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Foreign League, Nigerian fans and quest for viewing centres


Before the late 1980s, Nigerians were obsessed with the local clubs and their players. They were fanatical and ardent fans and supporters of local clubs like Enugu Rangers, Shooting Stars of Ibadan, Abiola Babes of Abeokuta, Iwuanyanwu National of Owerri, Sharks and Dolphin football clubs of Port Harcourt, Enyimba Football Club of Aba among others.

The image of players like Segun Odegbami, Christian Chukwu, the late Haruna Ilerika, the late Muda Lawal, late Stephen Keshi and Sunday Oliseh among others loomed larger than those of the foreigners.

During that era, whenever there were local league matches, supporters trooped to the stadia to cheer their clubs to victory. That was the situation, until the late 1990s when Nigerian players started moving into professional football clubs in Europe and elsewhere. The national television brought foreign football to the sitting rooms of Nigerians as a means of entertainment, cultural exchange and globalisation.

This also brought an end to the era in football followership and the beginning of a new era in foreign football followership in the country till date. The ecstatic chant ‘Flaming’-the nickname of the boisterous Lagos City team, Stationery Stores of Lagos-gave way to ‘Up Blues’, Barca forever in honour of Chelsea of England and FC Barcelona of Spain.

To make matters worse, there was the advent of Digital Satellite Television (DStv) which won over many Nigerian fans and has kept them out of the stadia to the detriment of spectatorship at venues of local league matches.

Then came the establishment of viewing centres, where foreign football enthusiasts and fans can converge to watch foreign league matches. Today, these viewing centres are now at every nooks and crannies of major cities and towns in the country. This phenomenon has continued to grow in leaps and bounds as the fan continue to patronise them.

The recent ugly incident at a viewing centre in Calabar, Cross River State where no fewer than 30 Manchester United Club fans died of electrocution while watching Europa Football league match between Manchester United and Anderlecht has once again raised the questions; why do people prefer watching football matches at viewing centres than their homes? How safe and healthy are the viewing centres? What are the other things that lure people to the centres other than football matches?

Speaking to The Guardian, a businessman, Moses Agbanya said he prefers watching foreign league matches, especially La Liga and premiership at viewing centres because of the friendly atmosphere.

His words: “I have DSTV at home where I can watch premiership or any foreign league matches, but I prefer to watch them outside the home to avoid my children’s distraction. As a good footballer in my younger days, I like analysing the matches during halftime and at the end of the game.

Besides, my wife does not like football, so whenever I try to watch such matches at home, she always feel sidelined. “Sometimes, while watching matches at the centre, I discuss business with my partners. Most times, we usually agree to meet at the centre to discuss.”

To Emma Okeke, who resides in Okota, Lagos, viewing centres are just like every other recreational centre.

“I usually go there to drink and watch foreign league matches. Most of the viewing centres are like beer parlours and other drinking joints. The difference lies on the quality of seats, building and security. Apart from relaxation and watching matches, there are young girls there to entertain interested customers.

“The calibre of the personalities you see at any viewing centre will tell you the standard of the viewing centre. For example, some viewing centres sell a bottle of small stout N250, while others sell it for N400. I go there often, whether there is football match or not,” Okeke said.

Speaking to The Guardian a woman who pleaded anonymity said that since her husband started going to the viewing centre to watch matches, his behaviour has changed.

She said: “Before now, my husband don’t go to viewing centre to watch foreign matches. But since he started going there in the name of watching matches, his behaviour has changed. He usually comes back very late from the place.

“I have continued to wonder if these matches are played very late into the night. He has been failing in his matrimonial duties, making me to suspect that he is having extra-marital affair using viewing centre as cover up. I have decided to ambush him at the place one day to confirm if he is telling me the truth. We have premium DSTV that contains all the channels at home, so why the choice of viewing centre?

There Is The Entertainment And Business Angle To It
From Anietie Akpan, Calabar

Viewing centres are a popular business in Calabar. In most cases, they operate like bar or pub house and sell drinks while some others are just strictly viewing centres.

The operator of a viewing centre at Goldie Street, Nsa Gill said the concept of viewing centre was just to satisfy ones sporting interest. “In this direction you would be able to keep yourself informed and entertained while following the European League matches. This is because viewing centre is basically for watching matches. It is not for other things except football matches. There is also the commercial angle to it,” he said.

