It’s amazing; my one year old kid Alfred has started kicking the ball around the house, in the sitting room, in the bedroom, on top of the bed… everywhere!
His elder brother David, will only be six in October, but has started running out to play the game with other kids on the street.
My wife doesn’t like it at all, but I understand. Every Dad in Nigeria understands this and would encourage their boy to practice and to develop some football skills early enough. It’s like a tradition here; a baby boy is likely to receive a ball as his first toy from his Dad.
The Football Culture
All across Nigeria kids play football anywhere they can find space on the streets… sometimes on risky tarred-roads, where they could easily hurt their feet or crash into a moving vehicle…
Usually, they stop the game, remove their goal-post, to allow the vehicle or an elderly person pass-through; then they resume playing again.
The older boys will help organize inter-street football tournament for the kids… and spectators clusters by the resident building, I mean matured people sit by their balconies to watch these kids display amazing football skills – that’s where it all start from…
The Football Facilities
At 10, the kids move over to the field in the neighborhood. There are thousands of football pitches scattered across the country. By that, I do not mean standard grass-pitches; just size-able recreational space with goal-post at the two end; commonly found in public schools in Nigeria.
But in developed cities like Lagos you could find something a lot better. The city of Lagos has four standard stadiums – Former National Stadium, Teslim Balogun stadium, Onikan Stadium and Agege Stadium.
The government invested a lot of funds in developing recreational centers with standard football pitch in each neighborhood, over 4,000 sports facilities renovated between 2007 and 2015 – and that’s just one of the 36 states in the country.
Football in Schools
Before the last two decades, school sports were popular in Nigeria and were the first place to discover talents in several sports
Every school had a sports faculty or at least a games master who gets involved in organizing inter-house or inter-school sports competitions, of which football was usually the grand finale.
School Football Tournaments
Some school football tournaments like Principal’s cup, Academicals, NNPC/Shell Cup for secondary schools, NUGA and NIPOGA were very popular in Nigeria and an avenue that developed and discovered lots of talents, of which some moved directly into the age-grade national teams.
Several people are still calling for the revival of school sports; they are staging a lot of media protest against schools that converted their football pitch to erect classroom buildings.
The Football Academies
Perhaps, a more effective concept evolved when Alain Nelson, former marketing director of 7up Bottling company established the first standard football academy in Nigeria – Pepsi Football Academy, which has now expanded into 17 states in the federation.
The governor of Kwara state Bukola Saraki, also took the bull by the horn to build a state of art football academy, probably the best in Africa – Kwara State Football Academy in Ilorin. There is also Papilo Football Academy in Owerri established by ex-international Nwankwo Kanu, while he was still playing active football in England.
Today, Nigeria has over 2, 500 football academies scattered across the country and churning out talents in large numbers, both for Nigerian clubs and teams abroad.
Nigeria Golden Eaglets that majorly recruit their players from these academies won FIFA U-17 World Cup back-to-back in 2013 and 2015.
Nigeria won the inaugural edition in 1985 and since then dominated the world at the cadet level winning the bi-annual tournament five times in 30years.
As I write European clubs like FCBarcelona, Bournmouth from England, Maadiith from Demark, VVV.Venlo from Netherlands... are all set to establish their own football academies here in Nigeria to benefit from the rich youth football culture in this largest black African country.