Football made in Nigeria | A short story by Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

“In that case,” Presido was saying, “the game would have been called headball instead of football.”

Yes! We were all screaming in support of the thesis of our darling Presido, a true man of the people.

Coach Clemence shook his head and announced the end of the day’s lesson. He then said that the British Embassy Staff Club had challenged us to a football match. Presido instantly volunteered to produce FIFA-graded match officials and a record crowd for the special match.

“This match I take as your command performance,” Coach Clemence said, dismissing us for the day.

The football stadium was a wild forest of people and spirits on the august day. The pep talk of Coach Clemence minutes before the match dwelt much on the anticipated style of our opponents. He talked of the speed and accuracy of British football and asked us to watch out particularly for the overlapping runs of the full-backs. He mentioned a certain footballer of yore called Terry Cooper who by overlapping turned into a menacing demon for all opponents of England.

“We know what you mean,” said Presido, interrupting as usual. “Overlapping means that somebody comes as a missionary and then overlaps as a colonial master!”

“Don’t mix football with politics,” Coach Clemence said.

“Don’t listen to the white man,” Presido said to us in the native tongue. “When we get into the field we shall play our style.”

“Our style is home-grown freestyle soccer democracy played with military boots,” shouted our dancing goalkeeper who had for some time been taking some private lessons at the insistence of Presido.

The match was not yet a minute old when the British left-back, overlapping, scored. He would have scored again in the very next minute but for the agility of our goalkeeper. Now instead of putting the ball into play according to the rule of the game our goalkeeper ran the full length of the field and threw the ball into the net of our opponents!

“The overlapping goalkeeper!” roared the crowd.

“Unprecedented! Fit for the Guinness Book of World Records! First in history!” I heard so many exclamations.

The referee looked at his assistants and at the excited crowd and then pointed to the centre of the field, thus counting our goalkeeper’s caper of a coup as a goal. The British Embassy Staff Club players were dumbfounded. I could not understand what was happening. The referee was asking the Embassy boys to restart the game, but they refused to. Suddenly our goalkeeper picked up the ball and ran all the way to score again. The referee blew a blast on his whistle, jumping up in excitement like Presido and the crowd. The overlapping goalkeeper scored many more times, and the spectators could no longer be controlled for joy. They encroached into the field, passing the ball to us with their hands and feet. It was a melee. Nobody could leave the field of play. I looked in the direction of Coach Clemence but his place had been taken by Presido. And how Presido enjoyed the game! He actually came into the field to score a handful of goals with his hands and feet and head. How he gloried in “our style” of total football! He jumped and screamed and laughed, urging us on with his hands and feet and mouth. And we obeyed him, playing with all parts of our bodies and scoring with every section of our anatomy. It was indeed an original never-ending game.

© 2010 Uzor Maxim Uzoatu. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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3 comments on this post.
  1. Peter:

    Uzoatu shows how fiction is often more entertaining than fact.

    Clemence (Westerhof?) bears a resemblance to Nathan Price, the evangelical Baptist missionary in Barbara Kingsolver‘s Poisonwood Bible.

    Are ‘overlapping goalkeepers’ the key to the Super Eagles’ future success?

  2. Nonso uzozie:

    This is real art.

  3. Lshunter:

    “Football is a game of the head” – well, I always tought its a feet they are mostly using to score, but its true that sometimes its head. Perhaps in Nigeria it works the other way around.

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