By China Acheru
I was in Enugu on match day duties to catch the game between Rangers International and Sunshine Stars in the Nigeria Professional Football League.
I had heard of the match day experience at Enugu especially since the current season and I had seen games on television but it would be my first time at the stadium to watch a game this this term.
I was in Omoku the previous day for the game between Go Round FC and Delta Force in the lower division so I only arrived in Enugu about 3pm and went straight to a hotel that was a five minute walk to the stadium.
As I made my way to the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium now rechristened, The Cathedral, it was like there was a war about to start in the town and people were running away.
It was frenetic as everybody was walking as fast as possible to the stadium, talking excitedly at the top of their voices.
Since my pace was slow, voices that passed by me talked about Rangers winning the league this year.
The most popular statement I heard was Rangers g’emeri asompi League a (Rangers will win the league this year)
Others looked at the short term and basically talked about winning the game at hand against Sunshine Stars. Sunshine Stars agaghi a kwusi nwu anyi (Sunshine Stars cannot stop us)
Remember, the last time Rangers International League title was in 1984, a whole thirty two years ago.
In that year, Rangers topped the table ahead of New Nigeria Bank complete with Stephen Keshi, Sunday Eboigbe, Bright Omokaro, Henry Nwosu, Samson Ozogula and the rest of those super stars. Shooting Stars finished in third place while Abiola Babes were 4th on the final table.
Rangers last title winning team in 1984 had the likes of Paul Obiakor, Felix Chukwuma, Ike Ofoje, Sunday Ikwuagwu, Jude Agada, Kingsley Onye, Benji Okaro, Aloy Atuegbu, Christian Isiadinso, Chris Ogbodo, Charles Anyaegbunam, Justus Enwendu, Emmanuel Amadi, Albert Addi Jr, Kenice Chime, Joseph Nwofor, Charles Okonkwo, Geoffrey Madueke, Ifeanyi Onyedika, Mazeli, Louis Igwilo, Mike Emenalo, Mike Ogbuodudu, Amaechi Otti, Godwin Nosike, Emeka Akabueze, Anthony Orji, Patrick Okala, David Addi Sr., Mike Nwanolue, Benedict Ugwu, Okwuchukwu Obiora and Nnamdi Nwokocha.
A star studded squad, if you must know.
The stadium was already packed by the time I got in just ten minutes before kickoff.
There was excitement in the air as fans still trickled in to fill up the few empty seats left in the twenty five thousand capacity cathedral.
The fans sang the Rangers anthem and the feeling was one of nostalgia.
I had visited stadiums in Nigeria and had match day experiences of championship winning sides just before they won the title but none whatsoever was like this.
Certainly not Aba with Enyimba, Port Harcourt with Dolphins, Yenagoa with Bayelsa United or Kano with Kano Pillars. I had seen all these but none matched the Enugu scenario.
There was just something different about the atmosphere in Enugu as the fans saw it as three match days left to glory.
I asked the coach, Imama Amapakabo at night after the game why he thought it was so, because it was not just about Enugu but the whole of the country, except of course, Bauchi, Nnewi and Port Harcourt (for obvious reasons), seven out of ten people wanted the Enugu side to win the league.
Was it because of sympathy for a team that hadn’t tasted glory in thirty two years, the fact that they played “Champagne football” or that they had a sweet talking coach Nigerians loved?
Imama told me it was a little of all three but most of all because Rangers played football that was pleasing to the eyes and I agreed he was right.
Different matter entirely on the pitch
By the time the game kicked off, it was a different matter entirely on the pitch as the Enugu lads played like a group possessed by a kind of spirit or on some performance enhancing drug.
It is no secret that Rangers are probably the finest playing side in Nigeria today. Add Wikki Tourists to that list and, maybe, MFM FC and it was a delight to watch them on the day against Sunshine Stars.
Their passing game was sublime, their positioning, shape, and ball transition and all just showed Rangers to be a well-coached side and the fact that they eventually won the game 2-0 was no surprise.
Each time Rangers scored, the fans in unison sang the “Holy, Holy Holy Holy, Enugu Rangers” anthem of the club and I tell you when twenty three thousand people sing in one voice the goose bumps will be all over you.
The people of Enugu were having a party. All twenty three thousand of them and I was a guest in that party and was enjoying every bit of it.
Even when it rained, while some ran for cover, most of them stayed wet, drenched in it, yet singing, dancing and enjoying the moment.
It reminded me of the late 80s and 90s in Port Harcourt when I was simply just a fan of Sharks and had danced in the rain too whilst celebrating great victories.
The after party
At the sound of the final whistle, the people refused to go home.
Having won the game 2-0, they stayed back pitch side under the rain, singing and dancing for another half hour.
As far as they were concerned it was just one hundred and eighty minutes to glory.
They sang the Rangers anthem time without number, they sang a couple of religious songs (remember, they were doing this under the rain), and then they sang a song with the hook, “thirty two years” depicting the fact they had not won the title in thirty two years.
As I looked on, took pictures and made a video I noticed that not one person in that singing crowd looked more than thirty two years so apparently none of them was born the last time Rangers won the title.
As I made my way back to my hotel, I couldn’t help but watch those videos over and over again.
The people of Enugu deserve a league trophy and this is the closest they have been to it since 2005 when they finished a close second to Enyimba.
If this is how the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium is every match day, then the only place I want to be on Match Day 38 is Enugu as they take on Elkanemi in what may be the title decider.
Watch Video of the fans celebrating below