As we are settling in to watch Nigeria’s second game at the World Cup against Greece (1-1 at the moment *and we’re really REALLY crossing our fingers), our mind draws us to another one of our author’s musings on what football means to us as a nation. Chimamanda Adichie draws on our collective held breath as we watch each one of our games and our real sentiments about the talents of our great nation and the gap in dedication and support coming from our leaders. She also touches on the bind that ties all of us Africans together and how that comes out in the most glaring manner during one of these games. I know Nigerians will definitely pick any other African team before any other country and we do so almost unfailingly. These are good qualities we would do well to remember from time to time and our dear Ms. Adichie couldn’t have expressed our collective thoughts in a better manner. Take a look:
On a humid Lagos night in July 1996, my family gathered around the television, all of us armed with hope: Nigeria was playing Argentina in the final game of the Atlanta Olympics. We shouted – “Go now, go go!” “What is he doing?” “Look at this stupid boy!”– and fell silent, by turns; we hoped and despaired; and we threw Igbo and English insults at the bald referee who we were convinced was biased against Nigeria.
The score was 3-2 for Nigeria and there were a few minutes left to go and I could no longer breathe properly. I wanted to fast-forward time, to leap into our victory because I feared that the longer we waited, the less likely it would come. But it came. The shrill pee-pee-pee whistle went off. We had won gold.
I remember feeling very light, hugging everyone, laughing, repeating the same things that somebody else had just said. We hugged neighbours we did not like. We offered drinks and relived the game over and over. From the streets came the sounds of car horns, of shouting, of singing.
What happened that night was an explosion of nationalism of a certain kind, a benign, forgiving, optimistic nationalism. We forgot about neighbours who stole our electricity wires and leaders who stole our oil money. We all became, for that moment, Nigerians who had contributed to the vanquishing of the world.
Still, football nationalism, for many of us, often expands past Nigeria, and into the rest of Africa. I do not ordinarily much care for football or for excessive nationalism, but whenever Nigeria plays a major game, I find myself undergoing a transformation. I kick the air as I watch. I scream. I pray. I will the universe to make us win.
Continued on the Guardian website