On Tuesday, 30th of March, 2021 I ventured onto the terraces again to watch the Super Eagles of Nigeria live at the stadium. That was my second time in 13 years…since I spent a month crisscrossing Ghana in 2008, watching the Eagles stumble under Berti Vogts at the Nations Cup.
Before the loaded 2008 experience, the World Cup qualifier between Nigeria and Algeria at the national stadium in 1981 marked a departure for me and the Super Eagles of Nigeria as a young fan. The team was supposed to take the first major step towards qualifying for the 1982 World Cup in Spain with a victory over the Algerians. It didn’t happen. But that is not the story.
That day, I had come straight from my office at Apapa, where I’d worked the night shift as a cashier with the then Nigeria External Telecommunications (NET, now NITEL). I’d met up with Femi Solaja (now of This Day) and Femi Omokungbe (now Rector of Yabatech) at the stadium. We had tickets for the covered stand, but it got so rowdy so early, that policemen on horseback were deployed. I was on the queue trying to get in (ticket in hand) when from somewhere behind me, a policeman on horseback lashed out with cowhide whip, lacerated my forehead, and left a welt right across my scalp, from front to back.
But somehow, we got in to see the game. And the Eagles lost 2-0.
I swore off the senior national team…until June 2003 when Brazil arrived Abuja to face the Eagles in a friendly game. That was too tempting to ignore, so I hopped on a plane, and went to the Abuja stadium; just for Brazil. Then I took another break, until 2008.
In 2015, with Sunday Oliseh installed as the manager of the Super Eagles, I again ventured out to watch the team; but this time, I was interested in the home based team trying to qualify for the African Nations Championship. So, I made the trip to the Adokie Amiesimaka stadium in Port Harcourt, to watch Oliseh and his wards navigate past Burkina Faso. And since that day in 2015, I had resumed my long distance romance with the Eagles…until they returned to Lagos.
The decision to watch the Eagles at the stadium again after six years led to The Experience. It started with:
The walk from my office to the stadium. Given what regular people in other parts of the world go through, the walk was nothing major really. But for the average Nigerian, who would want the commercial bus to stop right in front of the house or shop; or would prefer to hitch a paid ride on a motorcycle, the three-kilometer walk would be described as stressful. But because I have experienced the (real) stress of finding parking space at the stadium on match days, I opted to leave the car at my office and stretch my legs. It turned out to be a good move because,
The situation at the stadium gate was chaotic, to say the least. For some reason, a lot of fans with tickets to the regular seating areas had massed at the entrance for those with VIP tickets, and it had degenerated to a free-for-all. But I found my way past the initial gate…only to discover that there is another gate just 10 paces in front. And that was shut tight, because many with regular tickets were standing there – how they got past the first gate remains a mystery. So, the keepers of the second gate refused to admit anyone, no matter the ticket you had in hand. Finally, a path cleared and it was time to take a seat. But the peace of settling in to enjoy pre-game activities was ruptured by