The December inspection tour was arranged by David Omigie, a FIFA match agent of Dajan Sports, who was also responsible for taking Portsmouth and Manchester United to Nigeria three years back.
Omigie is the key figure and was quoted ahead of the visit:
“Arsenal will tour Nigeria ahead of the 2012/13 season and will play some selected Nigerian clubs. I am therefore leading a delegation that will include Arsenal FC’s Head of Marketing… During the visit we will hold talks with top officials of the Nigerian Football Federation to ensure Nigeria benefits from the visit of the Gunners.”
In December Musa Amadu, acting secretary general of the Nigerian Football Federation said:
“This visit will definitely provide a strong platform for a much better relationship between the English Premier League and the Nigeria Premier League.
“Incidentally, the NPL is just returning firmly to its feet after protracted crisis and will welcome tips and suggestions on how to re-position powerfully for the upcoming season. It is also important that I mention that some of our football Clubs, particularly those in the Premier League, would welcome some form of technical partnership with Arsenal Football Club.”
So from a Nigerian perspective they are keen to develop their league, and of course their young footballers, and only recently the Kano State Football Academy held talks about a technical partnership with Sunderland. I am guessing this type of development would fall into ex Gunner Niall Quinn’s new role with the Black Cats.
Arsenal in 2010, employed ex player Steve Morrow in an international football development role but until now his roles has concentrated on the USA and the Far East. Is Nigeria next? I think it’s likely.
I also cannot imagine that Arsenal will want to miss out on any marketing and scouting opportunities in West Africa and it would appear that on Friday 13th last week, that plans were developing further. Omigie and Danjan officials met Arsenal official again, this time at the Emirates and it would appear to be full steam ahead. Angus Kinnear spoke to the BBC after the meeting:
“Everything is right on track, Nigeria will happen. We had a successful meeting and covered a lot of ground. It’s very important to get the right message across to the fans in West Africa and the entire continent. There is a strong desire to connect with our fans in Africa and the first step starts in Nigeria.”
Omigie added what I feel is the key comment and what I hope to explore with a little assistance in this article.
“This is very big because Arsenal has got a huge fan base in Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa.”
All my research tells me that Arsenal are the best supported club in Nigeria and one Nigerian based Gooner, has suggested this fan base could be as high as a staggering 30 million, 22% of the population. I was astounded to find that Nigeria is the 8th most populated country in the world. So let me give you some context here for our fan base and therefore I guess our market – The combined total population of Sweden, Norway and Denmark is about 50% of the number of Gooners in Nigeria!
The huge support has largely been attributed to the past exploits of one of Nigeria’s most decorated football stars and favourite sons. Of course I am referring to the one and only Nwankwo Kanu, the former Nigerian Super Eagles skipper who featured for the Gunners for 5 years, winning 2 EPLs and an FA cup. Kanu’s progress was followed avidly by Nigerian footie mad fans and Arsenal gained huge respect for taking what was considered a gamble at the time by Wenger given Kanu’s heart problems.
The EPL is immensely popular in Nigeria with millions following every game on both terrestrial and satellite television week in week out and there is huge excitement at the news that their heroes will be landing to play matched in July.
Not even the fact that that the squad might be missing some of its top stars, who I envisage, being rested after the European Championship will dampen the enthusiasm for July’s events. I hope they will get to see Chuks Aneke, one of Arsenal top young talent’s currently on loan at Stevenage in action.
Chuks has been at Arsenal since he was 8, but has Nigerian parentage and in April last year committed his international future to the Super Eagles.
However I truly wanted the reader of this article to feel the passion and commitment of the Nigerian Gooner so I have asked some of the regular Nigerian Gooner contributors on Twitter to contribute their thoughts:
First up is Isah Miqdad – ‘The Unsong Hero’ on Twitter @Miqdad_th12
“Being Arsenal fan is one of the greatest decisions & challenges I have ever made and faced in my life. As a boy I’m, supposed to look at my dad as hero and inspiration who was a Man Utd fan, and that was very hard to take.
