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Atqnews (Africa’s Premier Travel & Tourism News Site)

Atqnews (Africa’s Premier Travel & Tourism News Site)

A heartwarming tale of how Australia’s Nigerian diaspora came together to celebrate and support the Nigerian women’s football team during a crucial match in the 2023 World Cup. From packed restaurants to hospital wards, the sense of unity and pride in their heritage was palpable as they witnessed their team’s triumphant victory over the host nation.

According to theguardian.com, All of a sudden, you could hear the clink of cutlery on plates. Emily van Egmond had just slipped home the opener for the Matildas against the Super Falcons and one of Sydney’s much-loved Nigerian restaurants fell silent. What had been a boisterous chorus of African-Australian football fans was replaced by exhales and murmurs. A room of anxious looks. In the lull, thoughts of tomorrow started creeping in.

But this night – to these expectant fans, this famous night – wasn’t going anywhere just yet.

The manager of Little Lagos in Enmore, Abimbola Kolawole, had been planning it for days. She roped in her partner Abiodun to help set up the big screen. Almost every table was full.

There, at the back, Joseph and his Australian partner Helen had decided the previous day to make the most of the occasion despite being Tanzanian-German rather than Nigerian. “Let’s just say I’m an African football fan in general,” he grinned.

Next to them, Nigeria-born Mirabel and her Somalian fiance Zee, along with their three young children, had just been in Melbourne for Nigeria’s 0-0 draw with Canada. A month ago they drove their van out of Perth to follow the Nigerian team. They were supposed to have arrived in Brisbane in time for Thursday’s match, but the kids had started to feel sick on the highway. So they stayed in Sydney and found a place to watch.

The quiet that followed the Matildas’ goal didn’t last long. Uchenna Kanu equalised on the stroke of half-time. These tables, these people, celebrated as one.

From the stands of Lang Park in Brisbane, to a tightly packed Sydney restaurant, all the way back across the Nullarbor to Perth and everywhere in between, Australia’s Nigerian diaspora enjoyed the World Cup spotlight on Thursday night.

Dr Pedus Eweama was on the west coast, working a shift in the emergency ward at the Royal Perth Hospital. He had arrived in Australia as a nurse via the US in 2005. “When I first came here, there were a handful of Nigerians,” he recalled. “Coming from America where you have a large population of Nigerians, in Australia it was quite negligible – the number of people – but progressively we’ve grown.”

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Some 13,000 people were counted in the 2021 census as being born in Nigeria, 40% of whom had arrived within the preceding five years. Eweama believes that number is an undercount, and the total could tally 20,000 or more.

Yet at half-time on this memorable night, only two figures really mattered: 1-1. Inside Little Lagos, as the clock slid past 9pm, there was a moment of calm.

Mirabel explained the motivation for their trip was their seven-year-old, aspiring footballer Zayd. “I just wanted him to experience the life setting of watching a match, and see what it’s like, you know, not just playing on the local football fields.” She insisted her son will “make Australia proud, make Nigeria proud”.

Sitting alongside, friends Kingsley and Vivian had been catching up over what the menu calls “Nigerian meat pie”. Vivian came to Australia 20 years ago with her family “for better opportunities”. Kingsley moved in his early 20s to live with a foster family in Newcastle and gain experience with the Catholic church. Before the match, he exchanged texts with his foster father, who barracks for Australia.

Kingsley is now a youth worker, but his passion is football. So he understood the significance of star striker’s Asisat Oshoala’s absence from the starting side. He felt the criticism the Barcelona forward received for a quiet display in the 0-0 draw against Canada was unjustified. “She had a lot of pressure, people expect a lot from you.”

Expectation has long followed the Nigerian team. They have won 11 of the 14 Women’s African Cup of Nations since the tournament was formalised in 1998. At the World Cup, the side has reached the quarter-finals, but it was only once, and it came 24 years ago. And the 2023 edition required the Super Falcons to play Olympic champions Canada and the heavily-favoured host nation Australia in their first two games.

In Brisbane they were already missing promising midfielder Deborah Abiodun after her red card in the first match. Now Oshoala – five times African player of the year and still just 28 – was forced to start from the bench due to ongoing injury concerns.

Twenty minutes into the second half she was finally brought on. Within seconds she had won a corner that led to a goal. Seven minutes later, she delivered a brilliant strike herself. Those contributions proved enough for a 3-2 victory over the hosts that will be long remembered.

In a quiet corner of Royal Perth Hospital, Eweama’s evening continued. Between rounds of the ward after the match, he managed to text that the night made him “proud to be a Nigerian-Australian”.

At Little Lagos, the patrons – strangers two hours before – embraced like they were old friends. Full of jollof and visions of football glory, they departed not long after 10pm. Tired but happy, Abimbola and her partner Abiodun were left to pack up.

Abimbola arrived in Australia in 2020 on a student visa. She has been working at the restaurant for two years. “When you’ve been away from home for a long time, and just walk through the door into a place and you’re like, ‘No, this is it for me’,” she said. “Like, I’m done searching.”


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