It is close to two weeks since
the departure to Uyo for the World Cup Qualifying match between
Nigeria and Zambia as well as the actual game.
Nigerians were just too
optimistic going into this game and that got me bothered a lot. It
reminded me of, and I pointed it out to a couple of people I spoke to
that I was hoping the Eagles players were not feeling as confident as
the fans.
It was the same way Nigerians
acted before the 2-0 loss to South Africa. A lot of us felt the most
difficult games had already been played against Cameroon and the
Zambians would not pose much of a problem.
I had a problem with this
attitude and sincerely hoped and prayed the players were not
reasoning like this.
That was the basis of our
discussion in the Sports Writer’s Association of Nigeria, SWAN bus
as we departed to Uyo from Port Harcourt.
By the time we were through
with talking about our chances, we began to discuss football in Port
Harcourt in the 70s and 80s.
The likes of Tonye Orabere,
Ike Wigodo, Gabriel Nwaneranya and myself had a lot to share on how
football is different now from then.
I talked about how John
Apollo, a 17 year old broke into the Rivers State football team for
the 1973 Sports Festival in spite of his size and age and turned out
to be one of the best full backs in this part of the country.
I also mentioned how
Okwuchukwu Waobikeze, a secondary school student at the Federal
Government College, FGC in Port Harcourt played for Pabod FC against
Sharks in the Rivers State FA Cup quarter final in 1988. Though his
side lost to Sharks, 2-0, he, 16 years old at the time, completely
messed up Million Nicholas, one of the most feared full backs in the
Nigerian League that year.
Monday Sinclair signed him for
Sharks a year later, while in still in secondary school and he was
soon playing for the Super Eagles under Clemens Westahof.
Ike Wigodo and Tonye Orabere
mentioned how organised football was played in secondary schools back
in the day, top competitions sponsored by the likes of Izzi and WW
White.
Orabere spoke of how players
like Richard Owubokiri in the 70s would leave from School, Okrika
Grammar School to play League games for Sharks and then return to
school and many others like Sunny Iseokweihma and Imama Amapakabo
played for Sharks while still Secondary School students.
Wigodo reminded us of a time
when a fellow called “No Baga” would argue at the stadium from
the start of the game to its finish without watching the actual game
he came for, while Gabriel Nwanetanya took us back to a time when
there was a quarrel between Larry Ezeh (the founder of Larry’s
Angels FC now, Rivers Angels) and a former secretary of the Youth
Sports Federation of Nigeria, YSFON.
Tonye Orabere recalled a game
Peter Rufai, then Peter Jaja played for his Secondary School,
Government Vocational Technical College, GVTC in Port Harcourt, got
into a quarrel with his team mates and turned his back on goal,
conceding 3 goals against Okrika Grammar School, OGS Okrika, ensuing
his team lost the game. That was in 1979 or thereabouts.
We had a nice time in the bus
going back, down memory lane until we passed the notorious
Elelenwo/Akpajo traffic and descended down the bridge into Akwa Ibom
State where we stopped for some snacks.
The
stop for palm wine

