THE PEOPLE’S ELEPHANT AND THE GRAND STEP BACK HOME (Chinyere Akataobi) [First Published in 2018]

A stadium is the stage where champions triumph and those who fall short drop to the earth in tears after giving their all.

It is the place where every emotion, high and low is experienced; the joyful screams and the shouts of agony.

It is the theatre were dreams fall through; it is the environment where dreams come true.

It was at this arena a teenage orange seller dropped his tray full of oranges to mesmerize us with skills that couldn’t be learnt, skills only God could give.

It was on the pitch that a gangly boy with a hole in his brave heart sent the nation to raptures and made his mother proud.

Paupers become millionaires and villains become heroes, football to us has been much more than just a game.

In the eastern part of Nigeria where I come from, football is more serious than life and death.

Some years ago, the Enyimba stadium housed the pride of the Igbo nation.

The most successful club in Nigerian history made our eyes wet with joyous tears on its wet pitch as Obinna Nwaneri played the ball and his heart out to Ndidi Anumunu.

It is in that stadium that the one-eyed Okemiri played the game with a vision beyond the normal.

Uche Kalu mesmerized and Ezenwa Oturogu scored with reckless abandon, it was on that pitch that Vincent Enyeama took off in flight straight to the world cup.

We witnessed stars being born and in no time our darling team became a constellation of stars.

In recent times, the people’s elephant have made us proud but alas! From afar as circumstance turned them to journey men.

The glory days are now few and far and what we are left with are memories from the days the people’s Elephant dominated the continent.

We have missed the excitement; Abia has missed the feverish atmosphere of historical match days.

Abia has missed the honor our team brought us and as the team’s stadium decayed, the people’s Elephant became a shadow of itself where home games were held in places that didn’t quite feel like home and results have been understandably inconsistent.

Then came the football crazy Governor Okezie Ikpeazu driven by child-like nostalgia from a time when he regularly chanted Nsogbu! Nsogbu! An ode to the days Orji Uzor Kalu and Felix Anyansi inspired the team to continental victory and like the visionary that Okezie Ikpeazu is, he sold his very grand dreams about our grand team and set about to achieve it.

Work is almost done. Our favorite place is set to host epic classics and in no time the people of Aba would troop out in the thousands to play the role of the 12th man.

Like a champion needs his Arena and a King needs his palace, Enyimba has longed deserved a befitting edifice matching its status.

It has been a long walk on a treacherous path and it has been a test of how patient our people have been waiting for the team to take a grand step back home.

The boys at the Columbia-stand can’t wait to send smoke-filled supplications to the sky while our boys take visiting teams apart on land.

Tell it to the North! Tell it to the South! Tell it to the East! Tell it to the West!

The people’s Elephant is only its merry way back, trudging back proudly in a style more grand than your average elephant.

The buzz of match days is not too far away and I dare say the glory days are close by.

Let the whispers become loud cries as “ENYIMBA FC (THE PEOPLE’S ELEPHANT) IS COMING BACK HOME”.

Teacher, Fixer, Made in Abia Promoter.