Thursday, February 02, 2006

Quiet days - Sindy, Sunday Times

The days since getting back to Port Said have been quiet. There was Nigeria's victory over Senegal, and Ghana dumped out of the competition in a 2-1 loss to lowly Zimbabwe. The Nigerian press corps displayed the most blatantly biased behaviour ever seen at football match. It is understandable for Nigerian press to cheer when their country score a goal, but to sing victory songs at the end of the match? I bet the players were confused as to who were the real supporters' club, those in the stands or in the press box. They were openly cheering for the Nigerian team without an ounce of reticence. I was slightly ashamed to be among them, but what can I do? My name is Nkem Ifejika, there's no anglicised version to duck beneath.

Small Man was depressed, irate, despondent, and any other adjective you can find to describe the feeling of the hopeful Black Stars loss. He threatened to write a story accusing the football officials going shopping and frolicking with a harem of pliant Egyptian women. There's apparently photographic evidence of the shopping trips, but the harem might have been a slight fabrication of Small Man's. A couple of days before the game, Small Man was talking about how Duya (the Ghana coach's nickname) was the Second Coming. But after the game, even Duya's head on a silver platter and entrails on a skewer wouldn't have assuaged Small Man. He wanted the man axed, and not axed as a euphemism, but literally axed. Such was his rage.

The next day, the Ghanaian players were holed up in their hotel rooms. That was when they were at their most inconspicuous. No hobnobbing with fans, no strolls to the convenience store, just avoiding the gaze of a media baying for Black Star blood. Small Man Big Brain had a bit more hustling to do, he wouldn't let the players leave without paying for their mess up. Truth be told, they'd have paid for their success as well, had they won.

Helnan Hotel, where the team is staying, is packed with members of the supporters club. Some of them are regulars who I met for the first time in Tunisia in 2004. They are basically Alaye boys registered as members of the supporters club, entitled to go wherever the Eagles dare. The players do well and get match bonuses, the Alaye boys do well and get some spending money. Extortion would be a strong word to use, but the players "see" them in the Nigerian sense. "Seeing" someone is not just a Nigerian phenomenon, but it's difficult to describe, because it isn't bribery, and it isn't extortion either. It's probably somewhere in between. My nickname with the supporters club is "London Based". I'm sure Nigerians reading this know exactly what I mean.

Port Said is on the Mediterranean coast, on the mouth of the Suez Canal. I had seen some ship masts passing by in the distance, but hadn't actually seen the water on which they were floating. I convinced Small Man to come with me for a seaside walk. After the walk, I went to the players hotel, and stumbled upon Jonathan Wilson (freelancer here with the FT and Sindy), and Ian Hawkey (Sunday Times's European football man). I had met Jonathan after the first Nigeria game, and I met Ian at the Nigeria v Senegal game. They were in the hunt for world famous John Shittu, John Obi Mikel's agent. Not very much is known about Mikel's background, so they were keen to find out about the boy wonder, and who better than the man who brought him to Europe.

I knew a fair bit about the Mikel story background, so I helped things churn along while John Shittu was saying his bit. I was in the middle of a good story, but as a relatively new freelancer I don't have an express outlet. If I was to sell the story before Sunday, it might have messed up Jonathan, who was selling his to the Sindy, and it would also have messed up Ian, with the Sunday Times. So Ian said we could share credits on the Sunday Times piece, and he'd organise payment for me. Yay! Sold my first story.

On Sunday morning, run to your local newsagent and get a copy of the Sunday Times and Sindy, or if you feel like an El Cheapo, check it out online...

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