Commenting on an ideal viewing centre, he said: “An ideal viewing centre should be one where you can watch more than one match at a time and you have comfortable seats with good ventilation provided by either fans or air conditioners. The location of centre also matters. The building should be in a highly populated area where there is need for such.

“The building should be safe from any hazards, crime, high tension cable and other unforeseen incidences”. He however explained that there are challenges associated with the centres which has to do with cost implications, because if the operator don’t have facilities like television, hall, seats and others, the cost of setting it up could be huge.

“Another challenge is being able to break even because you have to pay for full DSTV subscription monthly, electricity bill, fuel for generator, allowances for the staff and others. If you look at the monthly turnover and place it side by side with the cost of running the place, you will find out that you have ended up satisfying customers in most months than breaking even.

“Issues and attitude of some viewers could be rowdy and you have to learn to tolerate different attitude of persons because with their excitement and fanaticism they can talk carelessly or rudely at another viewer and you have to be able to ensure it does not get out of control,” he said.

He added that the boom period is usually when big teams of premiership like Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool play one another, which he said attract a lot of customers.

“Our experience shows that Nigerians are more of Chelsea fans, followed by Man United and Arsenal. Champions League matches attract more customers than premiership and La Liga. We hardly have customers whenever Nigerian League is being played on DSTV.”

On the recent ugly incident in a viewing centre in Calabar, Gill said: “I heard about an incident in a viewing centre and I personally went to the place. I realised that a lot of things like the location, construction of the hall with zinc material and worse of all under a high tension wire were partly responsible for the inferno.

“The high-tension wire cut and dropped on the roof of the building and they were not conscious of the need not to have any structure under the high tension and that brought about the unfortunate situation.

“For me, apart from the issue of high tension, the fact that the incident was connected to electricity means that in any public place not limited to only viewing centres, the electricity connection must be properly done such that there will not be unexpected spark or explosion.”
One of the customers there, Saviour Okon Ekpenyong, said: “I like viewing centres because I like sports. It’s all about sports, especially football. I prefer watching in viewing centre to watching at home. In viewing centre, I chat with my friends. Football is not about fight. Anything anyone says at a viewing centre one should not feel hurt, because that is the fun and there must be an argument.”

Most Times, We Don’t Know Our Customers, Says Asapu
From Charles Ogugbuaja, Owerri

English Premier League football matches are cherished by scores of peoples in Imo State. Most drinking joints in all nooks and crannies in the state have been converted to viewing centres. Mainly youths converge at those locations to view matches.

In Owerri, capital city of Imo State, viewing centres are located at junctions, mechanic villages, lounges, around World Bank axis, Imo State University, Okigwe Road, Junction, Ikenegbu Layout, among other areas.

Some of the centres charge various sums of admittance fees before viewers are allowed to enter ranging from N100 to N150. In most cases, they are allowed under the condition that they must buy drinks or other edible things sold there. Some of the places are not conducive enough for such, while some are relatively comfortable.

According to Ifeanyi Asapu, who manages The Grand Viewing and Drinking Centre at the ever-busy Imo University Junction, the business attracts all manner of people. He contended that they are faced with the task of screening the type of people that patronise them to ensure that no questionable characters disturb them.

“Honestly, we encounter a lot of persons when matches are played here. We are also faced with hooliganism. Some persons who come here to watch matches usually get angry if their teams lose. You have to manage such persons. Some don’t even buy drinks, not minding that we are here to do business. But despite all these, we still manage all these characters whose major desire is to watch matches,” he said.

Another operator of the centre at Mechanic Village in Orji on the outskirts of Owerri metropolis, who simply identified himself as John, told The Guardian that he charges N100 from each viewer due to economic problems in the country.

“The problem of financial challenges caused me to charge that amount from viewers. They usually turn out in large numbers any time football is being played. They are happy because of their dispositions,” he said.

In Ogun, Most Centres Operate In Makeshift Buildings
From Charles Coffie Gyamfi, Abeokuta

In Ogun State, while most of the viewing centres are makeshift buildings constructed with planks and aluminum sheets, others are operated in uncompleted buildings. Wooden benches serve as seats for the viewers. Some of them are located at obscure places.

An operator of a viewing centre, Gbenga Fashina, who spoke to The Guardian disclosed that the business was not as lucrative as it used to be, a situation he attributed to the drastic reduction in the number of football fans that usually come to his centre to watch football.

