Ighalo: That’s how I fell in love with United
Odion Ighalo reflects on growing up in Nigeria and watching the Reds play at local 'viewing centres'...
Let’s go back to the beginning - the love for football, your love for Manchester United, how did that all come about? I grew up in an area where everyone watched Premier League football back then. You either support Manchester United or Arsenal or Chelsea back then, because one Nigerian player - Kanu - played for Arsenal and they had a lot of supporters. In my house, my little brothers, my late sister, they supported Manchester United. I was very young and I didn’t know a lot about football, so when they went to watch the game they would come back and you would see they would be arguing. Arsenal and Manchester United fans would be arguing and almost start fighting; insulting this team, ‘your team did bad this weekend’. So I would just be listening. When I grew up, my other brother started taking me to the viewing centre to watch Manchester United. That’s how I fell in love with the team, watching Manchester United playing week in, week out. They’re winning games in the league… You mentioned about the viewing centre, what is a viewing centre? Is it like a bar or a restaurant? No it’s not a bar or a restaurant. In Africa, in a place like this, they would just get a Sky Sports TV there and you have to pay to go in and watch. Especially in Nigeria, it’s not everybody that can afford Sky Sports TV. I didn’t have Sky Sports in my house because you have to pay to have that. So if you don’t have that you have to go to the viewing centre to watch it, so you have to pay. How many people are there? In a very small place you would have maybe 100 people very tight and that. But they don’t care, they just want to watch the football. You see people who will pull a stool and stand at the back. On a small chair like this, three or four people would fold themselves and watch it. They don’t care about the inconvenience, they just want to watch their team playing and doing well. That’s a viewing centre and they make a lot of money from that. It’s not many people that can afford that- Did you go there every week to watch Manchester United? I had to save money because when you are growing up, before you go to school in the morning, you eat breakfast at home. My mum would leave me some money if I wanted to eat lunch and from Monday I was saving my money because I wanted to watch Manchester United. So you would go without lunch? Yeah, maybe I split it into two. Even though I would use part of the money for lunch, I would save some of the money because the weekend is coming. Sometimes you would be feeling hungry because you don’t eat properly, but you don’t want to miss the game at the weekend. You don’t want someone to tell you how Manchester United played, how they scored. You want to see it yourself. It’s that passion. You start saving money until the weekend. After Friday when school is done, you see everyone get happy they get their Manchester United shirts, their Arsenal shirts; you wash it and dry it. Everyone’s getting set for the weekend. It’s like a celebration, like you’re at a party. If Manchester United are playing on a Saturday, you have to pull your Manchester United shirt, go to the viewing centre looking smart. When the game started, sometimes it would be so hot because there was no air conditioning, then you have to take off your shirt and you’re fanning yourself. Which shirt did you have, do you remember? I had one blue Manchester United shirt. I had the red one, but the blue one… it had the logo and I think it was Nike. It was the blue one that was nice to put on. You go to the viewing centre, you pay and watch the game. Then after the viewing centre, after the game we’re arguing about the game from the viewing centre to our home. You have the upper hand to say bad words to the other team, but if your team lose you have to be on the defending side. You see people arguing and shouting, even to the extent that they want to start fighting. It’s crazy. I just remember the memories and it makes me laugh. Playing for Manchester United just makes it even greater and people saying: ‘you have to write a book about this; you are crazy about Manchester United’. Sometimes I cry if Manchester United lose a game. You cry because you come home and see people arguing and saying bad things to you. Sometimes I shed tears because you don’t want your team to lose. That’s how crazy it was back then.