Howdy Friends, a barrage of issues means this post is coming a whole lot later than it should have. Arsenal fan @reallycrossross and a friend of our site visited Nigeria a few weeks ago and he spent some time here working on a few projects. I got to hang out with him the night before he departed and we caught the game against Newcastle together which was amazing….First thing I noticed was that unlike Nigeria where football banter is always with words, he had a song for almost every Chelsea jibe he received at the bar where we watched…really cool stuff.
Anyways, aside enjoying the game, our awesome peppered chicken and some beer, he also got to kiss the manager of the bar where we watched. What more could he have asked for really…., Ross caught a football game in one of Nigeria’s lower leagues and he wouldn’t stop talking about the experience so I asked him to write about it which he did…Thanks Ross, it was lovely having you here and like you promised, we expect you back!
Enjoy his post beneath……………..
Going to a live football match is always a thing of wonder. The anticipation of the event is all consuming. No matter whether you are a neutral or the most ardent of supporter your senses are heightened because you know that all of them are going to be stimulated by your participation in the whole activity.
This was the case on Sunday as I prepared for the Abubakar Bukola Saraki FC v Gateway United match to be played at the Kwara State Stadium, in a Nigerian National League Group B fixture! From now on known as ABS v Gateway! I had decided to pick Gateway as I had enjoyed my time in Abeokata and the team happened to be staying the same hotel as me … that was a mistake, but more on that later!
The morning before the game I had been mingling with the players and greetings were exchanged with the traditional Naija handshake. That finger clicking is quite cool. Unless your hands are sweaty!
I was hoping to jump on the team bus with the players and coaches but with the boredom of the Chelsea bus parking against Liverpool I had inadvertently fallen asleep! So my appointed driver Jide … that makes me sound more important than I actually am but I thought I throw it in … finishes watching his favourite club or is it his third? I lose track of how many clubs some Nigerian fans have! We head off to the stadium, although my driver seems to have forgotten his car so we take a cab.
The excitement building, as we squeeze into an already full “cabi” and have to sit various children on laps and under seats. I’m sure one was tucked neatly into the ashtray to let me have my own couple of inches of torn back seat! O well smoking never killed anyone! Wait that last bit might not actually be true!
We are on our way! Late! This is Nigeria after all!
As we approach the stadium the noise of the drummers and horn players begins to add to the match day atmosphere. A small but not insignificant crowd are milling about outside also arriving five minutes after kick-off either having just finished watching the Likely Lads v Chavski match or escaping the wife’s/girlfriends attention by sneaking out of church whilst pretending to pop to the loo! Come on we’ve all been there! The sneaking off bit I mean!
The noise intensifies as we approach the ticket seller. Who has the cheek to charge N100 (40 English pence!) Inflationary prices are not just an EPL problem! We had asked where the Gateway fans were sitting only for the gateman to shrug his shoulders; so we entered through the first gate anyway!
We squeeze again this time through the metal turnstile and past various dawdling spectators!
Climb the steps and as with entering any stadium anywhere in the world the first glimpse of the green expanse sends a shiver down your spine! A few EPL shirts are visible but not as many as I had thought there would be! Arsenal win this which is unusual for this part of Naija! Should have worn mine! Up-Gunners! Up the Arse!
We move to the far side of the stand as I expect to start to make some noise in my vain attempt to cheer on the Rock City Boys! The rhythm of the drums doesn’t match the rhythm on the pitch however, and I’m beginning to get a stiff neck as the ball spends most of its time lofting over head as the players unskilfully boot it long!
15 minutes in and the time wasting starts by the Gateway keeper! Who is ironically called Godwin! Not sure that winning is his intention even at this early stage as he takes at least a minute for every goal kick after ABS squander chance after chance.
25 minutes in and with the ball only in play for 3 of the last 10 minutes Godders takes a dive! The ABS forward walked past him, the flapping of his jersey may, I repeat, may have made contact with Godders, and down he goes. The referee, decked out in his finest red kit with UEFA badge, just waves him up. Then approaches him and taps on the back. Still Godders, clutching the ball writhing around like a wounded Chelsea pensioner after Mourinho has issued his instructions to stay down, mimics a wound soldier! After another minute Godders gets up throws the ball into touch and immediately falls to the ground holding the other leg!
The referee calls on the trainers, all four attend to the stricken Godders, who after a further 3 minutes gets to his feet only for the referee to book him for simulation! Ha, ha! My support is already ebbing slowly away!
From the resulting throw the ABS players close down the Gateway defence who hoof the ball 40 meters across field to the left winger. There clearly was no intention for this “pass” but he collects the ball anyway. He proceeds to knock it long only but has to run on to it himself. He cuts back inside to hit a quite superb right footed golazo past the despairing dive of the ABS keeper.
I leap to feet and cheer wildly! The crowd stops and stares! One of those moments when you think; Gulp, “I shouldn’t have done that!”
Sod it! One nil to The Gateway boys! One nil to The Gateway boys!
Then the drummers start drumming and the trumpeters start blowing and the crowd turn their attentions back to the green expanse below!
I suggest to Jide, the vehicle-less security driver, that we might be better served going to the other stand where I have spotted the coaching and support staff from the hotel sitting behind the dug outs! He agrees!
So at half time we sneak out!
We trek around to the other stand. The Main Stand or VIP Stand! All the doors and turnstiles are locked! We eventually find a security guard who says,“Follow me!” We follow! Then trek back to the side of the stadium where we had come from! He takes us underground to a security gate pitch side and we are let onto the cinder athletics track and told to trek round.
We pass the sleeping crowd at the far end behind the goal and skip along past the water jump! We approach the dugouts and get a few high fives from the Nigeria National Police officers!