He said some people now prefer to watch football matches at drinking joints and hotels because of the poor condition of most centres. Besides, he said they prefer the joints and hotels because they are safer and more conducive for watching football and they can watch matches peacefully without the fear of violent attacks by over-zealous fans who often cause trouble whenever their teams are lose.

Although, he said business is good when two big teams either in the European Champions League or the English Premier League play, he lamented that he and his assistants always have difficult times controlling the fans.

He also lamented that a number of times when violence erupts between the fans, the Community Development Association (CDA) in his area would always shut down the centre.

Also speaking, a football fan, Ademola Aderibigbe said he preferred to watch football matches at viewing centres because he loves to listen to arguments among football fans as this further enlightens him.

He added that the advent of football betting companies who are increasing by the day has also attracted huge number of football fans and even those who want to make money through betting.

He disclosed that football fans, especially the youths are making easy money from forecasting and predicting the outcome of football matches, an act he said, was not common to youths alone but also adults who want quick money.

In his remarks, Adewuyi Oladimeji, a Manchester United fan said: “For me, there are few reasons why I love to watch my football live in a viewing centre. It is a good means of overcoming stress. I go there after a stressful day at work to catch fun and it becomes more fun when your team wins.

“It only becomes unsafe when a match is fixed late at night and that of course depends on the individual himself, he chooses to stay at the safety of his home or risk going to a viewing centre.”

Most Centres Are In Suburbs For Security Reasons
From Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi, Jos

There were many boisterous viewing centres in Jos metropolis especially during the reign of former Governor Jonah David Jang when Boko Haram was on the rampage in Plateau State.

As a result, one of the viewing centres at Tudun Wada in Jos North was bombed in 2013 leaving some casualties in its wake. There was another bomb blast at the Bauchi Road in the Jos North adjacent Red Cross Society of Nigeria in 2014 leaving behind burnt bodies of the football fans at the viewing centre.

In view of the huge loss of human lives, the then Commissioner of Police ordered the immediate closure of viewing centres in the state, especially in Jos/Bukuru metropolis. It was a public pronouncement and the government also issued the same warning, but people observed the order at the peak of the confusion.

However, there are still viewing centres, especially when the present administration came to power in May 2015. They operate surreptitiously especially in the suburbs and other ghetto areas.

Such suburbs include Tudun Wada, Gada Biu, Angwan Rukuba, Congo Russia, Jos Jarawa, Rikkos, Nasarawa Gwom, Naraguta, Angwan Rogo, Angwan Rimi, Kwona Shagari, Jenta Adamu, among others.

These places are hideouts which constitute nuisance to both government and members of the public. Few of the viewing centres operate in the daytime, while majority of them operate either in the evenings or at night.

Mallam Abdullahi Yusuf, a staunch fan of Chelsea Football Club told The Guardian that they are fans of foreign teams. He said that they do the business to earn a living, because people pay some fees before being admitted into the centres.

He said: “Some of us play pools and we bet. Some of the pools results come from the outcome of matches. But we know that we are doing this illegally. We always mount billboards like NAIRABET, which is a registered gambling house where pools and bets take place.

“You have to buy coupons and fill them and make predictions, by saying that this team or that will win or lose the day’s match. But when the prediction favours you, you collect your win.”

Most of the centres lack adequate space while the sitting arrangement is poor as most of the fans sit on plastic or wooden chairs where some customers smoke and drink. Electricity supply is illegally connected direct from the poles. The places are built with zincs where people suffocate throughout while the inside always stinks.

These centres are not licensed, but everyday they mount their signboard signifying the match fixtures for the day and time. Commenting on why the viewing centres are booming, one of the operators, Idowu Ojo said not everybody can afford satellite cables and dishes to watch international matches and besides the viewing centres are cheaper.

“The owners of the viewing centres subscribe and the fans pay fees for access to the centres. If you are a football fan, you will not like to watch it in isolation. At least you will watch it with other fans who are either for or against your team.”

‘It’s Boring Watching Foreign Matches At Home’
Shakirah Adunola

Those who spoke to The Guardian said it was always boring watching foreign matches at home. A graphic designer, Bolaji Kolapo said: “I love to watch football matches at the viewing center, especially when my favourite club is playing. The match is usually boring when I watch at home, especially when I am alone. But at the centre you hear a lot of gist about your favourite players.

