After watching the Green Eagles transform in the late 80s to become the Super Eagles at their glorious best in the 90s, his faltering performance as he entered the millennium made me become dispassionate about the team national. I followed the team more with my head than with my heart. I ditched the superiority complex of yesteryear for a more pragmatic and logical approach.
Either way, my blood is still green and it was with that rare patriotic excitement that I celebrated Nigeria’s encounter with Ghana in the final qualifying round of the World Cup. Ghana, at the time of the draws, were a far poorer side, losing to lowly Comoros in the early qualifying rounds of the World Cup and in the latest AFCON. Nigeria, on the other hand, seemed to be on the rise. But if we now add the fact that Ghana remain an eternal rival, it would be an insult to Nigeria not to qualify because of Ghana.
The match was to be a two-legged, “back and forth” affair. Football does this so that both teams have the opportunity to enjoy their pitch. All other things being equal, a team’s home ground has two major advantages. First, the team is supposed to have become accustomed to their home ground while the visiting team would struggle with the unfamiliarity. The second is the teeming support he receives from his supporters, which should spur him on while intimidating and spoiling the rhythm of the opposing team.
At the first point. Why did the authorities move this crucial game to a stadium the players weren’t used to? If I’m not mistaken, it was the first time this set of players played in Abuja. Some were even playing in Nigeria for the first time. Now, that’s not a call for the Eagles to have a permanent playground. I have disagreed with this notion in previous articles, insisting that national team matches are federated nationwide and that the national spread, the size of the stands, the condition of the playing field , accessibility to supporters, security, hotel accommodation, television friendliness of the stadium, importance of the match, opponent’s disadvantage and others would be taken into consideration with commercial partners in choosing where the Super Eagles will play their matches.
Given that the current Eagles’ aquiline is suspect unlike their 80s and 90s elders who won their games regardless of venue, that now means we have to take home games seriously. Nigeria is not playing all those dirty tactics of food poisoning, poor accommodation, blinding our opponents with lasers and all of that is not worth the Africans employing. Ghana knew they couldn’t beat Nigeria pound for pound so they resorted to their home game 250km from the capital at the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi. The same stadium where they beat then favorites Egypt 6:1 to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. Does Abuja have such a history of slaughtering opponents?
In fact, playing at home is not just about the stadium. It’s about the atmosphere that the host city generates. From the airport, the Eagles should have been greeted with songs and praise. Billboards around town should be adorned with goodwill messages from sponsors. These are things that annoy players and demoralize opponents.
Is the stadium even accessible to fans? The stadium is not in the middle of the city and public transport in the Federal Capital Territory is too rigid to be cheap for people to attend. The organizers had to make buses available to residents of Abuja to get to the stands.
They managed to fill the stands, but with whom? I had warned after our Lesotho game in Lagos that professional sport should not be seen as a social good but as a business. This is why I have always advocated that the Nigerian sports industry be completely removed from the hands of the government. Why was ticketing not outsourced to ticketing agencies and advertised transparently? Do I have to go to the stadium on match day to get permission? Why haven’t they explored buying tickets online or using decentralized means of catering or other outlets? There were reports of a scramble at the gates. It shouldn’t have happened. In fact, given the leak of a security report alleging an imminent threat of bomb attacks on the stadium, crowd control should have been handled better. Viewing should have been decentralized to large screens in the main centers of the city so that the more than two million inhabitants were part of the action. After all, football today is more of a TV event than a stadium event.
Another reason ticketing needs to be taken seriously is to be able to track and manage the kind of spectators we want. Why did Abuja officials grant half a day’s work if they would not be the ones who would be bused to the stadium?
Even though no monetary value was attached to entry, coming with things like a Nigerian flag and adorning the team colors might be allowed to enter the stadium. If Thomas Partey had led his Black Stars onto the pitch seeing only green and white on the terraces and not people just wearing ankaras or Arsenal shirts, he would have been faltering for 90 minutes.
Well, we ended up with Sour Jollof Rice. Ghana is on its way to Qatar. Nigeria should take advantage of the 12th man next time.
- Ayodele Okunfolami writes from Festac, Lagos; he can be reached at 07031973457
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