We climb the stairs of the executive seats and I take my place next to one of the Gateway officials! More high fives and we continue with the game that has just kicked off for the second half!
10 minutes in and ABS equalise. Gateway have been soaking up the pressure like a Chelsea sponge for the whole of the second half and a lapse from the defence lets the not too shabby ABS right winger free to slot home from inside the box.
The next few minutes sees the referee proceed to give every challenge made by Gateway as a foul! Home referees are home referees everywhere (except at the Grove!) The ABS players are now looking for everything and the referee starts to oblige.
This eventually leads to a penalty. This was a foul but about 3 meters outside the box.
Then the mayhem ensues!
The referee’s assistant is surrounded by Gateway players and the referee fails to intervene. The Gateway manager and coaches are on the pitch surrounding the referee! The referee just backs off! The Gateway manager, Henry Nwosu, throws a punch and the whole thing breaks down into a series of skirmishes and shoving matches! It’s slightly more than handbags at ten paces! But only just!
The security guards and armed police officers enter the fray! Eventually the fourth official gets the situation under control and the players back off! The referee then sends the Our Henry to the stands and all hell breaks loose again!
Jide has already left by this time to find his girlfriend who has tracked him down! So he’s missing all the fun! I’ll tease him later that he ran away! Some security!
During the whole event the one person not involved in the touchline fracas is the potential penalty taker! He has been standing hands on hips with the ball neatly placed on the spot in anticipation of his forth coming strike at goal!
Eventually by a combination of Gateway coaches and security officials Our Henry makes his way to the stands.
Now, as I said, I had been sitting next to a Gateway official. He has departed the scene following a punch that was thrown over my head landing him squarely on the back of his! The Officials from ABS have been shouting and screaming and pointing behind me for the whole time and I’m now stuck in the middle of a potential war zone as Our Henry climbs the stand to take up a seat in the shade at the back. Two of the ABS officials wade in with fists and feet and Our Henry fights his way through to his new position in the stands! I had expected him to climb up on a seat and stretch his hands out Wenger style, but he let me down!
With it kicking off in the stands next to me and the forlorn penalty taker still standing alone facing away from an empty goal. The players gather for refreshments! Good old Godders is hidden amongst his players sipping water at his leisure!
The referee is standing in the centre circle!
The forth official has returned to his little stand between the dugouts way back on the running track.
The players and Godders continue with the impromptu water break. The clock as ticked on by 15 more minutes and still the game hasn’t restarted!
Eventually the assistant referee calls upon the players to take to the field and Godders ambles back towards his goal. He returns to his team dugout to change his gloves and still the referee is unmoved!
Finally Godders takes up his place between the posts and I know that the ball is going to sail high or wide as the striker as waited for 20 minutes thinking this way, that way, left,nostraight down the middle and now has no idea where the goal is! Godders is doing a Grobbelaar: swaying this way and that. The referee blows his whistle and the striker starts his run up!
Whack! The ball is struck! It flies straight and true and 5 meters over the bar! I laugh and get a high five from Our Henry! The ABS officials go quiet and Gateway’s lone supporter makes himself known again as I start singing “How high do you want the goal!” They may even have heard me next to the band!
I laugh again and the fans behind the railing next to me go very quiet!Shh! “It’s all gone quiet over there! It’s all gone quiet. All gone quiet.All gone quiet over there!”
With the game restarted and the ball being thudded unceremoniously up field by the lumpen Gateway defence the draw is looking more and more likely, until a moment of skill from the Gateway left provides the perfect pass for the little right winger to skip effortlessly into the box with only the ABS keeper to beat! He hits it straight at the keeper and the chance goes begging. Much to the disgust of the officials from Gateway who are throwing mini fits and insults in the general direction of the little man in green!Nothing like a miss for the supporters to get behind a player. We all know that feeling! Giroud, cough, Giroud!
ABS clearly spurred on by the miss range number of assaults upon Godders goal. He makes a number of important interceptions and one good save but the assault continues and eventual the striker who skied the penalty gets the easiest of tap-ins to take the home side into the lead. 2-1 ABS. There is no time left on the broken clock on the stadiums scoreboard but surely the referee must add at least 25 minutes injury time but no it’s two. Yes two minutes. There have been five substitutions and all the referee is adding is two minutes. We have had the ball in play less than 20 minutes for the whole of the second half and we get two minutes stoppage time!
No-one notices and the two minutes pass without incident and referee’s whistle goes. Off goes Our Henry stumbling down the stairs towards the referee! A security guard bars his way and he goes to the point above the tunnel! The referee is surrounded by the security and police officers; at least ten of them!
Our Henry is ready of round two!
The referee is escorted to the safety of his changing room and Our Henry has no-one to vent towards!
I continue filming until he disappears himself, into the dressing rooms! The players are distraught and Godders is lying face down on the astro-turf!
Jide emerges from the stand opposite shouting “Boss, boss! Boss!” I trek towards him and meet him in the centre circle of the artificial pitch! We take some snaps! I call himthe Usain Bolt of security drivers! As he is the quickest to run away when the trouble kicks off! I snap him on the track in the Bolt pose!
Football is the funniest of games and the spectators, officials, players and the event itself is what makes this the best sport in the world. Wherever you watch it: whether you are a neutral or the most ardent of fan it’s the whole package that makes it so absorbing and thrilling! You can feed off its affects for days and weeks and years after the event. Nothing else gives so much!
Truly amazing; the sights and sounds of a game that had it all and gave me much much more!
As for Gateway and me? I need the team to give me something on the pitch; these are not the players to do that, so I’ll not add them to the teams I follow.
Who needs another team? I’m a Gooner!
Pretty long yea…and I edited most part of it..Hope you enjoyed it. You can follow Ross on twitter, his handle is @reallycrossross ..Cheers!!