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Football and fatalities: How not to be a fan in Nigeria

The game of soccer, football as it is known in America, helps to bring together, people from  different backgrounds.  Through this sport barriers created by ignorance or prejudice, are   broken down. Despite the beauty of football, gangsterism has become associated to it, especially in Africa. Why does the game attract violence  more than other  sports? Charles Kumolu investigates.  Warning! Please one of the photos may be gory!

FOLLOWING the 1985 Heysel Stadium Disaster in Belgium, English football clubs were banned from participating from European constitutions. The five year ban which was a deterent. was a direct product of the pre- match violence that led to death of thirty people. Perhaps the  legendary Michael  Platini, whose lone goal decided the game between Liverpool and Juventus, may still nurse the sweet sadness of that day.

According to historical accounts, barely an hour before kick-off time, some Liverpool fans  breached the fence separating them from Juventus F.C. supporters.

The visitors from Turin were reportedly attacked.  The rest is history as the five year ban negatively affected most spheres of their (English football owners and folowers) endeavours.  Today, the good fallout of the disaster, is the enactment of Football Spectators Act in 1989.  That act of parliament, was aimed at keeping trouble makers away from match venues.

Despite some prescribed harsh punishment for football hooligans, fans of various football clubs have continued to shoot trouble across the globe.

Even across climes where football followership was rarely a religion (like Africa and Asia), as it is in Europe, the story is the same: Passion and pains have come to trail soccer followership in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Whereas the most unifying thing after religion since the beginning of the twentieth century, is supposed to be football, regrettably, the bond that comes from football, is becoming a threat to many, as the connection is sometimes broken at the theatre of gangsterism.

That outcome of matches, can unsettle even the most perfect union, is becoming worrisome.  It also tells the extent to which the game can unite and disorganise the society.  Imagine violence in some obscure parts of the world, over outcome of games in Europe?

Like wild fire, this emerging terror is spreading across Africa. The story is not different in Nigeria, as some deaths have been recorded through football hooliganism.  Even during the glorious days of Nigerian football league, fans did not kill for Stationery stores FC, Abiola Babes FC and others.  Rather, the game gave fun and joy to its followers.

Given that the local league lacks glamour, some may have expected little or no craze about soccer in the country.  But it is to the contrary in Nigeria, as out of every ten Nigerian, eight may either be fanatics of some European clubs.

Nigeria Supporters' Club during a football match
Nigeria Supporters' Club during a football match

Being passionate about foreign teams, has not unsettled observers, but the rational behind killing in the name of Arsenal or Manchester United, has remained a nagging question.

Whether Nigeria is re-branding or not, does not mean anything to fans in Nigeria.

The manslaughter involving a Manchester fan in Porthcourt, is a reflection of what soccer is turning Nigerians into.

It was reported that the fan had driven past the jubilating Barcelona crowd, but hurriedly made a U-turn, and rammed his car into them.  The act however, snuffed life out of four people. Those injured, were up to a dozen.

Also, another Nigerian who is a “fanatic” of same Manchester United, collapsed and died of heart attack after his club drew with Everton.

This affliction is not peculiar to Nigeria, as, an Arsenal in Kenya committed suicide after his team had been eliminated from the Champions League by Manchester United.

Instructively, this phenomenon is seen as a worldwide phenomenon with police around the world on standby every Saturday afternoon when matches kick off.

Given that soccer hooliganism is high as it used to in England,   in the 1970s and 80s, many have questioned why it is on the increase in Africa.

Aside, the question on many lips is: Why hooliganism appears peculiar to soccer?

This arises from the fact that other sports do not have  this degree of hooliganism.

There are many questions and equally as many answers for the causes of football hooliganism but maybe the correct answer is also the most simple.

Maybe perhaps the reason for hooliganism could be that football supporters have no other way of releasing their emotions.

Speaking to Vanguard Features, VF on the subject, the Chairman of Nigerian Supporters Club, President-General of the Nigerian Football Supporters Club, Dr. Rauf Ladipo, admitted that hooliganism is becoming a threat to the game.

Giving reasons why people tend to go babaric because of outcome of games, the man whose efforts contributed to Nigeria’s rating as the second best entertaining  team in 1994 world cup, disclosed that people always expected their teams to win.

That however, he said is impossible, adding that no club is destined to be a usual winner.

“ Sports holiganism can be placed largely on fanatics, in the sense that as a fan you believe that your team will win always. That is absolutely impossible. You also believe that no team is better than yours, which is wrong. You will discover that fans place all hopes and even emotions, that is why their hopes are dashed.  Such situation, results to aggression,” he argued.

Against the backdrop of believe that soccer gangsterism is reducing in England, the home of football while it is on the increase in Nigeria, he emphasised that the trend can be traced to England.

According to him, “ If we trace the genesis of the problem, it originated from England and other European countries. Looking at history, you will see that English and German fans are always at logger heads. Those were the dark days of football in Europe.”

Disclosing how soccer fanaticism was reduced to a minimal level in the West, Ladipo, revealed that it was achieved through education and enlightenment of fans.

The programmes, he said were at the behest of the club sides, because they were faced with the harm it was causing to the game.

“These clubs had to introduce education and enlightenment of the fans on the dangers hooliganism was causing to the game. And that is why violence is no longer prominent in those foreign clubs,” he stated.

While speaking on the matter as it relates to Nigerian fans, he declared, “it is a shame. I will tell you that it is a sad thing to see Nigerians kill and cause havoc because of matches.