Kelvin Eyo ensured we paid the right sum

I reminded Gabriel Nwanetanya
that we would usually stop for palm wine and we needed to buy a
couple of gallons. I explained that there were a couple of visitors
I’d have in Uyo who would be entertained and palm wine was their
first choice.
Emmanuel Etim, the blogger
called Pooja, Miyen Akiri, Saatah Nubari were just a few who would
come visiting and I had to entertain them so I grabbed two gallons.
Of course there was barbecued
pork on sale but I declined. When asked why, my simple response was
that there was monkey pox in the air and I was not about to inflict
it on myself.
So we all bought the palm wine
in gallons and not the pork.
Not being much of a palm wine
drinker, we needed a taster to verify its authenticity and lucky we
had Gabriel who was a member of the kegites in his school days and as
soon as he confirmed it was top wine, we were ready to pay.
Then we had Kelvin Eyo who was
from the area to speak his language to them and we got it cheap.
Now we were ready to hit Uyo
for the Eagles.
Eventually, my regular
visitors did not show up, but Clement Nwankpa the surprise visitor
guzzled down most of the palm wine
In grayish shirt, the fellow who came at me
Journalists
not thugs
I have had to write about this
before on the behavior of sports journalists in Akwa Ibom State and
was actually hoping that would be the last.
When the Eagles played against
Algeria in Uyo in 2016 a group of Uyo based sports journalists
attempted to physically assault Ayo Ibidapo, a staff of the Nigeria
Football Federation and then run off with the accreditation tags.
That issue, I believe was eventually sorted out.
On Uyo on Friday, first, one
of them came to me, breathing heavy as though he had just carried
weights and was trying to make an angry face, maybe to scare me.
I had just finished chatting
with the NFF president, Amaju Pinnick on the preparedness of the
organisers for the game the next day.
Pinnick probably read my last
two 7 Minutes with China blog
posts and didn’t want a re-occurence of
some of the complaints I made.
As
soon as Pinnick turned to leave, this chap walked up to me, pointing
his finger straight into my face and said, “China Acheru, you are
always writing against our stadium, be careful or we will deal with
you.”
I
smiled because he had to be joking. As at that day I had watched 981
games in different stadia across the country, Africa and the world so
I had obviously seen the good, the bad and ugly of fans, touts and
thugs, so who was this chap?
It
pained me so much that he was a journalist acting like an area
boy.
I asked him simply, “Are you
an illiterate?”
Handing over of tags before the boys from Uyo tried to stop it
He kept pointing his finger in
my face saying, “I am warning you to stop writing against our
stadium. This is Uyo so you better be careful.”
I wouldn’t waste my time
with a street urchin parading himself as a journalist so I walked
away leaving the likes of Bibian Onwugbolu, Sanipe Damiete and some
Lagos based journalists there to call him to order.
About two hours later when
Demola Olajire started distributing accreditation tags, a few members
of the Akwa Ibom State chapter of the Sports Writers Association of
Nigeria, SWAN, led by their chairman and a certain Bonny Nyong
arrived at the venue and ordered Mr. Olajire to hand over 40 tags to
them or stop the process of accreditation.
It looked like a scene from
the creeks of the Niger Delta where community youth picket an oil
company and demand for financial compensation or they stop work.
Someone should educate our
colleagues from Akwa Ibom State. Journalism is not street fighting,
neither is it gansgterism. And they should show respect to visiting
journalists and not act like downtrodden people fighting for their
rights.
Meeting
with a fan
So I met Angel in Uyo while
waiting for accreditation tags and she said she had been a fan since
she was a little kid.
In this job we get a lot like
this as we go along the way so it really is nothing new.
In the last game against
Cameroon, I sat next to a fellow who started chatting me up as though
we had known each other for a while and when I asked where we met and
if he knew me before then his reply was simply, “Who doesn’t know
you?”
It always makes me smile when
I travel and then people walk up to me, having heard me speak on
radio before, read my blog post or seen my tweets and want to
identify with me.
Angel was just one of those
people.

