By Ovundah Nyeche.
I grew up loving football, in front of my house was an expanse of land where people and cars passed, it was here we dug it out; I played more in the final third growing up and it was fun scoring the goals.
I loved everything football; from rain ball, to “agidi – iyawo”, to fool, to 5-aside, to complete squad, it was a hit back to back.
The land is currently covered by interlocking stones, so no child plays there anymore.
I was also fortunate to go to a secondary school that had a culture of work and play, we had dedicated days for labour and sports and we had 2 standard football pitches, an improvised 5-aside pitch , a lot of space for “choosing” or “set”, monkey post and all.
We also had a volley ball pitch, lawn tennis pitch, several improvised table tennis boards, a basketball court and gymnastics for those that loved showing themselves.
In secondary school I gradually went towards the goal keeper and finally settled for the left back position. I had a classmate nicknamed “Charno”, he could do anything with the ball, in fact the football fell in love with his nimble feet.
He was that good and so were all his brothers that you could argue using his family as a case study that being a good footballer was genetic. In one of our matches he and his brother completed a double over head kick.
We never had scouts come to watch us; trust me if my secondary school was used for a pilot study, many athletes would have been harvested there.
Never mind the main focus of the institution was to be a preparatory ground for lads that would go on to become priests. Just like all schools in Nigeria groom people to be this or that.
In the University the story was the same, study your books and graduate. I played football a lot too, but that was by the way. I remember winning the Port Harcourt University Medical Students Association football cup with my classmates, all of them are doctors now and I doubt any of them can run around the pitch for 30 minutes without been resuscitated with oxygen, I tried it few months ago and I knew the impact on my body.
Ironically Charno my secondary school mate who was a delight to watch is also not a professional footballer.
And so that is how we lose athletes, little wonder we have people rushing to areas that are seemingly lucrative and people are hardly motivated to go into sports.
We have more expensive schools, with no football pitch or places children can play and express themselves. Our football clubs barely go to schools to scout for players, in fact many local football clubs don’t have scouts and their age grade teams if at all they have are filled with people hustling and many of these age grade teams have people who forced their way in.
Many youths fighting, bombing, shooting arrows, using machetes on fellow citizens, shooting guns with precision, unleashing terror in the creeks and rivers are many times simply misguided and actually expressing themselves in the negative way.
Sports should not be treated lightly as it has always been, truth is that doing well in sporting events is more than just paying athletes their bonuses and all. There must be an active and deliberate plan to maintain the pool of athletes and this must start from the grassroots.
How about changing our school curriculum, offering scholarships to sports boys and girls, insisting football clubs have at least an U 8 team where children good in sports can be groomed while doing their studies, how about insisting all school have playing facilities and those that have none should link up with government schools which have these facilities at a fee.
How about developing a blue print for sports that will run for up to 20 years, how about also taking a look at athletics and especially water sports, not as though we are in a desert and there are plenty medals to win in water events.
What about gymnastics why allow all those cartwheel and acrobatics to waste, why allow all those moves in ‘atilogwu’ to go down the drain? Everyone gifted should have a place.
Sports cannot be developed by emotions, or the regular fire brigade approach or politicizing of sports or the continual system of the sports ministry being a ministry for compensating politicians. There has to be a deliberate attempt to save sports in this nation from the LGA level to the federal level.
And that reminds me, my son who is 3 years old is already fascinated with football and he has one. Unlike his father though he shoots with his right foot and his playing field is inside the house.
If he is still trained in Nigeria and we still continue at this pace… Years from now he may be typing this same article.
So next time you see your country and indeed many other African countries having zero medals in the Olympics or not win the world cup or even get a 3rd place in the world cup, just know that you cannot drink garri and vomit fried rice and mashed chicken.. Iya how now…you self you go like am?
In other news
Everybody dey talk say my pikin go be Dokita, engineer and lawyer and na why we dey where we dey?
Paul Pogba a young French player is paid £290,000 weekly and our own Wari Senibo John Mikel Obi is paid about £140,000 weekly, I doubt any profession can give anyone this in this country.
Mikel is among the few favoured Nigerians that hit gold… And this is actually what we lose when we have inept sports administrators… Sports is big business, very big business.
Imagine the prospects including prospects for other professionals who may not necessarily kick the ball, imagine several doctors as professionals in sports medicine… Imagine players and their agents…
Well, as I always say, again what do I know?
Our football league is a story for another day…
Make I go read my book jare.