It was the year 1958, the game of football towered above others in the heart of the people. Like the devil’s residence, it sustained in the country, a raging inferno of passion in the common folk and elitist alike. The year was also a defining one for a hardly acknowledged country near the Amazon called Brazil.
Brazil had soared to the peak of the game eight years before by qualifying for the 1950 World Cup finals. Morale was high and people prayed day and night for the team’s success. By the 90th minute, the nation was engulfed by the bleakness of failure; they had lost 2-1 to Uruguay.
1954 once again held the promise of victory for these broken people who had fought nail and tooth to climb once more from their gloomy defeat and ascend to the quarterfinals of the World Cup again. Unfortunately for the much hopeful nation, they crashed out of the tournament at this point in a rather shameful and unsportsmanlike manner. In what would later be called the Battle of Barnes, the Brazilian and Swiss teams played a rough and physical game on the pitch that saw three players given marching orders to leave the field. After a painful blow of 5-2 at the final whistle, the Brazillian team members again displayed unruly manners and lack of restraint by attacking the winning team in the dressing room with broken bottles.
By 1958, the nation hardly dared to hope. They had been mocked for their colour by racists and the whites among them for being colour sympathizers; their composure in ’54 earned them a reputation as a savage people. The Brazilian team of 22 hurriedly assembled players faced a big challenge ahead. The defeat and stigma the last two attempts brought on their nation made them bow their heads with little to no morale to win the cup.
A win in the game meant more than just a cup for the people of Brazil. It was symbolic to them; the stamping of their identity and culture (their now famous tiki-taka kind of Barcelona play was seen as unruly, disorganized and beneath any self-respecting team). They would show the whole of Europe they too could be victors (no non-European team had ever won the cup on European soil).
The final match was momentous and almost magical, they beat Sweden 5-2 in its capital city of Stockholm where they had a much smaller fan base and had been forced to wear a colour different from their recognized yellow. Their giant leap across came almost singlehandedly from the blessed boot of 16-year-old phenom, Edson ‘Pele’ Nascimento. At 17, he became the youngest player to feature in and win a World Cup, restoring the hurt dignity of his country.
Nigeria as a nation now stands on the edges of a chasm beyond which lie all we want as a nation, and individuals: some sort of a higher calling different from what we now see. Failure would mean falling into the depths of despair but success a realization, an attainment of who we ought to be.
I look at the state of Nigeria and her place in Africa, indeed in the hearts of the black race and I am tempted to look for a similar saviour. But it is just not possible. I’ve come to realize ours is not a one-time wonder repair. Why would I when the makes of the greatness we seek is seen all around. Each person I meet has the potential to do the dramatic things we all want to see.
So no, I don’t see a Pele saving us; I can already see Saeed Malami with his goal to change Nigeria with jollof rice; Frandela and the team inspiring people to write about their passion and set for the stars. The Battlefield foundation, with its goal to uplift, and empower the female populace, one girl at a time; Fortune Photography, Uhuru Designz, Ginis Photography and Finc Arts doing superbly with the cultural appreciation against the backdrop of national integration. Time would restrict me from naming all the talented arts out there aiming for the oneness and greatness of this nation. Interestingly, I am convicted beyond all doubt that you’re one of them too. Only if you’d just believe, then act.