The Love Affair between Nigerians and Arsenal
Elliot Ross | September 5th, 2013


The love affair between Nigerians and Arsenal is an enduring one. Other English teams are also popular in the country, but the attachment many Nigerian football fans formed with the club during Nwankwo Kanu’s five year spell at Arsenal has withstood the frustrations of following the Gunners in the past few years.

Following Arsenal’s impressive win over their high-spending local rivals, Tottenham Hotspur, Nigeria’s former vice-president Atiku Abubakar tweeted the following:

This was just what I needed: An @Arsenal win to lift me up at a moment like this

Context: Abubakar is a leading figure in Nigeria’s ruling PDP party (neoliberal, right-wing), which has been tearing itself apart at its convention in the past 48 hours and split just a few hours ahead of kick-off at the Emirates Stadium.

Abubakar is by no means Arsenal’s only powerful supporter in Nigeria. The cement tycoon Aliko Dangote, thought to be worth $20 billion, is also a Gunner. And just yesterday Naija Twitter King Tolu Ogunlesi “signed” for Arsenal, outing himself officially as a Gooner (prompting historian Max Siollun to ask why Nigerians had never felt the same affection for Bolton Wanderers on the basis of Jay-Jay Okocha’s exploits at the Reebok Stadium — answers on a postcard, please).

Kanu was a dream of a player, a two-time African footballer of the year. He won an Olympic Gold medal with Nigeria in 1996 and two English league titles with Arsenal.

Last year I compiled a list of the greatest goals scored by African players in the English Premier League since its inception in the early 90s. Kanu came in at number two, behind only Tony Yeboah. Here’s what I wrote about him:

Two nil down at Stamford Bridge, with 15 minutes left, Kanu came up with an incredible match-winning hat-trick. Great goals can be judged in lots of ways. One is their level of difficulty, and what Kanu did against Chelsea in the dying minutes of that match was something just extraordinarily difficult. Chasing an overhit Davor Suker pass, Kanu somehow kept the ball in play as he blocked Albert Ferrer’s blasted clearance at point blank range with a stretch of his long left leg. Chelsea keeper Ed De Goey charged out and cornered him on the by-line, and it seemed Kanu’s only option was to try to cut the ball back for Overmars and Suker waiting in the middle. Perhaps that’s what De Goey thought too, because Kanu sold the Dutchman the most languid, the most delicious of dumbies. As De Goey slid for the ball, the Nigerian danced inside him, trod in a large puddle that gave up a visible splash, and from the narrowest of angles sent the ball skimming just over the heads of Marcel Desailly and Frank Lebouef and into the top corner of the far post.

It was the best goal the great man would score for Arsenal, though this defence shredding burst of skill against Spurs and this exquisite back-heel-on-the-run against Middlesborough were also pretty special.

*Originally published on our new Football is a Country Tumblr. Our Football Department will be tweeting from FutbolsaCountry from now on.

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One thought on “The Love Affair between Nigerians and Arsenal

  1. Let me put it in a better context for you.

    In 1993, I was a 13 year old boy in love with every football tournament Nigeria or Nigerians played in. The Golden Eaglets were representing us in Japan 93 FIFA/coca cola u-17 World Cup. Two young men were spear heading our attack. One was the prolific headmaster-Wilson Oruma and the other a certain lanky and (on face value) clumsy with the ball Kanu Nwankwo. So many times during the tourney I wanted to scream. Kanu missed so many chances. We won the tourney-Oruma golden boot plus 2-1 over Ghana (yippee).

    Fast forward to The 1996 Olympics. Kanu by now had won all sorts with Ajax and Oruma was a shadow of his promise. Kanu pulled an elephant out of a beer can when he led us from 3-1 down against a Bebeto/Ronaldo inspired Brazil in the semi-final. Nigeria went on to win the gold. After the tourney we would all lament as Kanus severe heart defect was announced.

    Inter-Milan, his new club would have nothing to do with him. Even after a successful operation. Then comes Arsene with Arsenal and gives him a fresh start in the EPL.

    I was sold! Gunner for Life!

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