Nigeria has its own established Premier League, but its love for the English Premier League is just indescribable. In Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, it’s not uncommon to see advertising billboards featuring Premier League stars or buses and walls of pubs beautifully adorned with club stickers. Apart from having their players in the League, locals would tell you that they follow the English Premier League because it’s the most competitive.
As a matter of fact, data show an estimated 276 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa watch the Premier League every year, bringing in financial benefits in the form of partnerships and replica shirts sold. In Nigeria, Arsenal is one of the most popular clubs. The London-based club enjoys a huge following in the West African country dating back to the days of Nwankwo Kanu, who joined the football club in 1999, and recent players like Alex Iwobi and Chuba Akpom.
It is therefore not surprising that almost every year for the past 15 years, thousands of Nigerians have come together to celebrate Arsenal Day, a two-day celebration of Arsenal football club. Arsenal fans from five local government areas in Nigeria’s Kogi state turn out in the town of Okene in south-central Nigeria annually for the event. They show up in their red and white Arsenal T-shirts with white jeans or trousers to sing, dance, eat and cheer. Banners and posters of players are hung on the walls as well.
“Our reason to start [Arsenal Day] is to celebrate Arsenal club and the players,” Ilyas Abdulsalam, director of Arsenal fans club Ebiraland which has more than 16,000 members, told CNN.
It is believed that Arsenal Day first began when two villages came together to celebrate the London club’s success in 2004, having reached the Champions League final. Others say the festival started following the opening of the Emirates Stadium in 2006. Though the Gunners haven’t won a Premier League trophy since 2004, fans in Nigeria still turn up in their numbers in Okene for the festival almost every year. There is no denying that these fans are expecting a trophy from the club. And although they are yet to get it, they are very patient and hopeful, they say.
With that optimism, Nigerian businessman and politician Orji Uzor Kalu last December revealed his desire to invest in Arsenal. The investment, he said, is inspired by his quest to help the club win more trophies, including the Champions League and the English Premier League. Kalu’s intention to buy shares in Arsenal made him the second Nigerian businessperson to express interest in investing in the club. Africa’s richest man Aliko Dangote recently showed serious interest in taking over the Gunners.
Today, even though Chelsea, Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid fans in Nigeria do organize their own festivals, Arsenal Day seems to reign supreme.