“They are supposed to be supporting Nigerian team and clubs, but that is not the issue. What we have is people who behave in uncivilised manner because of what they know little or nothing about. Sometimes, you will see them going to the extreme and to the extent of disagreeing .

It is a shame that people will disturb others because of outcome of matches”

Ladipo acknowledged that the trend, may not be totally defeated, even as he suggested measures that can ensure sanity in such situations.

“We have always tried to discourage it at all level. When I became the chairman of Nigerian Supporters Club, I initiated some measures which tackled it.  These structures created some incentives for supporters who behave well. And hooliganism was reduced because the fans knew they were bodies should work with the supporters club, to find a way of curbing this menace. The earlier we do it, the better.”

Continuing, he suggested that, “When the clubs become affiliated with the body that will be put in place, then we will enlighten them through our programmes. There is also need to come up with penalties on erring fans and their clubs. There is also the possibility of their teams losing points and being banned. I think that can go a long way.”

For Mr. Ola Michael a former Sports journalist, there is need to arrest the situation before it becomes threatening.
He nonetheless, suggested that relevant authorities can not solve the problem alone, adding that it should be a collective fight.

“As a society, we must act collectively to curb these barbaric behaviors. But football has always been like that every where in the world. It is not peculiar to Nigeria. What makes ours different, is that they do it based for clubs they are rarely connected to. ” Ola, who is based in the US argued.

Continuing, he said, “my view is that a lot needs to be done to curb this behaviour. The people at the helm of football affairs need to do something, at least put in place a security measure to curb this bad behaviours. It is denting our image not as a nation but as a soccer loving people.”

A victim of football violence in Nigeria.
A victim of football violence in Nigeria.

Though, the murder of the  late Bayelsa United skipper, is not linked to sports holiganism, the Potomac  resident, condemned the act, adding that there is need to beef up security in  the country.

“It is sad to hear about a particular player of a current wining champion league who was murdered in cold blood by armed robber. It is very sad. Security remains a big challenge that must be surmounted by the government,” Ola added.

The late Abiel Tabor, was shot dead by daredevil armed robbers, less than twenty four hours after winning the Nigerian league, while travelling to visit members of his family in Warri.

For Mr. Matthew Eidonogie, a sports psychologist, violence is part of human nature, hence football is not an exemption. But given the beauty of the game, hooliganism is regrettable.

He argued that there are people whose aim of watching games, is to unleash violence, because they see  gangsterism as part of the game.

“I can tell you that some of the trouble shooters don’t usually go there because of matches only, some had already seen violence as part of the process. It happens everywhere, even in civilised football leagues’‘, he stated.

He, however disclosed that the pre-match mind-set of some people, also contribute to the growing violence in sports.
“Sometimes, we may liken it to transferred aggression. Some come to games to stay away from pressing issues. And if the person’s team eventually looses, hell will set loose.

There are situations, when the winning side also behave barbaric. The bottomline is that violence is bad in soccer. Like most human vices, it can not be eradicated, but I think, it can be curbed,” he added.

….It’s absolute madness -fans

Tolulope Sofodu and Ezenwanyi Ibe

DAYO OJUROYE: They   are frustrated human beings. They might have placed a bet or something. They have to learn how to control their emotions. Once their team loses, they get frustrated. An Arsenal fen killed himself when Man. U. beat them. They are supposed to watch for the fun of it but the get emotional and react. They go violent because football is more popular.

Kayode Olofin, an Arsenal fan.  They are demon possesses. They are under the influence of the devil. Most times when they go violent is because they have placed a bet on something that is worth a lot and if they see a group of people jubilating they go violent. The impression is why should the opponent be celebrating when I’ve lost, so make them feel just as bad;  kill them. It’s just a way the devil wants to attack people.

Dr. Rauf Ladipo of Nigeria Supporters Club
Dr. Rauf Ladipo of Nigeria Supporters Club

Usman: It is only madness that would make one want to  hurt himself or others when he is not the one playing.  The players are paid for playing, they don’t even know the fans, so what are the getting violent for?

Deji Folarin:. Those who kill or maim others or even hurt themselves over a football match are just stupid.  It doesn’t make sense because whether the players win or lose, they get paid. So, why hurt anyone. It is the devil that has taken over.

Austin: Winners kill out of anxiety while the losers kill out of frustration and get even  with opponent.
Smart Okon,  a Liverpool fan. It is because they are passionate about the game. So, once they game is not going the way they want, they get violent. People who are enlightened just watch football because of the fun of it but the other class of people vent their anger on the other club supporters. It is not just about the betting, because some people bet over worthy things, take their wins, go drinking, then go to bed. People kill because of the passion, not just the betting over a match.

Dayo Adenusi: It is the nature of the game.

Nwachukwu Chibuike, a Chelsea fan:  “What people don’t realise is that as you are watching they are not to tell you that your club is losing because at that particular time you are hurt, and you can hit them with a hard metal thinking it’s a plastic object because you are carried away but 10 or 15minutes outside the game you can take that”.

Ugochukwu Maxwell, an Arsenal fan:  Why people kill each other is that some people bet with huge amounts of money, with each club score, so when they find out that their predictions are wrong they think of the money they will lose, as a  result of this they get frustrated and then commit murder.

Peter, an Arsenal fan: “Why do people kill each other?”. it is a senseless thing to do.

Mohammed, a Man. U. fan: Do these fans benefit from the players pay? And here we we are killing each other because of some people, its very wrong.

Victor, Man. U. fan: It is all these uneducated people who do that because anyone in his rightful senses cannot kill another person because of football.


Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.