While the embrace of European ufabet football is pan-African, it has reached its apogee in Nigeria. Amongst the most popular TV hits of recent years is Celebrity Fan Challenge, a game show performed in front of a live audience of 6,000, in which Nigerian celebrities – from rappers to Nollywood stars – face off against each other in competitive banter and games over whether Arsenal or Manchester United is the biggest club. Even the local radio traffic reports are peppered with Premier League updates, transfer rumours and details of contractual disputes.
Nigeria’s love of football is more extreme than we think
Thus at the pinnacle of Nigerian society, the rich, the famous and the powerful all flaunt their football affiliations and, in the case of Atiku Abubakar, actually attend the Arsenal home games on a regular basis. Below them in Nigeria’s burgeoning cities, the emerging professional middle class are the mainstay of the country’s many official supporters’ clubs.
A similar social mix, they highlighted the importance of the African diaspora and the longstanding interactions between ex-colonies and the imperium in creating these webs of footballing attraction. Here were Nigerians who had acquired Spurs while living in Britain, going to school in Cornwall, working in Mill Hill and going back and forth between Lagos and London on business.
Viewed from Lagos, the ยูฟ่าเบท Premier League is not merely a great sporting spectacle and soap opera, it is also a slice of the global North that Nigerians can enter, if not freely then certainly with more ease than most international border posts. It is a realm of consumption and glamour that is tangible, and it is a world where things work. In fact, many Nigerians like the Premier League as a whole as much as their club. “The EPL is like a religion,’ one told me. ‘It can really affect your mood.
The thing with the Premier League is that I would watch Stoke v Leicester or Sunderland v Bournemouth. I would watch El Clásico, too, but Osasuna v Malaga? Forget it.’ Another young Lagosian and Manchester United fan, when asked why he loved the whole of the Premier League – was it the style of play, the crowd? – replied, ‘It’s the branding … it’s just so professional.’
Nigeria’s love of the Premier League extends beyond watching and reading. In 2006, 27 December was deemed Arsenal day in the small city of Kogi in the east of the country. Eleven years later, hundreds of fans, all in club strip, were still gathering in the town square still bedecked with Arsenal banners. In 2008, Chelsea fans from the Lagos neighbourhood of Ebutte Meta gave out free jerseys and prepared a public feast, including a bull painted in team colours, in anticipation of their club’s victory in the Champions League final. Chelsea lost but they ate the bull anyway.
Love can breed hate. In the aftermath of Manchester United’s defeat by Barcelona in the 2009 Champions League final, a United fan in the town of Ogbo in Nigeria drove his minibus past a group of celebrating Barcelona supporters. He then did a U-turn and drove straight at them, killing four people and injuring ten.
Nigeria has no monopoly on this kind of violence. In 2010 in a bar in Lamu, Kenya, a Liverpool fan, Abibakar Bashie, was stabbed during their game with Manchester United after an explosive argument with opponents.