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Matches on and off the field

Nigerian wives pick a side

| OLUDAYO TADE | There are about 100 million active soccer fans in Nigeria and the majority actively follow Europe’s UEFA Champions League and the UK’s Premier League, according to the Nigeria Football Market Report 2019.

It says Nigeria; the most populous country in Africa has about 100 million active football fans. That means half of the country’s population of 200 million people are actually football consumers. If that is correct then Nigeria’s football market becomes as interesting and as important as the Chinese market.

According to the 2019 edition of PopularSide report produced by GreenHunters Sports International, Nigeria’s leading sports digital marketing agency, Cristiano Ronaldo is the number one player followed online among Nigerian people, ahead of Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and Liverpool’s Mohammed Salah.

But domestic leagues in Nigeria have produced star players like Segun Odegbami and Rashidi Yekini. However, globalisation and packaging of the sport, and interest in watching Nigerian players in foreign clubs, make overseas leagues particularly attractive.

The keenest fans in Nigeria tend to be men. In a society structured to favour men, female involvement in sports is influenced by men – directly or indirectly. Nigerian men often watch soccer matches at public viewing centres and women are tactically shut out of the “sports family”.

But support for a team also enters the home environment. My study examined how being a fan of a soccer club can affect communication between couples. The club’s victory or loss matters to the whole family because it influences behaviour.

Women share their experiences

I interviewed middle class Yoruba married women in Ibadan North and Lagelu Local Government Areas of Oyo State. My questions included which teams (if any) they and their husbands supported, where they watched matches, what happened to communication in the family when the team won or lost, and how the wives had adapted to their husbands’ fanship.

The study unpacks how husbands’ identification with European clubs is redefining social relationships at the family level. It emerged that household relationships worked better during the UEFA and Premier League off-season when husbands weren’t following so many matches.

The women I interviewed told me that when a man’s club loses a match, he may behave aggressively at home or refuse to eat food that his wife has prepared. This shuts down an avenue of communication in the marriage. A match victory, on the other hand, may bring gifts from the happy husband, and lead to better bonding and communication.

To minimise conflict in the home, the women “converted” to being fellow soccer fans.

They spoke about preferring their husbands to watch matches at home. They worried that watching at clubs and other venues would provide opportunities for men to drink more alcohol or spend time with other women.

This was another incentive to join their husbands in watching matches at home.

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