He went on a foreign mission to the African continent, he learned of the match between his former rivals almost on the day of the match. And finally, an unexpected visit to a qualifying duel in the Nigerian capital became a lifetime experience. Memories that would certainly deserve to be immortalized in one of the famous travel novels. “These are the times when you realize how much you love this sport,” he adds in a fit of emotion.
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Football on the African continent, for the vast majority a great unknown. What do you think of this extraordinary experience?
So mixed indeed. Football as such didn’t appeal to me at all, but the atmosphere, and especially everything around it, was something incredible. I traveled to Africa as a scout and didn’t even know about this game. At the last minute, however, I managed to get a ticket, and in the end, an ordinary match became an experience of a lifetime.
A completely different world, you know?
Absolutely. What I witnessed in Nigeria is completely unimaginable for Czech and European fans. The match was so important for local football that they even moved it to the capital, where it looked like a civil war outside the stadium. An incredible number of people, traffic jams, crowded fans and no organization. Just confused.
Was it an experience that slightly changes a person’s view of the sport they love so much?
That’s for sure. Here in the Czech Republic, football is a kind of entertainment, we come to the stadium, we watch the game and we go home. But in Africa, it’s literally a party for the local people. These people live there all day, they go to the game several hours in advance, they literally breathe for their team, but then, on the contrary, they are able to fly to the playing area and calmly attack physically the players. Maybe these are other values of Africans who perceive football completely differently from the rest of the world.
Yesterday I attended a rematch for a promotion to the world cup between Nigeria?? and Ghana??.
– Bielsista (@bielsistacz) March 30, 2022
But what surprised you most about the local environment?
I probably couldn’t identify one thing that would trump all the others, but I still have the nature of African fans in my head. I was really surprised how they perceive football, that they don’t take it as a hobby, but on the contrary, it is a form of relaxation for them from an otherwise difficult life, especially in families the poorest. Difficult to understand for the average European fan.
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For Nigeria, it was perhaps the most important game of the four-year cycle. Was it obvious to the fans?
For domestic fans, there was no other option but victory. They went into the game with a clear objective, they certainly did not allow defeat. They were in a positive mood, they knew their Nigeria was the favorite in this race and would simply win. The atmosphere itself was like on a roller coaster, after a quick goal from Ghana the stadium fell completely silent, and after a balanced goal, on the contrary, it shook to its foundations.
Over 60,000 fans came to the stadium which is amazing for African football.
Also, it’s not such a typical “European” cheer, here the Nigerians had a few drums, a trumpet, no reserved areas, something like a cauldron. He kind of cheered the whole stadium, there was a lot of singing, dancing and a relaxed atmosphere everywhere. Sometimes it reminded me more of a carnival than a football match.
Nigerian fans at a recent AFCON match.
It just had to bubble up inside you on the way to the match itself, didn’t it?
To admit it, when the delegate told us that the match started around six o’clock and that we had to get to the stadium about three hours in advance, I was quite crowded. From Europe we used to get to the game a few minutes before the start, but here we were finally happy to leave the hotel so early. Constipation, confusion everywhere, no organization. Also the stadium filled up incredibly fast, I would say an hour before the initial digging the stands were almost full.
Was this unusual situation handled by the local organizing department, or is it not happening in Nigeria at all?
I have never seen anyone like that there since the beginning. There were a few soldiers with weapons in front of the stadium, but there would be someone checking the tickets for the fans, or God forbid, so no one brought inappropriate items to the stadium at all. It would be a paradise for Czech fans in love with pyrotechnics and vandalism, believe me.
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And what about such a sausage with homemade beer, are Africans good hosts?
They can be good hosts, but certainly not at football games. Buffet no, offer snacks as if. All I noticed was handing out something salty, it looked like potato chips. In front of the stadium, you could then buy as much water as possible, so a typical Czech combination of sausage and beer, you could only dream of in Nigeria (laughs).
However, the final attention was drawn to the final whistle. Did you expect the home fans to make so much noise?
He hadn’t expected it, certainly not. I saw several disappointed fans leave the stadium before the final whistle, but probably nobody expected what happened next. The Ghanaian footballers rejoiced for a moment, it looked like it would be quiet. But then, from all corners of the stadium, home fans started rushing to the playing area and the madness began.
No one could stop them?
You know what, I think, like, I think a few of them started the organizing service on their own. I even saw in one sector the guy voluntarily open the gate and let it flow towards the lawn. I don’t know if anyone bribed them or what was behind it, but given the extent of corruption among Nigerians, I wouldn’t be surprised.
What have furious fans managed to level with the ground?
So we managed to escape in time, but I saw them smash the undulators, cling behind the goal nets and just destroy everything they could. The footballers themselves must have done something to escape into the hut, as it really looked like a growing herd of angry animals. The police then even had to use tear gas, which later turned out to be a valid weapon for the looting lunatics.
Nigerian football fans stormed the pitch in Abuja, Nigeria after their team lost their chance to compete in the World Cup in a game against Ghana.
– The Editor (@theeditor) April 2, 2022
Weren’t you a little worried about your own life back then?
I would be lying if I told you (laughs). When we realized all the way inside the stadium, we couldn’t be completely calm trying to leave it again. Also, there was no big gate, people crowded together again, police sirens sounded everywhere. Well, just another chaos. The main thing was to get out of the stadium in a flash, the away situation was calmer outside.
The police then started arresting completely innocent people who proved a valid ticket. Do you have an explanation for this?
I still do not understand. That’s why we were afraid that the local police would start associating us with the looting, so we tried to escape as quickly as possible. The information then only reached me through social networks, the Nigerians themselves certainly did not boast about it the next day in the newspaper. On the contrary, the surrounding football world began to actively tackle it.
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From what you are describing here, this defeat must have been literally a national disgrace for Nigeria, am I right?
Not surprising. It was a great derby, Nigeria’s matches with Ghana are often described as the greatest matches in the western part of Africa, so this duel was of great value to the national supporters. Moreover, they clearly saw themselves as favourites, far more shocking and disappointing for them.
Is such an experience a clear signal for a football scout to return there, or to erase the African continent from his next projects?
Definitely delete them. Personally, I tend to approach the first option. It’s not like I was excited to see the first chance to fly to Africa again, but the whole experience had something to do with it. Seeing how football fans perceive football, how they live from it, knowing the different values of society, it all made sense. It was an interesting experience that will ask a lot, but at the same time give.