The enemy of my enemy is my friend
By Steve Alabi
Football is a game of intense emotions, one that brings out the virtuous and the vicious from its adherents. Supposedly normal human beings can become easily befuddled by the flow of a match. Even women, those calm homo sapiens bestowed with bewilderment at seeing 22 sane men running after a round object, are not immune from the effect of the highs and lows of a match once they enter into the arena. Such is the magnetism of the round leather game.
Bitterness, sometimes of the satanic mode, is present in football rivalry. It is an emotion that is fueled by ambitions, from the bench and from the stands. It may reach the most bitter threshold of hatred. Hatred may look too strong a word to describe the animosity rival teams feel toward each other, but quite honestly, emotions can run really high among football rivals, especially when the stakes are high. The higher the stakes, the more intense the emotions. It is capable of inducing ruthlessness in ordinarily compassionate fellows. It can produce elixir as well as poison.
If club supporters could make their wishes come true, some great superstars would simply disappear from the face of the earth or lose their limbs to make it impossible for them to create victories for their teams. The old and odd doctrine that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, especially peculiar to international policy and diplomacy, is ruthlessly deployed in football rivalries. Two more matches to round off the 2018/19 English Premiership, this idea is more than evident among the contestants and their supporters. The nail-biting finish that is being witnessed this season has increased the fans’ fury in wishing evil befall “enemy” camps. No club is sure of its position, not the front runners, the middle men nor the back benchers. Such is the intensity of competition this season.
The Week 36 clash between Manchester United and Manchester City, was fought and felt, not only by these city rivals, but also by Liverpool, the eternal rivals of the Red Devils. The word on the streets around Old Trafford on match day favoured armistice with their noisy neighbours against the old enemies from Liverpool. Even though the game itself was played with absolute integrity befitting such a monumental clash, there were few United fans in sorrow after City breached their team’s rear twice to earn the three points at stake. The war will certainly resume next season, but for the moment, the enemy of United’s enemy had become its friend!
Nigerian fans are certainly not left out in conjuring disaster for the teams whose interests clash with theirs. A friend of mine, ordinarily incapable of such bile, gleefully praised the Lord on social media for the red card shown to an Arsenal player that apparently tilted victory to Leicester’s favour at the King Power Stadium same week of the Manchester armistice. He did not stop at this but went further to offer prayers to the Deity that Arsenal must lose the game! You can imagine the celebration this gentleman must have had after Leicester smashed three past the hapless Gunners.
In the course of my career, I have seen supporters go to the extreme to exhibit their love for their favourite teams and hatred for the “enemy” camps, not only at club and national levels but also at school level. Can we ever forget the bitterness of school football of the days of yore? In the old West and Western State, some school games easily ended in fisticuffs on account of rivalry. In Akure for example, the provincial headquarters was usually locked down whenever Aquinas College and Oyemekun Grammar School clashed. Once in 1971, Aquinas College beat Oyemekun 2-1 right in their compound. Hell was let loose, as the hosts quickly locked their gates and attacked their inconsiderate guests for having the audacity to beat them on their own hallowed grounds!
At club level, the satisfaction that the entire Shooting Stars family derived from the demise of their bitter Ibadan city rivals, Water Corporation (Asejire Babes) in one instance, and Leventis United in another instance, was comparable to the joy of a monumental achievement. The same euphoria enveloped the camp of Housing Corporation of Akure when their nemesis, Investcorp Lions became extinct in the jungle of football. When the Ijapo Builders themselves succumbed to structural collapse later, Water Corporation of Ondo rejoiced in derision. The Owena Whales later found themselves asphyxiated by lack of financial breath of life and sank into oblivion.
The ultimate solution has also been wished and granted in several other cities across Nigeria. In neighbouring Benin City, rivalry has poisoned to death the great New Nigerian Bank, Flash Flamengoes and Bendel United. The preferred team and lone survivors, Bendel Insurance have found life difficult to live without the premium of healthy rivalry. In Enugu, Vasco da Gama is but a distant memory; in Jos, Mighty Jets, Nigerian Standard and JIB Rock Strikers belong to fables. In Kano, the Pillars fell and crushed Golden Stars, WRECA and Bank of the North; in Kaduna, Ranchers Bees were stung to death. In Lagos, the hot flames of Stationery Stores consumed all of Julius Berger, NEPA, Nigerdock, First Bank and ACB, and at the end of the day, the Flaming Flamingoes themselves. In Port Harcourt, the rivals, Sharks and Dolphins, applied a different solution of morphing into a single entity, Rivers United.
However, death of football clubs is far less offensive than that of human beings. The worst incident in football rivalry is the so called Football War that Honduras and El Salvador fought for four days in 1969. On July 14, 1969, Honduras invaded El Salvador over tensions arising from a two-legged World Cup qualifying tie between the Central American neighbours. The unnecessary and unfortunate war resulted in over 5,000 casualties, including about 2,000 civilians! It is unfortunate that despite this horrendous incident, these neighbours continue to see football games with the eyes of that 1969 war.
Violence of any kind is unacceptable, let alone one leading to death, and one ignited by football rivalry. In a profound manner, football rivalries guarantee the future of the game but such should not be allowed to reach ridiculous levels. Football will always be a game, and no more than a game. The stakes can be very high but enmity in football should not go beyond the superficiality of the enemy of my enemy is my friend in mere football sense, as we have seen with Manchester United and their city rivals, Manchester City in relation to their eternal rivals, Liverpool this season. Let us never forget that there is always a next time in football. We must not become, on account of football, what the great Fela called, animals in human skin.