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Football, fans and its theatrics


Ade Ojeikere

THE emotive game of soccer all over Europe is here with wives celebrating because their husbands now return home to watch matches with the family. Those who choose to hang out with the boys do so with their wives. Those spouses who would rather sit at home with the kids know where their husbands are. In fact, as the games go on, notes are compared while those whose teams are beaten at dusk reluctantly pick their phones to listen to taunts from winning friends.

Different Whatsapp platforms are filled with several emojis as friends tease themselves unend over the successes or failures of their respective teams during the course of matches. Viewing centres are worse with fans mocking, gloating, and pointing at their losing counterparts. The atmosphere in most of the centres isn’t safe, especially when tempers rise during crucial matches. All manner of dangerous missiles are hauled. Such a chaotic setting is fuelled by some fans who ‘kiss’ several sachets of hard drinks which tamper with their brains and in turn, wreak havoc in the viewing centre when tipsy.

However, in viewing centres where the owners know their onions, it’s always fun listening to the side comments, unprofessional analysis -especially players’ aliases. For instance, Thierry Henry was known as Igwe, Cristiano Ronaldo (Ororo), Lionel Messi (Ijaya) etc. The names come in droves as the players do incredible things with the ball. Watching the game with people could be fun if they aren’t undisciplined. There is a viewing centre at Onipanu in Lagos known as San Siro, the name of the stadium in Italy, where AC Milan and Inter Milan share to play their matches. Not forgetting Nigerians, who like the counterparts elsewhere name their kids after their favourite players.

What happens in homes across the country are quite interesting. It is true that most fathers as the head of the house cajole everyone to support their teams, but there are few exceptions. Either the sons are teaming up with their mothers ‘against’ daddy’s team and those kids in his camp or mummy is left in the cold to support her less popular or winning team. However, nobody shakes whenever daddy’s team loses. Daddy, on the hindsight, eats the humble pie when his side loses to the other camp in the house. The build-up to such games are very intriguing, with everyone enjoying the moments. Need I say that soccer, during the European season, unites homes and brings fathers closer to their families?

Watching matches at viewing centres raise health concern with particular reference to Covid-19. The place is always packed full of fans from different divides. The talking sessions start before the games. Voices are raised with saliva flying causing health hazards. For the big games, it is always tough remaining inside the place due to the heat and stench from the smoke of those who use  cigarette to douse tension.

Lord have mercy! When goals are scored by the popular teams. The noise is deafening. The hugging and thumping of chest are unbelievable in the wake of coronavirus. I tried raising these fears with a few people in viewing centres. Some of their responses shocked me – Na big man sickness for people like una. You don hear say poor man don die from Coro? A mixed grill in terms of those wearing a face mask. I wore mine knowing that I would leave at halftime for other centres.

A few sophisticated centres observe the social distancing and they are not crowded. Those who watch the games are cultured. I was almost turned back in one of them until somebody inside who had seen me outside being politely asked to leave the place rescued me. The gateman apologised profusely but I told him he was doing his job. My mission to these places is a call to official duty. I marvel at the large number of people wearing the latest patterns of their favourite clubs’ colours. Some other fans go a step further to inscribe the names of their favourite players at the back of these jerseys. I salute those who customise theirs with their names. They look symbolic – raising the poser when Nigerians can wear our domestic league clubs’ shirts. That would be the day.

If you think it is only the viewing centres which have health concerns, then visit the various betting shops. The rowdy settings reminded this writer of entrances at the old Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia Stadium in Benin City in games involving the crowd-pulling club sides. You would be shocked at the level of involvement among the bettors across age-grades, all looking for cash. Fathers and sons comparing entries at the corner sides. Cash used to stake high with the prospects of winning negligible. Habits die hard, the dictum goes. Some have argued that it is better than being involved in societal vices. Hmmmmm! Indeed. Man must whack!

As the world waits for October 1, when the fans would be allowed to watch games in the stadiums in England, pundits have continued to visualise what would have happened if spectators were being allowed to watch the Ligue 1 derby between Marseille and Paris Saint Germain, considering the arch rivalry between both teams. In fact, supporters of Marseille celebrated when PSG lost the 2019/2020 UEFA Champions League trophy to Bayern Munich. In France, Marseille is the only team to have won the UEFA Champions League diadem.

The injury-time brawl at PSG underscores the fact that most of the carnage at match venues are caused by the antics of the players which provoke the fans to misbehave. For the records, Brazilian superstar, Neymar was one of five players sent off after an injury-time brawl as Marseille beat Paris St-Germain in Ligue 1, according to reports from the ill-fated tie. Substitutes Leandro Paredes and Layvin Kurzawa, and Marseille’s Jordan Amavi and Dario Benedetto were dismissed along with Neymar.

Neymar claimed on social media that Gonzalez called him “a monkey motherf*****.” Gonzalez denied the claims in his own tweet, only for Neymar to tell the Spaniard that he was “not a man” for not admitting to his part in the row.

Neymar was handed a two-game ban for his part in the mass brawl by the LFP Disciplinary Committee while PSG full-back Layvin Kurzawa was handed a six-game ban for his role after he kicked Jordan Amavi. Amavi was banned for three games with Marseille team-mate Dario Benedetto receiving a one-match ban.

This has been the only blight to the new European season with results telling the story of how the game has developed  in Europe. Most of the big teams have been given the fight of their lives by what pundits term minnows. We watched in awe last week Saturday at Anfield as newly-promoted Leeds United held defending champions Liverpool till the dying minutes of the game before the Reds earned three points from jaws of near defeat, although many have blamed Leeds for being over-ambitious. Those in this school of thought argued that Leeds would have defended in the closing stages with the scores at 3-3. No way. It was good that Leeds fought for a better result. on the hindsight, the players have learned lessons which would inform how they play in subsequent games as the season progresses.

No doubt, the game belongs to the people but they must learn how to behave with decorum. The safety of the lives and properties of others in and around match venues rank higher than the nuisance they constitute themselves during such rowdy scenes. Soccer isn’t a matter of life and death, since it is just a game to enjoy even though the results matter for teams eager to win trophies. Winners today could be losers tomorrow and vice versa. After all, there are three results in the game – wins, draws and losses.

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