In Nigeria, Arsenal have the largest population of fans. I chose Arsenal over Man Utd, Liverpool and Real Madrid the top teams at that time in my country. I started supporting Arsenal in the year 2003. The ‘Invincibles’; their passion, spirit and their dominance of English football attracted me so much.
A storm arises in my heart, an emotion I never knew, I fell in love with Arsenal. The French connection of Vieira, Pires, Wiltord and Henry was the key behind my decision. In my 9 years as an Arsenal fan I have experienced so much pain and hardship which I was able to bear even with, my friends and relatives are all against my decision. But Arsenal is my dream, my inspiration and my only hope to survive.
My biggest dream ever is to watch Arsenal game live at Emirates stadium, which seems to be impossible for a young man in a lowly rated family in the northern part of Nigeria. Never say never, keep your dream alive, and for sure it become reality one day! Arsenal has experienced 7 consecutive seasons without a trophy but I’m still proud of my darling team.
What goes up must come down, a day will come when Arsenal will win a trophy. In Arsene we trust, once a Gunner surely always a GUNNER!”
Femi Ogunniyi – @femi_hernandez on Twitter has been following Arsenal for 10 years and no surprise who started his love affair:
“I started following Arsenal when I was ten because of Kanu. Ever since that day in 2002 Arsenal has been life itself for me. Dennis Bergkamp is my all time favourite Arsenal player.
It has been a hard decision staying as an Arsenal fan since the trophy drought. But I’m not ashamed to say I support the Arsenal because I know even though there has been more successful clubs in the past 7 years; Arsenal is the only club for me.”
Ogsabori Eghosa another regular in the Gooner family on Twitter @EghosaGraviti added his thoughts:-
“Arsenal is one of the most supported clubs in Nigeria because of their style of play which Nigerians call “yori yori” football, meaning sexy football. I became a fan of Arsenal in the year 1999 and one of my highest moments as a fan was watching the invincible squad of 2003/2004 and the number of African players that have played for the team e.g. Kanu, Adebayor, Toure, Eboue just to mention a few have been one of the reasons why Nigerians and Africans have fallen in love with the Club.
In Nigeria we all hope to see our darling team win a trophy once again.”
I hope the intense passion for our great club is coming across. Next up is Yemi Junior -@q_e_d_14 on Twitter
This young man runs his own Arsenal Blog, Memoirs of a Gooner, and lives and breathes Arsenal
“I started supporting Arsenal as a 9 year old in 1999, after Kanu’s transfer to North London. I “followed” Kanu to Arsenal but I found something bigger. The way the football was played was refreshingly different.
United did the treble that year and normally my friends, all United fans teased me, told me to cross over. But I wanted to be part of this special “thing” I saw on TV, and I have not regretted that decision, not once!
What I feel for Arsenal is ineffable; on match days everything else is relegated to the background. I love how we have been able to stay competitive despite having a strict business model, independent on a billionaire owner.
My best Arsenal moment is winning the title at Old Trafford in 2002. My worst is losing to Birmingham in last year’s Carling Cup final.
I cannot tell the future, but as at now, my relationship with Arsenal is the only one I’m sure will last until my last breath.”
The thinking of the Arsenal board is obviously right on the money (literally no doubt) and if our players were stunned by the welcome they received in the Far East last summer, they will be completely overwhelmed by the passionate welcome they get in Nigeria.
Arsenal have very high hopes for Chuks Aneke and let’s hope that Chuks and Arsenal can inspire the next generation of Nigerian greats, and quite possibly one or two might be finding their way to North London in their late teens. I am fairly convinced that the July tour will pave the way for the establishing of new Arsenal academies in the country.
So let’s all appreciate how special Arsenal is to the current generation of footie nuts in Nigeria and look forward a new emergence of talented players, such as the heroes of the Atlanta 96 Olympics.
Perhaps the next Kanu, Amunike, Amokachi, Ikpeba or Okocha will be groomed by Arsenal in Nigeria. I certainly hope that is the case.
Written by Dave Seager
Follow him on Twitter @goonerdave66
Like O-Posts on Facebook
Follow the site on Twitter