By Paul Bassy
I have been away from the maddening crowd. D spite constant up to date briefings from my friends back home, I will today run away from writing what I consider “unique madness of the game” in Nigeria, until I take time to study the situation better.
Last Wednesday, I was in Lusaka, Zambia when Supersports gratefully aired live, the Glo premier league match between Dolphins and Crown.
“What is the problem with Nigeria’s football? “My guest threw the bombshell. It came from the blues and caught me off guard. I tried to answer… “ it has to do with the undefined role of government and the shrouded interest of individuals……”
He cut me short. “…..I am not talking about NFF. Just look at this match we are watching, I have not seen even one spectator. Not one”
I jumped in. “ Nigerians don’t like watching matches from the popular stands. I bet you, when the cameras pan to the covered terraces and VIP box you will see them in their hundreds” the laughter that followed my answer was humiliating, to say the least.
The issue under review was not just last Wednesday’s occurrence. Because our league is beamed live by Supersports it is closely followed and watched in the African continent and the observation by Chabala was traditional.
He went on. “….. With successes at continental and global level, there is the tendency to want to travel to Nigeria to study the secret, but what we have discovered is that your country only comes alive when the National team is on display”
Is Zambia different?
President of the Football Association of Zambia,( FAZ) the legendary Kalusha Bwalya says “yes”, emphatically. Before he answered, I had bored him with the damaging role of the European league, the absence of professionalism in the running of the clubs and the dearth of stars in the domestic league.
Kalusha laughed, especially when I mentioned the lack of stars.
“…..When we were in South Africa, some of your journalist told me that the CHAN Eagles were not the best in the country, yet they did so well. No, I know there are lots of good players in Nigeria. All you need to do is to work on your league.
“ Okay, let us look at the South African League. Where are the stars? Yet, when some traditional teams like Kaiser Chiefs, Orlando Pirates, Ajax and Sundowns play, you can expect a sell out. Pirates and Chiefs even dare the FNB Stadium and fill it in some confrontations. Are you saying they do not watch the Premiership in South Africa?”
Four years ago, Kalusha was invited to a public function by league and FA sponsor MTN.
“ When I got there I saw all manners of jerseys won by Zambian youths. It was either Arsenal or Man U, or Liverpool or Chelsea. There and then I made up my mind that we have to “ support our football….
“ …… your people should come to us for tutorials” he joked.
In Zambia I was opportuned to watch league matches involving the top league clubs and the spectatorship made the sponsor proud. Last Saturday, Zanaco hosted league leaders and CAF Champions League campaigners Nkana Football club to a league match in Lusaka and over 18,000 spectators turned up to watch what turned out to be a classic.
Let me digress a bit and tell you about Nkana. Formerly Nkana Red Devils, when Zambia was declared a christian country twelve years ago, the President of the country among other things said the country’s premier club will henceforth drop the “Red Devils “ appellation.
If you go to the Nkana Stadium in Chingola you will find on their notice board “ …..We are no more devils….we are Angels highly favoured by God. Support us.”
Kalusha says first of all we must revive the sentiments of traditional clubs and he knows that in Nigeria we still have clubs like”….. Mighty Jets, Rangers , Stationery Stores, Shooting Stars, Enyimba, Bendel Insurance and so on…
“…We had to sit with them, hold stakeholders meetings with the press, the supporters clubs, the various sponsors of the teams and especially the media. Today we are happy with the followership of the league in Zambia.
Mention a club in Zambia and you will hear shouts of support. Zesco United, Zanaco, Red Arrows, Kitwe United, Mufilira Wanderers, Nchanga Warriors, Power Dynamoes ( who in 1991 beat BCC Lions to the CAF Cup in 1991)
Apart from periodic meetings with FAZ to review the league, MTN helps to activate with several spectator friendly packages aimed at filling the stands. The winner of the League takes home an equivalent of 7 million naira and the runner up 3 million naira.
Kalusha says the money is not good enough and is working at upping it. ( I did not tell him that I do not know what our league champions take home, apart from the lure of picking up a continental slot )
This brings me to a particular sentence in one of the numerous letters by FIFA, the one that says “ ….The focus will now be on the programs of the candidates and the development of Nigerian football” I say AMEN.
This week end, I will be forced to perform the unenviable task of laying my junior brother to rest.
When I saw George in the mortuary three weeks ago, I told him how unfair he was to me. I said he should have been the one to stand by my graveside and not the other way round. I don’t think he heard me. If he did he would have stood up. Yet, there he lay, not a care in the world, at peace, leaving us to the harsh realities of a wicked world, no scars, no pain.
It is Ira Sankey who in 1981, set to music the words of Dr Horatius Bonar, that:
“ Fading away like the stars of the morning,
losing their light in the glorious sun,
this world we pass from the earth and its toiling,
only remembered by what we have done”
Dear brother, you have left us hanging, clutching to memories deep and dear. Adieu Georgie, the quiet and reserved one, Mummy’s favourite. Adieu till we meet to part no more.
See you next week.