Football Season Kick-Off, an event organised by DStv to usher in the new season in Europe, delivers fun aplenty to fans
It was eagerly awaited. The start of England’s Barclays Premier League, that is. Fans of the Barclays Premier League in Nigeria looked towards 16 August like it was Christmas Day. The streets, pubs and everywhere there are football fans fizzed with excitement. At Harbour Point, an events facility in Victoria, Island, Lagos, the excitement was feverish. It was the venue of Football Season Kick-Off, an event organised by DStv, exclusive providers of football content in Nigeria and Africa in general, to flag off the 2014/15 soccer season.
As early as 11am, football fans had started arriving the venue, most of them in the replica shirts of their favourite teams. With a sizeable crowd expected and the potential for handshakes and hugs, the organisers did well to provide hand sanitisers to everyone coming in as a way of checking the spread of the Ebola Virus Disease.
Inside Harbour Point’s posh confines , fans were greeted with eight giant television sets provided by Samsung, one of the sponsors of the event. The others were Globacom, wakanow.com and Guinness Nigeria plc. As the crowd grew, the atmosphere became more raucous, yielding a free trade zone of banters, boasts and of course, an ample quantity of ill-will for any club viewed as a rival to the club each fan supports. Neutrality had no place. Football doesn’t do in-between very well. Fans are closer to tribal gangs than objective observers. The air was so thick with partisanship that you could bottle it. But it was expressed with civility. Going by replica shirts, Manchester United fans appeared to be in the majority, not overwhelmingly. Next to them were Chelsea and Arsenal fans. Then, Liverpool fans. About four persons came in Manchester City strip, puncturing the assumption that the new superpowers in England have no overseas fans.
What the sight of City strips did to the heads of Manchester United fans could not be gauged. The global United fan base was convinced by their former manager, Alex Ferguson, to view City as “noisy neighbours”. By the time the first match of the season, Manchester United vs Swansea, ended, United fans at the event were the quiet neighbours. Swansea did what fans of United rivals in the crowd hoped for, not expected. Swansea beat United 2-1 on their patch, a result that earned United fans, who had hoped for a bright start under Louis van Gaal, plenty of good-natured jibes.
The loss, treated as a setback rather than disaster, did not ruin the day’s fun for many United fans at the event. Samson Duru, a United fan, said he was disappointed by the result and performance of his team, but was compensated by the atmosphere in which he watched the match. “DStv gave us a great place to start the season. Being among fans of other clubs, sharing jokes and having fun, is a great experience. Wish we could do this weekly, but United have to win every match to make me enjoy it every week. Hearing rival fans making jest of us is hard to take,” said Duru.
Sarah Adebiyi, an Arsenal fan, was similarly thrilled about the viewing experience. “This is just nice. You can see that everybody is happy that the season is here. DStv did well to get us together in this lovely place and put is in the mood for the season,” she gushed.
Where does she think her club will finish this season? “Champions”, she said with a chuckle. “We have Sanchez (Alexis) now. Ozil will get better. We pray that Ramsey is not injured,” she added. We shall see.
Wale Joseph, another Arsenal fan, spoke before the United-Swansea match started. Cradling a can of Harp beer provided by Guinness, he wished United would lose and it happened. Joseph praised DStv for providing a good backdrop for match viewing and specially commended the pay TV company for being conscious of the threat of Ebola, which necessitated the provision of hand sanitisers.
Tunji Babalola, one of the very few Manchester City fans on parade, said he was happy that Football Season Kick-Off has made him realise that he is not alone in his support of the club in Nigeria. “I lived in Manchester as a child and grew up supporting City. Years back, I was laughed at a lot. We were not doing well and many people could not imagine why I’d be supporting city. I thought I was the only Nigerian supporter of City until I got here and saw others, though not many. We will grow in number because we will keep winning. We have the players and the money to buy more if required,” he said with barely disguised boast.