clubs; you have the crazy Barca fans that splash life size stickers on their vehicles and buildings (I kid you not). You have the Real Madrid fans that are just as crazy; then, there are the extremely, excruciatingly annoying Man-U fans…
Oh! My dying ear-drums!
“Sir Alex Ferguson is a demi-god”, “Winning is a way of life for us red-devils”. “yadayadayada…”
And then Judas-is-Van-Purse-strings moved and dearest to goodness! I nearly blew my brains out…
Anyways, that’s gist for another article.
Then, you have the Chelsea fans who know ‘their walnuts have been cracked by the benevolent spirits’; for those of you that don’t know where that line is culled from, go read ‘Things Fall Apart’ by the late Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe. The Chelsea fans I have encountered in my country know they’ve been on the payroll of their Russian sugar daddy and so the ones with enough common sense know better than to argue plenty.
And then, there’s us.
Nigerian Gunners, 600,000 strong.
Never, ever, ever, ever-ever…shall I continue? Ever, ever…have I seen people as passionate, as patient, as hopeful, as emotional and as true.
Some of them want to identify with the club so badly that you have those who are proud to wear an Arsenal kit they found rummaging through the rubbish dumps just because it gives them a way of identifying with the club.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Nigerian Arsenal fans don’t only constitute the poorest of the citizenry, Nigerian celebrities, middle-class citizens, the super-rich and a few top government officials including the former vice-president of Nigeria are all Gunners.
So what do you think of the new @arsenal boy, Özil?
— Atiku Abubakar (@atiku) September 14, 2013
— Atiku Abubakar (@atiku) September 14, 2013
Yeah, I know, it’s a huge but.
This IS because wearing the Arsenal kit, putting Arsenal stickers on their door posts and tricycles and gathering round a 14inch TV screen on match days are the only ways they know how identify with the club they love.
Many of these Nigerian Gunners earn less than £1 a day. They have to eat, pay rent and some of them have kids and education is not free. I remember living in London and paying £4 for an all-day bus ticket within Central London, which is a dream to do in Lagos city. Going from point A to point B and back to point A again in some areas can cost as much as 1000 naira (Naira is the Nigerian currency) which is the equivalent of £4.
Barely a week after I returned to Nigeria, I decided to go grocery shopping. I took 5000 naira which is the equivalent of about £25 and all I could come back with was a big bottle of Ribena, one beef kebab and a few biscuits! I could shop for a week’s groceries with £25 in the UK.
That’s the life here. Painful but true.
So, when those 6 or 10 Nigerian Gunners huddle around a tiny television set trying to watch Rambo and Ozil make nonsense of Stoke City’s defence, they see you (Sir Cats_arse), and you (Capt. Dave) and you (Gooner Kal) and everyone else in the crowd wearing the red and white or yellow and blue.
And there’s a feeling of nostalgia.
They want to belong.
I had an argument with Arseholic sometime ago about fake replica shirts and the people who wear them. This came up during our Asia tour press conference in Indonesia where many attendees wore fake replica shirts. His argument was that it was improper to purchase such shirts thereby keeping these fake-product-producing companies in business and he has a point, a valid point.
Watching the boys play on a 14 inch screen just won’t cut it anymore, so they go out and get a fake replica shirt for 1,500naira (about £5-£6); it’s the closest they can get to being like you, to belonging.
Arseholic talked about customising a shirt to state that the individual wearing it belongs to the Arsenal. Doing that costs about £10, which is a lot for many. An authentic Arsenal kit costs over the odds here, roughly £60, only on my return did I feel humbled and blessed to afford a kit of my own.
Many would never get the chance to travel in an air-plane, and let’s not even talk about travelling to England or scoring a ticket on less than its face value; that would take 4-5 years of saving without removing money for food, rent and transportation. Huddling round that tiny TV and buying that shirt we don’t want them to (keeping the exploiters in business) is the only way they know to show their passion for the cannon.
I have decided to give away my old kits to less privileged Gunners every time I buy a new one (no use accumulating them) because in a way I understand, I hope you will too.
Images courtesy of my journalistic self @Misterspruce1 *wink*
Video courtesy of @Disfemisef