“One of the reasons the centre is always rowdy is because some go there to bet with money. Most time the fans of the club that loses a match are always causing problem. For me going to the viewing centre is just to relax and make myself happy in the midst of people.”

Also Subomi Ogundele, a student said that he prefers watching matches at the centre because of the excitement that usually follows it. Abdul Waheed Badejo is of the opinion that adequate space is very important in viewing centre because it determines the number of people that could be accommodated.

A Lagos-based businessman, Henry Clinton said: “To me watching matches at viewing centre is a way of reducing pressure. If I am disturbed over something, by the time I get to the centre I will forget about it. Making gest of each other like Chelsea fans will not want Manchester to win and Barcelona fans will not want Real Madrid to win.”

Most People Can’t Afford Viewing From Their Homes
By Sokoya Kemi

Fans and soccer lovers who spoke to The Guardian disclosed why they prefer going to viewing centres to watch matches to staying at home. One of the fans, Adeosun Adeosun said it is usually more fun in the sense that you share your views and opinions and interact with people of like passion with you.

He added that one gets informative and educative arguments at the viewing centres. “Majority of the people who patronise the centres are people of low economic status. You need to pay N14,000 monthly for premium DSTV package and have electricity or generator to watch it from home. A lot of people cannot afford it.

“Apart from that, the level of excitement and arguments can only be gotten when you have a good number of people watching the games with you.’’
Daramola Enitan said: “Not everyone has satellite television, even those who have cannot afford to subscribe regularly due to economic hardship.

“It is not about the cost of television or about the cost of DSTV bouquet, but about the fun of socialising when you go out there to watch the game at a viewing centre,’ Segun Emmanuel said.

Owner of a viewing centre at Idewu bus stop Olodi-Apapa Lagos, OJ who has spent 10 years in the business, described viewing centers as an entertainment place.

“The reason football fans come to the viewing centre is because of the excitement, the bet game, funny arguments and side comments from other football fans. Besides, most families cannot afford to subscribe for satellite television,” he said.

Adewunmi Seun, a resident of Apapa said that funny arguments and remarks are what make him to keep visiting the centre.
“It is not all about hanging out with friends at viewing centers but the banters and side comments.”

Watching Football Is Added Innovation To Boost Sales, Says Kalu
From Lawrence Njoku, Enugu

At De Pines Bar and viewing centre on New haven in Enugu recently, Jonathan Kalu, a football enthusiast had explained his level of passion in watching European League matches in viewing centres.

“One thing I have to tell you is that I don’t like watching football alone. It gives me great joy when I am in the midst of those that are fanatical about the round leather game and those who may not know much about it. The way we laugh, criticise and praise the players, their coaches and even those who claim to be fans of one club or the other is instructive.

“Again, I like going to such places because, you won’t have need to complain of power failure. Some centres offer you with good music, variety of food and drinks among others that could spice up your life. I meet new and old friends and in between the games, we could chat over developments in the society and what have you,” he said.

Kalu was among the many football fans that thronged the Bush House of the Arena to watch the star game between Manchester United and Chelsea in the Premier League as well as staunch supporters of these clubs.

Incidentally, it was also the Guinness “Matchday Made of Black” Experience in which award winning artist, Owoh Chimaobi, popularly known as Zoro was joined by rap artistes- Slow Dog and Quincy to thrill football fans in Enugu.

The “Matchday Made of Black” experience also had live commentary from the Supersports crew of Chisom Mbonu-Ezeoke and Mike Maiyaki, as well as other popular football analysts such as Willy Nwanyawu of Radio Nigeria and Azuka Emesoba, team manager of Emenite Football club.

At the BLD bar and viewing centre, along Zik Avenue, it is usually a beehive of activities each day there was a league match involving top European clubs. One of the fans, Ijeoma Ogbonna, told The Guardian that he enjoys the discussions that go on with the matches.

“I am a fan of Chelsea and I don’t compromise in my support. So even though I can watch these matches from my house, I prefer places that I can interact and argue over the matches and other developments in football. It is not all about the drinks or food they serve there, but the fact that

I get fulfillment on each occasion. I think it is more important than watching the game of soccer alone,” he said. Checks also revealed that some of the viewing centres in Enugu were not originally built for watching football.

