That I am an Ibadan man is not news. It is also no longer news that Nigeria lost to Croatia. What remains news is that we lost because Russia denied us the opportunity to appease the powers that be. We had built our plans not so much on training and tactically matching the Croatians man for man. Rather, unlike the Croatians, we knew that there is a god of soccer. We knew also that to appease this god to be favourable to us, we need to make some sacrifices. Chickens, that’s what the god delight in and we have identified where to get them in Kaliningrad. Of course the local god’s taste is local, bringing Nigerian chickens all the way to Russia would not suit its taste buds.
Everything was in order, at least that was the situation until late in the day the Russian authorities decided to spin a curved ball at us. They won’t allow us to bring the chickens into the stadium. How are we going to appease the god? Now you all know why we lost to Croatia, it was due to nothing else but the conniving Russians that made our sacrifices impossible.
But wait a minute, do you remember Baba Eleran? Oh yes, you remember him, he was that popular! You will be excused for not knowing him only if you had not reached the age of maturity in the eighties. His real name? Ganiyu Elekuru but many didn’t know him by that name and that doesn’t matter in this case.
You remember how much feared he was? His mere presence at any IICC Shooting Stars match was an assurance of victory. He was said to commune with the spirits, he wined and dined with them. He was no ordinary man. By 1984, “sooting” was yet to win the CAF Cup of Champions Clubs and all hopes were high on sooting to win the trophy. Their opponent, our enemy, was Zamalek of Egypt, the dreaded pharaoh boys. All hands were on deck, sootiing just had to win the match. To Baba Eleran, they all look.
Weeks before the arrival of Zamalek, we were taught a potent chant
Egipti ki ri ran t’osan o
Afin ki ri ran t’osan o
This became a national anthem all over Ibadan the week before Zamalek arrived and then Lagos took it over. As youths, we memorised it, we sang it. Even though we did not understand the full ramification of what was going on. This was 1984, December 8 to be precise. The whole nation rallied behind IICC. Their rivals in the local league, Stationary Stores of Lagos and Enugu Rangers had their supporters club in the national stadium, all routing for “sooting” to win the cup that had been elusive to Nigeria.
At the appointed date, right inside the National Stadium, sacrifices had to be made. To counter the strong juju of the Egyptians, the chanting of balubalu reached a crescendo. It was followed suit by another dreaded incantation:
Oju oro ni n’leke omi,
Oshipata ni n’leke odo,
Awa lama segun ota wa
It was rumoured that a cow was buried alive in the grounds of the National Stadium. Chickens were brought into the stadium too, their feathers plucked off one by one. Everything hat needed to be done was one and we got assurance hat the gods were pleased with sooting and the cup would go to Ibadan. It was one hell of a crowd in the National Stadium, the seats were fully sold out and the expectations were high.
By the time the final whistle was blown, the drawn faces told the whole story. Sooting lost to Zamalek. Neither the incantations nor the sacrifices stopped Zamalek from defeating IICC and taking the cup along with them to Egypt. Some said that the Egyptians’ juju were more potent. Whatever it was, Baba Eleran was not the same again following that defeat. Many started doubting whether there is any impact that the supernatural plays in football. It soon became clear that there is not really any replacement for preparation, team work and tactical planning.
I wonder if the lessons from this was shared with our fashion icons that are currently in Russia but we can safely assume it was not. Why? The news reported that the supporters’ team felt angered that they were not allowed to bring chickens into the stadium. In this instance, I couldn’t help but to remember Ganiyu Elekuru.