The unpublished Super Eagles Uyo diaries

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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