Striking Season of Soccer Sickness

June 14 16:44 2016 Print This Article

Andres Escobar

The European football season is over, and millions of Nigerian football fans are in tears. These madcap fans cannot just have enough of the English Premier League. Time was when Surulere was known as the sports-city on account of the exploits of local Nigerian players on the fields of two stadiums located in the municipality. Not any more. All the rage now is about foreign players and some Nigerian professional footballers fed to Nigeria via the ubiquitous satellite television. It is now the norm to see crowds gathered before television screens within the National Stadium premises watching matches involving the famous English clubs – Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool – or the Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona. In short, European football has colonized Nigeria for good.


During the just-ended European football season, there was no quiet moment anywhere, from Lagos to Maiduguri, once the games were on. Just the other night, one thought one could have a quiet moment with a boon companion only for wild uproar to break out from a nearby bar where scores of soccer devotees were watching lowly Leicester City doing the giant-killing magic of beating the likes of Arsenal, Man U, Man City, Chelsea etc to the English Premiership title. Leicester which had just marginally escaped from relegation from the elite division only the previous season, rewrote football history by winning the coveted Premiership title. In manager Claudio Ranieri, Leicester had a miracle , a modern-day Cinderella of the male gender. Leicester’s triumph in the top flight after many moons in the lower leagues is the hallmark of the beautiful game. It is indeed cool to root for the underdog because the monotony of only one team winning all the titles can be very boring!

Surprise is the name of the game. Any true sportsman worthy of his ball must take the victories with the defeats unlike some of the fanatics who kill because of football. There’s the protracted case of one Man U fan who is always rushed to the hospital after every match, win or lose. After diagnosing the fanatic, the doctor said, “I don’t know which is worse: your acute palpitations when Man U wins or your chronic depression when they lose!”


Bill Shankly

Football ought to be fun and not a life-and-death matter. But the legendary Liverpool manager, Bill Shankly, differs markedly as he famously said: “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I don’t like that attitude. I can assure them it is much more serious than that!” A game that is more serious than life and death is obviously no longer a game. Little wonder the ill-fated soccer player Escobar was killed in his country Colombia after scoring an unfortunate own goal in the World Cup!

Shakespeare wrote in Julius Caesar: “The evil that men do lives after them, the good is oft interred with their bones.” It is in football that this expression finds its full bearing. Godwin Odiye who distinguished himself as the last man of the Nigerian national team alongside Christian Chukwu is today remembered because of the own goal he scored against his goalkeeper, Emmanuel Okala, in a World Cup qualifier against Tunisia back in 1977 at the National Stadium. Any back-pass to a goalkeeper has since been nicknamed “Odiye” because it may end up as an own goal!

World football teems with many ribald tales. There is this story that the legendary George Best of the old Manchester United team took the ball in his stride straight from kick-off and undertook a dribbling run that would never end until the other players had to go to the match referee, saying: “Ref, please give us another ball because George Best has taken the one ball we have!” In Nigeria, there was the case of our own legend, Thunder Balogun, after whom the other stadium in Surulere is named, who was once reminded by a fan to remember his dangerous left foot whereupon he unleashed a thunderous left-footer that instantly killed the keeper and tore the net at the same time! Sadly, I did not remember to check the authenticity of the story with Thunder Balogun’s son, Kayode “Zege” Balogun, who was my teammate back then at Great Ife!

Even as the European league season is over, there is the European championship of national teams, Euro 2016 being staged in France, which will feature club legends such as Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edin Hazard, Andreas Iniesta, Mesut Ozil etc. This way, the European football fever never really ends. It has to be readily admitted that the fun of the European football madness continues on end.

Foreign football has completely killed the Nigerian League and football in general, but that is another matter for another day. For now, European football is such a hit in Nigeria such that an irate Man U fan once drove into a crowd of Barcelona fans after Barcelona won the UEFA Champions League by beating his beloved team! Somehow, soccer survives sickness, like the Arsenal fan who was nearly stabbed to death by a Chelsea fan in Lagos who reportedly woke up after surgery with the exclamation: “Up Gunners!”

Sadly, South Africa earns all the profit accruing from viewing these matches on TV. The Nigerian pay TV station, HiTV, which once broke the South African monopoly of rights to the English Premier League (EPL) has lost its mojo. It is now going into over six seasons that HiTV lost the highly coveted English Premier League broadcast rights in Nigeria to Multichoice/DSTV. The South African monopoly known as DStv took over the telecast of the much-coveted English league as from the 2010-2011 season. With the loss of the telecast rights, the HiTV decoder became just another box because apart from the English Premiership and European football generally there’s nothing to crow about the pay TV wannabe. The company has since gone comatose. Now Nigerian viewers must perforce cough out about N15,000 monthly to DStv so that they  can be a part of the Nigerian addiction known as European football on the Premium Bouquet of the monopolists out of South Africa.

Back then, HiTV had initially secured the rights for the broadcast of the EPL for all of three seasons. The harsh reality eventually manifested that HiTV had only paid $40 million for the content value of the first of the three seasons which it had won. The lords of the EPL in due course demanded bank guarantees for the remaining two seasons, and HiTV was given a deadline which the company could not meet.

Of course the rival DStv moved very fast and beat our HiTV to the ball. It was not the sweetest of news to Nigerian ears when DSTV began to make more noise than the Vuvuzela that it had acquired the Nigerian broadcast rights to the Premiership for the next three seasons. It needs to be recalled that DSTV held the rights earlier until HiTV stole in from the back of beyond, as the novelist Biyi Bandele would put it. A disgruntled DStv had to make do with a paltry 20 percent broadcast content of the EPL when HiTV was in charge. With the misfortune of HiTV, it came to pass that DStv stole back the whole lot.

Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

Uzor Maxim Uzoatu



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