I DIDN’T REALIZE that there was such deep-seated animosity between Nigerian supporters of Manchester United and Arsenal until last Saturday when Complete Sports hosted the inaugural NaijaSuperFans hangout at Godwin Dudu-Orumen’s SportShaq in Surulere, Lagos.Due to space constraints at the venue, we had restricted the number of invitees to 70 members of the fast-growing online community forum.
When the final list got to me, the first thing that I noticed was that it was dominated by United and Arsenal fans.Our previous events at Complete Sports always had Chelsea fans in the majority, but this time they were way behind the United and Arsenal crowd. Barcelona, Manchester City and Real Madrid were the other teams with good representation. My own Liverpool “Old School” fans remained as the traditional back-benchers. (Nothing spoil. We’re the current European Champions!)For those who didn’t hear about it prior to now, the whole idea of the hangout was to offer members of the NaijaSuperFans an opportunity to “hangout” with some of their favourite sports media personalities while watching live football together in a convivial atmosphere.
On hand to banter with the excited fans and give firsthand analysis were popular radio journalists Deji Omotoyinbo and Bode Oguntuyi of Sports Express fame, Mike Maiyaki of SuperSport, Godwin Dudu-Urumen of the famed Best of Football TV programme, Complete Sportseditor Dare Esan, Yemi Adesanya of SportsZone on LagosTalks 91.3FM and SmartsEbhodaghe, also a veteran colleague. Yours truly was the chief host as Presido of the NaijaSuperFans forum. (Hear, hear!)The fixture list for the day was carefully selected. Norwich versus Chelsea in the early kickoff; Manchester United at home to Crystal Palace at 3.30pm and, the big one, Liverpool versus Arsenal in the late evening game. We were sure that our guests and the fans would be stuck on their seats all day and so it turned out. There were no dull moments.The Chelsea game passed without “incident” as Blues fans in the house had a field day celebrating Tammy Abraham’s well-taken brace which ultimately gave them a 3-2 win in an entertaining game. I tried to wipe up some support for Norwich by reminding everyone that the Canaries gave Nigeria a World Cup player (Efan Ekoku) in 1994. But Dudu-Orumen and SuperFan Roland Ahotwin who led the Blues troops also reminded me that Abraham was also born of Nigerian parents and is still eligible to play for Super Eagles.Arsenal supporters had been surprisingly quiet as the Chelsea fans celebrated. They didn’t bad-mouth Frank Lampard’s wards despite Chelsea conceding two seemingly careless goals. What happened to the legendary “London Rivalry”, I wondered silently. I got my answer in the next game when United took to the pitch at Old Trafford against Crystal Palace.
Every good move United made drew loud boos from the Gunners fans. But when Paul Pogba and co made a mistake, they (Arsenal fans) cheered excitedly. When Palace scored, you would have thought Arsenal had won the Champions League! And when Marcus Rashford missed that penalty kick which could have snatched a draw for United, you would think Arsenal had won the World Cup!Throughout their ordeal, the United supporters in the house took everything on the chin. Their 4-0 opening day win over Chelsea already seemed like many decades away, compared with what was unfolding before their korokoroeyes. Incidentally, most of our guests (Deji Omotoyinbo, Mike Maiyaki and Yemi Adesanya) were also United fans. So is my son, Abdulmueez, who is as die-hard as they come. But the Arsenal fans had no pity. At the final whistle, they celebrated United’s defeat to no end.That was the surprise for me. I always thought the biggest rivalry in English football was Liverpool versus Manchester United. Perhaps that’s still the case in England. But on the evidence of the NaijaSuperFans hangout last Saturday, the new battle frontier in Nigeria appears to be Arsenal versus United.United supporters must have had mixed feelings when the final match of the day kicked off and my Liverpool took Arsenal to the cleaners. Due to the storied rivalry between the two teams, United fans never, ever wish Liverpool well and vice versa. But on this occasion in Lagos, United fans wanted revenge on Arsenal and Liverpool gladly obliged with a thorough beating of the Gunners.When I was asked during the pre-match analysis, I predicted a 3-0 win for Liverpool. When we scored the third goal from Mohammed Salah’s solo run, I mockingly declared “game over” and told everyone to disperse and go home. Arsenal would score a late consolation for 3-1 but by then, some of their supporters had sneaked out of SportShaq! All the beef they gave United was forced down their throats by Liverpool. United fans finally had the last laugh.
I will be sharing more of the interesting moments from the 1st NaijaSuperFans hangout here in Soccertalk even as we plan for the next edition in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, I need urgently to mobilize more Liverpool fans to register as members of the NaijaSuperFans community. At a stage last Saturday, I was virtually “Walking Alone” when it was time to inaugurate the respective club coordinators and members on the forum. If you’re a Liverpudlian, please join me and register now at our NEW PLATFORM, https://www.naijasuperfans.com.Remember, We’ll Never Walk Alone!