Watching football was an added innovation to boost sales especially the drinks and other delicacies. It was observed that special preparations are made on match days, especially for top premiership clubs to ensure that those who will watch the matches are well taken care of.

One of the sales boys at one of the centres said: “I usually invite people who sell African salad, suya and other local foods any day there is a big match. I try as much as possible to keep variety of drinks, enough meat, wine and what have you.

“The truth is that we don’t pay gate fee, the gate fee people pay is the products which they buy from us. We serve the cold drinks and ensure that we give our customers the best of service that will enable them return another day.”

Most Preferred Venue For Football Lovers
By Henry Ekemezie

NIGERIANS love watching football matches but are unable to do so at the comfort of their homes because watching the games at home comes at a high cost. So they prefer going to viewing centers.

However, people have been clamoring for the closure of these football centers because it has been alleged that people who are prone to violent conducts are attracted to such places.

Jolowo Nelson, student and a Manchester United supporter said: “Nothing can really match up to the atmosphere of the viewing center, watching a football game in a sports center is an entirely different experience, unfortunately with the high cost of petrol and no power supply, it isn’t possible for everyone to enjoy a football match at home.

“However, we don’t need to lose heart because we can catch all the action on a 150-inch HD screen TV, and also get to socialize with other football lovers at the venue.”

Ekong John, an aspiring professional footballer also said: “Part of the fun of watching the game at a viewing center is that you get to enjoy the game and take part in the friendly banters and heckling that go on during the game. It allows you to have some light-hearted fun with your friends and to have a grand old time heckling the opposing team when your team scores and wins.”

Chukwuebuka Ojukwu also added that watching a football game at home is somewhat boring because you can’t engage in soccer discussions with anyone and if you like to drink while watching the game, then a sports bar is the perfect place for you. Get ice cold drinks served to you at a moment’s notice, while you watch the game with your friends and get involved in as much discussions as you can.

Nigerians Love To Celebrate Their Teams At Viewing Centres
By Temitope Makinde

ABOUT 70 percent of Nigerian youths and men prefer to visit local viewing centres to watch their favorites teams play in their respective leagues at their leisure time.

This is the most common style of celebrating ones team across the globe. However, Africans seem to practice this style more than people of other continents, since this is the only entertainment platform that unites people of different backgrounds.

Certainly, big matches around the world inspire the movement of every football lovers to converge at the viewing centres even when all the requirements to watch the matches are being met at their respective homes.

These are El-Classico involving the Spanish giants, Barcelona and Real Madrid playing against each other, England derby involving Manchester City and Manchester United and other giants of the league.

Surprisingly, the love for the big matches this season is not just the reason behind visiting the viewing centres but the rising new teams from relegations doing better to overtake the big teams and the improvement of some players is basically the joy of watching games at the viewing centres.

Speaking with the Guardian, a resident of Papa Ajao, Chinedu Mba said the love shared watching football at the viewing centre is like no other. “I feel relieved and loved when I see my co-fans celebrate a goal and victory of the team together. This alone makes me happy and gives me more reason to visit the viewing centre.”

Also, viewing football business is booming as Rasheed Onifade, owner of a viewing centre explained that patronage of football lovers was amazing.

He stated that the viewing centres now has greater task ahead to satisfy their customers, adding that expanding the space of his center was his next plan.

“The patronage has increased in a way that I cannot say exactly where it is evolving from and that is what got me flabbergasted. It is not just to see them trooping in but the number of people who turn up to watch even small games is now very high, which means people are falling in love with watching of football,” he said.

Another lover of football, a civil servant, Collins Abraham said: “I am chanced to go watch football matches only at weekends. So, I always make it worth my while by giving it my time and I do this to ease stress after all.”

Master victor Adams, a student also added that the only means of getting information and expectation about next match was by visiting the viewing centre. “I enjoy watching matches where a lot of people are because there you can get authentic news, get updated about the history of a particular team you support.”

For Shola Peters, a youth corps member: “When I need to meet more friends I go to watch football. When I am new to a place I go to viewing centres because you will meet a lot of people. You will surely meet your caliber and identify them by the way they talk.

“Sometimes to ease depression and when you need to laugh, you hear all sorts of words in the viewing centres- words that will entertain you either wrongly or rightly,” he said.

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