The Power of Football

By Jude Atupulazi

When the final whistle blew to signal the end of the European Champions League final match between Chelsea and Manchester City last weekend, a whistle that pronounced Chelsea as the winners of this year’s edition, wild celebrations erupted at the viewing centre where I had gone to watch the epic match.

The viewing centre was in my village. I used to watch matches at one cosy place in Awka but because of the shoot out between the police and gunmen days before in Awka, I thought it was safer to change venue.

I could have easily watched the match in the comfort of my house but those conversant with the emotions attached to football know that watching tough games alone can be one hell of a punishment. So I decided to go to a viewing centre.

Once the final whistle sounded at that centre and Chelsea had won, one boy among the crowd at the venue did a crazy thing. He opened his bottle of beer and started spraying the content on everybody, including me. As if that wasn’t enough, he opened another bottle and started doing same thing.

People shouted but not to upbraid him. They were simply all lost in that ecstatic moment of their club being European champions. I, myself, did not mind too much.

What will smelling like a drunk do to remove the sheer joy of winning the biggest trophy in Europe after nine years? So we all shrugged off the boy’s action and continued jumping and shouting. That’s the awesome power of football!

That football has been described as the greatest unifying factor in not only Nigeria but the world, is no mean thing. It is also described as the opium of the masses after religion.

Football is an emotional game. It offers many an opportunity to forget their sorrows and bond with others. This is why the various fans have fan clubs where like minds meet to talk, eat and dream football. It will be cruel to take this away from people who have been denied a lot by their society. This is about their only soothing balm.

Yes, Chelsea fans went bananas on May 29, but it could easily have been Man U or Liverpool fans had their teams won.

When it comes to celebrations, every fan does the same, if not more. Some have queried why anyone would over celebrate foreign leagues over our own. But these are people who probably take life too seriously. Fans want to watch and enjoy good football.

In years past the type of celebrations seen after Chelsea won were the type one saw when Rangers or IICC won matches in the days of old.

Those two clubs had the greatest followership then in the country and when they played important matches, stadiums would be filled hours before kick-off. I remember as a primary school kid in 1975 how Ogbete Main Market in Enugu was shut by noon so that traders could watch Rangers either at the stadium or at home against Mehalla of Egypt.

Victories by Rangers or IICC were always celebrated wildly in the streets and I bet it would still have been same had bad soccer administration not killed the local game in Nigeria.

Back then matches were broadcast live on radio and TV to add gloss to the game. Now nothing of such happens and if it should happen it has to be heavily paid for.

In the absence of a viable and glamorous local football, fans began to look elsewhere, especially in Europe, where football is well run. It was also helped by our people playing for European teams. I started supporting Chelsea because of our own Celestine Babayaro and others who joined other clubs with such Nigerian stars as Kanu Nwankwo and Austin Okocha.

Football is all about passion. You don’t have to be a stakeholder to support a club; else one should stop reading books or watching films since one does not enjoy the royalty that goes to the authors of those books or the TV stars they watch.

I’m pretty certain that without football, many would have been depressed. Critics need to see how people look forward to weekends because of football and how bored they become in the off season.

Football makes men act like kids and it’s good for their blood pressure and general health.

I was so tensed up hours before that final that I thought my blood pressure had risen. This proves how tension soaked football can be. But once it is over and your team happens to win, my brother, it is the nearest thing to heavenly bliss.

That was why after that young man poured beer on me and others in the excitement of our victory, no one challenged him. But were he to try such in normal circumstances he would have been beaten to a pulp or taken to the police. That’s the power and allure of football.

Thus anyone looking to crucify lovers of football because of their seeming childish antics when their teams win should simply look elsewhere for whom to blame. To many, football is a religion and their only source of legitimate fun. Football is one of the few sports where a Boko Haram member will momentarily embrace an IPOB member and where an APC chieftain will pop wine with his PDP counterpart. That’s the power of football.

I heard that the next Sunday in some churches, Chelsea fans did thanksgiving . Before the match, some Chelsea fans had even bought cows and painted them in Chelsea’s colours, preparatory to celebrating after the match. Can you beat that? Isn’t that a great display of faith? Anyway their faith was rewarded with a Chelsea victory but I can’t stop imagining what would have been the case had their team lost.

Well, I’m not aware that they committed any crime by celebrating in the streets or giving Thanksgiving in church. I bet that if I were younger I’d have joined in such Thanksgiving.

But amid the celebrations was a concern raised in some quarters that Africans are stupidly celebrating foreign stuff, even when foreigners shun matters affecting Africa and Africans. But such people should dust their history books and take a peep at what history says.

I’m sure if they do that, they will see the action of a certain Bruce Mayrock who in protest over the injustice to Biafrans and their suffering, set himself ablaze in England during the Nigeria/Biafra Conflict. How many of us here could have done that for what happens outside our shores?

Recently during the EndSARS protests, some foreign celebrities, including Chelsea’s Rudiger, condemned the shooting of civilians at Lekki Toll Gate; same way the world identified with Nigeria during the kidnap saga involving the Chibok girls in the north some years back.

Football remains a game of passion and emotions which many are using as a soothing balm to tide over their harsh experiences in Nigeria.

On a last note; and this is for those who despise my team, Chelsea, that the country was virtually shut down in celebrations after Chelsea’s win shows that Chelsea is a team for the masses. It is a mass movement. A team for the high and mighty, as well as a team for the down trodden.

All of them were well within their rights to celebrate. I’m even not done with my own celebrations as the sit-at-home stuff kept my celebrations in check.

In fact, plans are afoot by some of my friends to organize a proper bash soon to mark the day we humbled Europe. Indeed, all through that night, I would wake up and remember that we were European champions, same way I would have woken up to gnash my teeth had the reverse been the case.

The next day I filled the fuel tank of my generator in order to watch replays of the match. That’s what victory brings and that’s what football brings. It makes you feel young, makes you forget your sorrows and makes you love your enemy; at least while the game lasts.

Football gives unbridled joy. I’m sorry for those averse to the beautiful game. Perhaps, very soon, they’ll be caught by the sweet bug and join us in blissful ecstasy as we cheer on our teams.

Sadly, we are about to enter what we call the off season. It is a season when there is no football. But it is not all that bad as we will be watching the Euros soon, while awaiting the commencement of the next football season in Europe.

Meanwhile, the sky remains BLUE. Up Chelsea!!!