Turnovers and touchdowns as American football takes off in Nigeria

Wed May 11, 2016 5:05am EDT
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By Sharon Ogunleye

LAGOS (Reuters) - At the Campos Mini stadium in Lagos, cheerleaders dance as spectators root for their local team. However, the players at this game are not the usual defenders guarding posts or strikers scoring goals but linebackers and quarterbacks huddled round the line of scrimmage and aiming for touchdowns.

In soccer-mad Nigeria, American Football, a sport usually played thousands of miles away in the United States but growing in popularity around the world, is slowly winning over new fans.

The West African country this year hosted what organizers said were its first two games as its two amateur American Football teams, the Lagos Marines and Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Titans, battled it out on the pitch.

Before the first game in March at the Titans' home ground in northern Kaduna state, few Nigerians had heard of either team. A few weeks later in Lagos, dozens of fans waved banners and cheered in support.

"It's not exactly the NFL (National Football League), or college football," sports journalist Colin Udoh said. "But for a first effort this is not bad at all. I think it's long overdue."

With no official game structure in place, the two matches were one-offs, but the teams are hopeful Nigeria could one day have a league for the sport just like soccer.

ABU has been training its players for several years, holding inhouse matches. In Lagos, German coach Dominick Muller founded the Marines in late 2013, recruiting players more used to soccer, basketball and volleyball.

"Accepting the sport in Nigeria is very difficult but so far... everything is looking up," said quarterback Adesina Pelumi, who cites New England Patriots' Julian Edelman as his favorite player. "My personal aim is to get (into) the NFL."   Continued...