The footballing spectacle, which features nations battling it out for world domination to claim bragging rights as the best footballing nation that is held every four years has taken on the semblance of carnival. The sense is that it is more symbolic rather than competitive. There can only be one winner, after all, and more and more, the pool of possible winners continues to shrink.
The four semi-finalists get to stay to the end, of course, but for the other 28 nations in terms of active participation in the tournament has been over for a while now. So, the challenge has been finding new ways to engage with the tournament, a different lens beyond the patriotic.
ICT and telecommunication giant, MTN’s interest in the tournament was truly a unique and interesting idea with the themed Fan Parks that dotted across major cities in the country, for the duration of the Mundial. Partnering to deliver viewing parks and centres in Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt and Calabar, viewings turned into carnivals, with fans trooping in en masse every matchday to root for the beautiful game.
Of course, with modern football being as much a product as anything, the desire to attract followership outside the traditional footballing fanbase also saw the organizers incorporate video games and miniature pitches, as well as invite prominent entertainment personalities to titillate the crowds, both before and after matches. The idea is simple enough: come for the football and games, but if that’s not your thing, come for your favourite artistes.
It worked a treat. A reported 1500 people crammed into the Calabar Dome as the curtain came down on the World Cup on Sunday the number more than doubled in the Eko Atlantic beach front centre in Lagos. Huge platforms buzzed, first with the energy of the invited entertainers, and then with the sounds of football as the matches were broadcast on giant screens.
It was not just the singles who attended. Whole families came for the opportunity of a weekend outing as well, further blurring the lines between sport and social event. A huge grill smoked away, enticing the senses, and there were packs of finger food served to all; the rich pastry no doubt appealing to the younger fans who had come perched on their parents’ arms.
The crowd who watched the final certainly were entertained and contributed to the atmosphere themselves, in one instance taking up the Nigerian national anthem, drowning out the Croatians’. An almighty cheer went up when the French went ahead in the first half, and while the lure of rooting for the underdog was great, ultimately there seemed to be more support for the France.
“France is an African team. Can’t you see their players,” asked Chimezie, a 26-year-old whose face was flecked with yellow paint. As a sentiment, it was not a particularly unique one, but it captured quite succinctly what lay at the heart of the great French following: the sense of a kindred spirit which, interestingly enough, has sparked a fierce political debate in France in the aftermath of the French triumph.
For others, it was simply a matter of tribalism along club lines, especially with a player like Paul Pogba, for whom Manchester United supporters were more willing to root. His virtuoso performance was cheered to the rafters, and sparked further conversation in the arena, many eyes lighting up at the prospect of a rejuvenated Pogba in the new season. As the victorious Les Bleus feted their victory, and lined up to receive their medals and the prestigious trophy, the patient fans were rewarded with branded shirts and baseball caps; in the spirit of such an entertaining final, everyone was a winner.
This Is Naija fan: Where football lives meant a little more to the staff of MTN Nigeria as they themselves were taking part in their own internally organised football competition titled CEO’s cup referring to the competition as being organised by the MTN Nigeria CEO Mr Ferdinand Moolman. The competition featured members of staff being in the spotlight themselves as they represented their individual regions with the hopes of bringing pride back home, the winners cheque of N500,000.00 might also have been enough motivation for members of staff to throw all their support into their regional teams and rally for support.
The finals of the Ceo’s cup held a whole week after the footballing showpiece which held in Europe was over, with the French team coming out victorious dawning their famous blue jersey. With 2 teams having successfully competed and won their previous 3 matches, it was time for the finals which featured one team from Lagos and another team representing Abuja. The Abuja team wearing a blue kit (as if to claim French allegiance) were already in high spirits as they had previously scored 11 goals in their last 2 matches despite the threat of facing the tournaments best keeper in the Lagos side. The game dragged on to extra time after the Abuja team took the lead in the first half and the Lagos team equalised in the second half in a game truly of 2 halves. But not long into the penalty shootout it was evident that the god of soccer was definitely on the shoulders of team Abuja as they won the game with just 2 penalty kicks taken, much to the delight of fans and the all round support there on the day, because as it turned out team Abuja truly deserved the trophy.
The Unique experience which was the finals of maiden edition of MTN CEO’s cup featured musical acts Praiz, and Mr Real along with the dynamic dance group Dance Na the Main Thing (DNMT) who really took the audience to the limits when with their thoroughly entertaining performances before the game, at half time and after the game much to the amazement and amusement of the crowd which consisted of Lagos based MTN staff and kids along with supporters for the Abuja team who came all the way from the North to partake in the great showpiece.
By and large, the last month (part of June and part of July) was a great month for football as well as for the fans of the beautiful game that is loved by all in part because of the events that that took place 9,464 KM off the shores of Nigeria, but also because of how the Nigerian people received and connected with the footballing festival within the country. This spurred the launch of various designed plans, schemes and ideas to drive the support for the sport in Nigeria, because meeting the demands from the black capital of the world takes some doing after all This is Naija Where Football Lives.