FT World Cup 2018 Recap: Nigerian Pride
As a kid, I have always been a football fan. The first football team I ever supported was the Nigerian Super Eagles. I was such a super fan that, whenever they lost a game, I used to cry so much, my parents would have to console me and tell me, “Its just a game”. Even though it was just a game, I was so passionate about the Super Eagles. I have watched them play in the world cup on TV in the previous year. This year, I got the opportunity to watch them play live, in Russia. I got my ticket as early as December 2017. Going to Russia became a dream come true. Something I never really wished as a kid but became a reality.
Once arriving in Russia, I had my ups and downs. Following Nigeria all around for all the group matches was tedious. According to the ranking, Nigeria would be the second most traveled team, Egypt being the first.
The first match was against Croatia. It was in a city called Kaliningrad. The train ride was 23 hours but I deferred to flying into Kaliningrad and then, taking the train back. It was a two-hour flight from Moscow, which was my base, where I was with my friends. On match day, I was not too happy because I got to the stadium late. I missed the Nigerian National anthem. Listing to your countries National anthem during the World Cup definitely gives you the jitters but, I missed it because our flight was delayed and the shuttle from the airport to the stadium was driving at the rate in which a snail moves. Nigeria ended up losing the match 2-0 to Croatia. The energy was CRAZY. I was surrounded by a pool of Croatian fans. Around me was probably about 10 Nigerian fans. This was the ratio all throughout the rest of the matches. After the loss, to my surprise, the Croatian fans were super nice to me. I was expecting to be heckled but, they showed sympathy towards the loss and said to me, “Nigeria played a good game”. I ended up taking loads of pictures and heading back to my Airbnb.
The following day, I decided to take the 23-hour train ride back to Moscow. Once I arrived at the train station, I was not allowed to board due to the fact that, I had a Nigerian Passport and didn’t have a Schengen visa. Kaliningrad was a city that is sandwiched in between Schengen state countries. So to get to Moscow from Kaliningrad, I would have to go through immigration in Latvia, and some other countries. So, I had to go back to the airport and get a flight back to Moscow. I got to the airport at about 5 pm and only one flight had seats back to Moscow going for about $450. I had to pass on the seat and get a ticket that left for the following evening for about $90 so, I had to sleep at the airport overnight. I was not alone in the predicament because about another 30 Nigerian fans slept in the airport with me due to the same Schengen visa situation.
Nigeria Vs. Iceland was a much better story. I decided to take the train from Moscow to Volgograd. It was an 18-hour train ride, a cabin with 4 beds, bunk style. I roomed with three Russians. Fortunately for me, two of them spoke English and we were able to conversate throughout most of the train ride. The ride was not so bad, I slept for about 5 hours and enjoyed the fascinating countryside view of Russia. We got to Volgograd in the morning and toured the city until the fan fest opened. The Icelandic fans flooded in to celebrate before the game while the Nigerian fans came in a very light but, it was still a very friendly environment. The match was great, Nigeria ended up winning 2-0. As a fan, I had high hopes we would go to the round of 16 because Argentina tied with Iceland and lost to Croatia so Nigeria was sitting in second place. All we had to do was a tie or beat Argentina.
Nigeria Vs Argentina was played in the beautiful city of Saint Petersburg and to me, it was the most beautiful city I visited from all the 5 cities I visited. I took an 8-hour train from Moscow to Saint Petersburg. I was in a cabin with 4 other Argentine fans. It was an overnight train that departed from Moscow at about 8 pm and arrived in the morning.
The Nigeria game started with Messi scoring in the early minutes. Being a fan, I was down but I knew we were not out of the game. At the beginning of the second half, Victor Moses converted a penalty to make the scores 1-1. I was exciting sitting next to a pool of sad Argentine fans until Marcos Rojo scored at the end of the match and Nigeria, went home packing.
An interesting moment happened after the game. I left Saint Petersburg at about 3 am to head back to Moscow. Once arriving in Moscow in the morning, I was doing some souvenir shopping in the train station and an Argentine fan walked up to me and said “Change Shirt?”, he wanted to swap his Argentina jersey for my Nigeria jersey. I replied, “No”, and walked away but, about 5 seconds later, I thought to myself, I get to experience this kind of feeling once every four years, it’s just a Jersey, I could always buy another Nigeria jersey online but I don’t want to miss out on saying, I swapped a Nigeria jersey for an Argentina jersey with an Argentine fan. So, I walked back to him and we swapped jerseys.
All in all, the World Cup 2018 was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I enjoyed every moment of it and don’t regret any single moment. I made friends, shared drinks with strangers, sang songs and mingled with football fans all over the world. All I can say now to the World Cup is not goodbye, but so long, see you in Qatar in about 4 years.