“A Week In The Life” is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week.
The subject of today’s “A Week In The Life” is Anthonia, an amateur footballer. Anthonia kicked a ball for the first time when she was 6 years old, and she’s never looked back. Through twists, turns and the Nigerian condition, she has pursued her football career. She talks about her plans to play football in colleges outside Nigeria while studying to be a sports nurse. She also talks about why all her plans are hedged on minimising regrets.
My mornings are always different. Some days, I wake up and go for morning training, on other days, I wake up and do house chores. It all depends on how lucky and early I wake up that day. Today is one of the not-so-lucky days, so I’m going to stay back, do my chores and then start my day.
At least I’ll be able to play FIFA or watch a movie before evening training.
After my chores, I look through my movie and TV show selection — When They See Us, Nollywood movies, Korean action movies — and nothing catches my attention. I’m going to play FIFA instead. It turns out that my brothers and their friends have fired up the PS4 and are starting a FIFA tournament. And I must surely play. Because many people come to our house to play, tournament matches are very competitive, so you have to be very good. If you’re weak, you’ll get yabbed so much you’ll not like yourself. I’m not too worried because I think I can hold my ground. Let me tell you a secret: I’m the second-best player in this house, so I know I’ll be fine. [haha]
I started playing football when I was 6 years old. I remember people not wanting to choose me on their team for five-a-aside and my brother was the only person who believed in me. It’s that belief that still powers me. From that time, I’ve played football through nursery, primary and secondary school. Anytime I look back at my journey, I just smile. One of the highlights of my career was in 2019, when I went to play a competition in Ogun state. I’ll never forget that day because of how nervous I felt. It was my first time as part of the starting line up, and I was starting as a replacement to the number 9 who had fucked up. Omo, I was afraid. I was like, “How am I going to do this thing?” Then I entered the pitch and calmed myself down. By the time the match started, I was in my zone and I even scored that day. A midfielder gave me a through pass, I was one on one with the keeper, and I placed the ball to the sweet right side of the post. Anytime I remember that goal, even if I’m sleeping, I just start smiling.
I was 17 the first time I left home to go to play football. I remember I was so scared that I cried when my mum dropped me at the park. But now I’m a strong lady [haha]. I’m 18 years old and I’ve experienced the good and bad side of football. The good side is that football has taken me to places outside of my hometown of Ekiti; I’ve gone to Lagos, Abuja, Ogun, Ibadan. All these are new experiences for me. I’ve also faced some bad sides like people underrating me because I’m a girl. I know it’s not easy for a lady footballer but I’ll make it. There’s also the fact that guys try to take advantage of me. Because of the scarcity of female teams at my level, I currently play with a boys team, so anytime we have a match, I see things. There was a match where I was subbed in from the bench, and as I entered the field, one guy said to another: “If she wants to dribble past you, just touch her breast.” I was like, “WTF?”. I blasted him that day and my teammates also joined me. I’ll not lie, I felt bad. I later shrugged it off because it’s part of the experience.
The female team where I live are not that reliable. Not to sound proud or anything, but I feel that I’m not on the same level with them. They are just learning the basics: how to control a ball, how to pass, and I’m past that stage. One of the reasons why I play with boys is that if I want to grow, I have to play with people bigger than me so I can learn. I use all my energy when playing with guys, which is different from how I play with girls. I’ll not even lie, the best part is when I dribble the guys. What makes it sweeter is that our supporters will just be shouting, “A girl dribbled you.” Anytime I disgrace those boys on the field, I’m happy.
Someone I look up to is Asisat Oshoala. Her story is inspiring and I like the fact that despite the environment she grew up in, she still turned out amazing. Our stories aren’t similar because I live in Ekiti, which is calm, while she grew up in Lagos, which is rough. To be honest, Lagos is a ghetto because the wahala is too much. I met Asisat once when I was in Lagos, but we didn’t get to talk one-on-one because it was a group event. I was so happy and I even took a picture with her. Sometimes, when I get sad that the phone containing the picture was stolen, I remind myself that when I become a superstar I’ll take plenty of pictures with Asisat.
People ask how I play football when I get cramps and the answer is that I don’t get serious cramps, so it doesn’t really affect me. Whenever I’m on my period, I either play my best or worst game. I can’t make any excuse because my period pain is manageable. Period or no period, I still dribble, give through passes, and body check these boys.
If I see an agent that is serious with securing my future, I’ll consider leaving Ekiti. The thing is that I’m not ready to play for Nigerian teams. I want to go to university and play football at the same time. And we both know that’s not possible in this country, so I’ve actively started looking for athlete’s scholarship outside Nigeria. I have to leave for the sake of my talent because this country kills talent.
I want to study nursing while playing football so that when my time as a player is up, I’ll become a sports nurse. I want to see people get well, I want to help people, I want to put a smile on people’s faces whenever I treat them. All these can’t happen if I stay back. My worst fear is that if I stay back in Nigeria, I’ll stop playing football. Even if I eventually go on to be a Nigerian nurse, I’ll still feel incomplete without exploring the football route. I don’t want a situation in the future where I’ll say that I once played football, but I never went anywhere with it. I never achieved anything. I’m not going to like that feeling.
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