By Larry Izamoje
In the Warri area of the country, it is common to here inhabitants say â€˜Wafi no dey carry lastâ€™, meaning Warri and its habitants cannot be found on the last rung of the ladder when it comes to goals pursuit and attainment. Whether it is always rightly applied or not is a matter for debate .
Last Saturday at the Ellis Park Stadium here in Johannesburg, faced with South American opposition on the stands before the Nigeria/Argentina match kicked off, Jay Jay Okocha, Segun Odegbami and I unconsciously gave the clichÃ© national vent and fervour.
On entering the stadium after the usual ticket checks, we were dazed by the over-bearing presence of sky blue over green.
The sound that rent the air was so harsh we needed to remind ourselves we were in Africa. The waist twisting dancers and ever-jubilant fans so graciously dramatized objects painted blue that we stole looks as we wondered if our country will ever know the role and place of the 12th man, the supporter in greater detail and that countries were looking beyond known clubs in getting backers for their teams.
Groups here and there. Indeed, everywhere .The only pass to join the pre-match celebration of nationals was to wear your sky blue colour. Wide banners sent forth the message that the Argentina Football Federation was backing every Argie for the Albaceleste, their national team.
The team had been well prepared , a message read, and the preparation of the fans continues till the first whistle. Come get your free T-shirt, national jersey and other gears, they were told as many officials tore bags upon bags to freely dish out. Once served, the fans happily wore to â€˜serveâ€™ Argentina.
This explains why sky blue was the main colour when Nigeria took on Argentina.
â€˜Na wa o, this people want to intimidate us for our own continent again?â€™ Okocha asked as the ex-skipper of the Eagles urged us to fight back in our little corner where the Argies would still not be silent. One offered us their colours if only we agreed to take-off the green-white-green tracksuits we had on for theirs.
Why did we not freely give out too, after all more Nigerians than Argies are in South Africa. As I wondered someone said: â€˜Would the person given to give truly give out if we did? Two, would those given not go and sell them rather than use them for the purpose?
When it was time for the national anthems of both countries, they had another special moment in the sun, the Argies. As you only sing an anthem you know, they were silent when it was the time for our anthem and what an opportunity it was for patriotism to flow.
Did we just sing the national anthem ?No, we sang shouting! Each word was pronounced so loudly that the voices of a few showed the Argies seated near us that whereas blue may be the dominant colour, green remained patriotically etched in our hearts. Indeed, a few of them clapped for us ,perhaps, not for our anthem but for keeping quiet when it was over, a relief to the eardrums had come.
As we enjoyed our pre-match revenge, â€˜Naija no dey carry lastâ€™ rang out of our lips.
1-nil, ninety minutes, the final whistle and as their celebrations started, we still walked tall telling them â€˜Argentina lucky, Argentina luckyâ€™ using words we believed they understood. It was another way of showing that â€˜Despite our loss to Greece, Naija no dey carry lastâ€™ . They got three points in FIFAâ€™s eyes but we got three points in the eyes of those who remember the legendary South African Zulu Warriors. We worried them on the stands like the Eagles troubled them seeking the equalizer till the final whistle.
When not to lose
Pray, pray, pray for FIFAâ€™s biggest showpiece. The stands may be deserted if Bafana Bafana fail to make it to the next round. The tournament is followed more by black South Africans than whites (the Afrikaans ) and Indians who are cricket and rugby faithful mainly.
June 16 represents a day of struggle that partly led to the final fall of segregation It is a public holiday here and loosely called Soweto day. It was the day in 1976 that student riots enveloped the country over poor educational standards for blacks.
It was the answer to a policy that blacks should be better tutored in the Afrikaan language to position them for greater slave-like service to their Afrikaan masters. To blacks, June 16 is a day that evokes memories of a fight to finish, a day of extra bounce to crush the opposition, a day of throwing in your all for the last laugh.
It was not to be. Bafana played like the Soweto youths and youths in other places who were well relaxed throughout the day just waiting for night time and a good result (without a fight) for long celebrations to commence.
I called Sizwe on phone after their loss and as he thumped down Bafana, took me on a historical excursion. This is a country where blacks and whites went to separate schools. They had separate hospitals. Blacks could not aspire to good jobs.
They were forced to look out for signs that drew boundaries on privileges.â€™ FOR WHITES ONLYâ€™ was inscribed on many buildings and once they saw that, they looked for the run-down centres. Blacks could not shop in the same malls with whites.
They could not vote. They were forced to move to remote areas and the few found in the cities had permits only because they were engaged as domestic servants to the whites. Religion was not spared as there were churches for the whites only and no black sought God there.
Today, Soweto, Alexandria, Tembisa, Yeovil and Hillborough are sad reminders of deprivation. Slums and squatter settlements tell the story South Africans wish is never remembered. Years after apartheid ended, the people are merely of the South African advancing country but yet to get caressed by the improved quality of life .
Visitors to Johannesburg are told the named settlements are the areas of high crime and warned about going to such places unguarded.
Had Bafana won on June 16, it would have been a great salute to those whose lineage fought for South Africa to be good enough for FIFA to take its best product, the World Cup. The World Cup could not have been staged in a racially divided South Africa!
Sizwe and I
Sizwe is a driver who I got talking with as we journeyed to and from the airport during the week. He was vexed that everywhere Nigerians were celebrating the narrow loss to Argentina rather than sulk that â€˜ Big Brother has disappointedâ€™.
Since South Africa got the hosting rights, he and friends had banked on Nigeria, Cote Dâ€™Ivoire and Ghana to champion the continentâ€™s challenge. Bafanaâ€™s 1-1 draw with Mexico was a pleasant surprise to him because he knew his country was not a power house of soccer and do not have many players from the soccer hotbeds of Europe as professionals on parade here.
He definitely was not surprised by the 0-3 thumping by Uruguay.â€™Why are Nigerians celebrating with an empty calabash?â€™, he asked me.
Deeply cultural, he reminded me of the African proverb that you only dance out of the Kingâ€™s palace when you get something in your calabash. FIFA represents King here and gives three points for a win, a point for a draw and nothing for a loss.
â€˜My company works for many Nigerian visitors and everyone keeps celebrating. One gave me a thousand Rands in celebration after I dropped him at a pub but I looked at my group by group points chart and still saw Nigeria had no point against Argentina. Why celebrate when you have nothing?â€™ he queried.
My reply was simple.â€™FIFA may use figures ,we use experiences. If you come out of a war that could have claimed your head and neck with only your cap off, you will be happy. That apart, Sizwe, the king put our keeperâ€™s name in the calabash!â€™
â€˜Sorry, sir, that did not show on the points chartâ€™,he added . I quickly changed the topic hit by the truth