House number 13
That was the title of a
television soap back in the day on Nigeria Television Authority and I
have a reason for bringing it up here.
Any time the Super Eagles
play, whether in Abuja, Port Harcourt, Uyo, or maybe the Federation
Cup final in Lagos, there is always a visit to House Number 13.
House number 13 is the name I
have given to a hotel room in Uyo or Abuja, and an apartment in Lagos
were certain people who meet certain qualifications are invited
either on the eve of the game or the night after the game and they
hang out until midnight or a little past it.
For this Uyo trip, house
number 13 happened twice. First on the eve of the game until about
past midnight and then after the game until almost 2 am.
The thing about House number
13 is that it is strictly on invitation and the person invited cannot
bring in someone else.
Nwankwo Kanu and Samson Siasia visit House number 13
It is just drinks, small chops
and interaction until every one returns home.
I have been visiting House
number 13 for 4 years now and I always look forward to these Super
Eagles games just to pay a visit there.
The thing about House number
13 is that there is always a lot to learn from the interactions.
Comfort
95.1 FM
During my last trip to Uyo I
heard about Comfort FM and also that they had been able to take
Mighty George Essien from Lagos and relocate him to Uyo.
I was prepping for the game on
Saturday morning when I got a phone call from George requesting my
presence at his show from 1pm.
I actually did not plan to
watch the game at the stadium because of what happened to me the last
time, but on TV in my hotel room.
But I saw a post on a whatsapp
group by that chap who was informing his colleagues that he had seen
me at the stadium the day before and threatened me so much that he
saw I was too afraid and may not show up at the Stadium the next day.
I decided to watch the game at
the stadium but go a bit late, maybe, just an hour or 2 before kick
off, but George’s call changed all of that.
Comfort FM with Debola and Andy Randa
I would be there at Comfort FM
as guest along side Andy Randa from Niger State and Debola Adebanjo
from Lagos. Promise Etim came to pick us up and in no time we were
there.
I remember Debola’s
exclamation as soon as we walked in.
She opened her mouth, took in
the air in her nostrils, sighed and said, “Don’t we all love a
brand new radio station?”
The expression on her face as
though she was unwrapping a new gift.
She was right. We all love
brand new radio stations. In fact we all love new stuff.
Brand new radio stations are
not bad. My last radio gig was Today 95.1 FM in Port Harcourt and it
was a brand new radio station too. So I know the feeling.
It is always good to be on
radio, and Mighty George? There is just something about his style
that gets to the people. I am so sure he has taken over the city of
Uyo already. It was obvious to see, especially from the interactive
phone call segment of the show.
From Comfort FM we headed to
the stadium for the game. Getting into the stadium an hour before
kick off is the latest I have ever gone for a Super Eagles game,
whether in Port Harcourt, Abuja, Calabar, Lagos or Uyo and I was
shocked it was easy for us to just drive through.
Was it the well coordinated
checks at the gates, or was it the fact that we drove in Promise
Etim’s car and he was well known?
The point is I always used to
go to the stadium in Uyo, Abuja, and Calabar at least three hours to
the game to avoid mayhem at the gates, but I never knew it would be
easy to pass through so close to kick off.
Kudos to those in charge.
Fully dressed police officer holding a ribbon perimeter
The
police just do not learn
Just before the start of the
game I noticed the cordon at the entrance from the tunnel that should
have been manned by stadium stewards was actually manned by the
police in uniform.
Sometimes it breaks my heart
to see the Nigerian police undermine themselves performing functions
that is quite “beneath” them.
From carrying hand bags of the
wives of their bosses and now this.
I didn’t think it was right
for the police to be the ones using ribbons to create a perimeter
around the entrance from the tunnel. But maybe I am wrong and it is
their job, I would love someone to educate me on that.
How
popular is 7 minutes with China?
After
two editions of 7 minutes with China I got a lot of verbal and
written attacks from members of the sporting press in Akwa Ibom State
who thought I was writing against
their stadium so the Super
Eagles’ games can be moved to Port Harcourt. How petty.
Getting
into the stadium on Friday to get accreditation tags, I smiled when
with every move I made, I heard a voice mention “7 Minutes with
China” and I will not say I was not impressed, because
I was.
I
was also happy that my writing had made such an impression among
members of the sporting press, fans and administrators too.
Tired journalists wait for accreditation tags till darkness set in
It
seemed like eyes were watching over everything going on and would
write about any anomaly noticed.
And
it seemed someone had taken notice.
About
four days before the game I got a call from Abuja, someone who should
know, saying their would be free wifi at the stadium for the media
people.
If
they were doing it because of my piece on 7 minutes with China, then
it was good to hear.
I
also met the NFF president, Amaju
Pinnick at the Stadium and
he was asking if I was satisfied with the arrangements on ground.
Later
at night, I met with him again and after we congratulated each other
on Nigeria’s qualification, he asked if the arrangements made were
good enough and we just chatted.
Like
I said, it means someone is reading and not thinking that criticisms
are borne out
of hate, but because we need to learn from each other.
But
what happened to the free wifi? Many people I spoke with said it was
non-existent and I also did not see it there either.
But
two days after the game, I spoke with someone from Supersport who
said the wifi was actually provided by jammed just before the game
when one of the important visitors arrived at the stadium.
Now
what can I say about this? Nothing! Because,
we never learn.
A snack after the game
After the game, I did not
bother going to the post match meeting since I hadn’t yet recovered
from the trauma of last time.
We were promised wifi and I
did not see it, we were also promised tags for the post match meeting
and mixed zone (I would have picked mixed zone over post match
though) and we did not see that and I was expecting mayhem so I
stayed away, even though I later heard the post match meeting was
more organised than the last time.
The last piece out of the pot?
As we stepped outside the
mainbowl to the parking lot there was this man with a big pot of
well prepared and seasoned dog chops and of course they were for sale
for fifty naira each.
We just stood by watching him
when this other fellow came out of the stadium and asked how much the
whole basin would cost and the seller said eight thousand naira.
The fellow wanted to pay 7
thousand for the whole pot and invite folk around for a free for
all, which he did eventually.
In less than ten minutes seven
thousand naira worth of dog chops that went for fifty naira a piece
was finished. The pot was empty
I did not say I joined them, I
am just reporting what happened in front of me.
The next Super Eagles home
game is in March. Uyo was a great place that delivered our qualifying
ticket to the World Cup.
Thank you for reading my
thoughts.


Tonye Orabere looks to buy some palmwine

Faith Oluchi and Oluchi Tobechukwu 

Me and a fan, Angel

Colin Udoh, obviously tired of waiting, took off his shoes

The wait for tags. Ufuoma Egbamuno

Comfort FM

Andy Randa and Debola Adebanjo alight from Promise Etim’s car

Fair game to the Zambian fans. They never stopped cheering their team

We are Eagles

Folk going for bits of dog chops

We didn’t eat the dog chops

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