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2 heartbreaks in 24 hours

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Dilapidated Obafemi Awolowo Stadium

BY BAMIDELE JOHNSON

I entered the main bowl of Ibadan’s Obafemi Awolowo (nee Liberty) Stadium today, the first time, I think, since 1984. As a child, it was a place I often went, mostly to watch IICC play or train. I still can recollect the lustre of its pitch, the section called the East Uncovered, which had the manual scoreboard; the covered side, the electronic scoreboard on which I was thrilled to read the line-up of the 1981 friendly between the Flying Eagles and Radnicki Nis of Yugoslavia and most vividly, the tunnel from which teams emerged.

I also recollected the open space you walked through to start climbing the stairs to the covered side, a place I once met Valerie Oloyede, the hugely decorated swimmer, I think, of the late 70s. I lived close to the stadium, first at Imalefalafia and later, a few streets away at College Crescent, which made the journey to the facility a very short one.

A most abiding memory dates back to 1973 when I went to watch a match and was almost ground to dust in a stampede. I left with a bloodied face and was taken by a man to the home of a nurse, who turned out to be the mother of my primary school classmate. Another classmate of mine, Demola Bakre, reminded me of this incident on our class set WhatsApp platform last year. Was surprised he remembered.

Having the capacity for recall could be injurious and I suffered some injury – to my mind – today. I was aware, from reading newspapers, that the stadium, like many others across the country, had become decrepit. The level of decrepitude I saw today was heartbreaking.

The pitch, of course parched and bald, looked like it’s being prepared for groundnut planting. The scoreboard, clearly, has been on vacation for heaven knows how long. The covered side looked like it’d been bombed. The only places that seemed intact were those concrete slabs of East Uncovered and popular side, on which you had to have a newspaper to sit on or risk having your butt cheeks singed by the heat absorbed from the oppressive afternoon sunshine.

Travelling back in time made me sad. Nostalgia was blunted by melancholy. I told stadium officials shepherding me what my memories are. One of them, a massively optimistic guy, kept telling me things were going to be back to the way I remember them. The way I looked at him told him I thought he was talking tosh. He took no offence and pushed on with his message of hope. The way he was laying it on made me suspect he thought of himself as having the persuasion skills of a mafia consigliere.

I wasn’t buying it. He kept at it, all the same and I slowly began to make my exit. On my way out, my eyes swivelled to some offices with torn upholstered furniture. The offices screamed gloom and looked like the ruins of a lost kingdom.

The grief the stadium induced doubled when, later, I got to the Oyo State Cultural Centre. The only “cultural” activities evident around the complex were Amala eating (it hosts the once popular Inastrait) and boozing, which is evidenced by an almost endless row of drinking dens.

I also knew the Cultural Centre as a child and I think it was built by the military administration of Maj-Gen David Jemibewon. In its prime, it was a really eye-catching structure. These days, with its badly chapped coat of paint that makes it look eczema-afflicted, it is heartbreaking. I wanted to go into the centre to see what is left of it, but was told I had to go to the administrative offices just behind down the hill. I suffered another heartbreak. The admin block looked like a manger.

An official told me that where I wanted to see is currently being renovated. I hope so. The only available hall, with sheets of wood covering its walls, is a place even pigs would find revolting. I had been similarly heartbroken in Ilorin, where I saw the stadium built by the David Bamgboye military administration a passable imitation of a pigsty. Like the Liberty Stadium, it was so we’ll built. For both stadiums, only the concrete works are not affected by years of breathtaking neglect.

The office of the Ilorin Stadium Manager is one you’d need a generous quantity of highly potent liquor, drunk within three minutes, as inhibitor to fear and revulsion. The curtain at the door looked dirtier than the agbada of an unprosperous babalawo. The inside is like a photo dark room. Three-legged chairs and tables mingle with Altak plastic chairs. Depressing is too tame a word for what you’d see.

Exactly what our problem is with managing facilities is what I don’t know. I do not see how shitty stadiums or cultural centres could attract more people than they currently do let alone develop their talents. Mad is madding us.

Source: Facebook

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