T’was on a dingy street on the coast of Nigeria, where I first acquainted myself with the anguish of love.
A scorching afternoon, I remember, I sat on the side of the lagoon. On the other side, a single avenue of pristine sand on which laid an army of white plastic chairs coupled with tri-coloured umbrellas.
A child of merely seven, I found love and I would never let her go. It was May 28th 2003.
I sat down, my friend Andrea would soon join me. Despite the sun pouring on us like a beleaguered swarm of bees, it seemed we were in an ice-hole in the Alaskan glaciers as we not only froze there but shook uncontrollably.
It was the talk of the week. Prior to the big night, we’d spent the week playing football. I went to an Italian school in Lagos and we had a Sunday league where we’d play against Nigerian teams in Lagos. Each kick we took, each run, tackle and goal we sought to emulate the heroes in the black and white.
I donned my Juventus jersey, so did Andrea. We ran on the flanks thinking we were Zambrotta and Hyde, or something of sorts. It was like a music video continuously winding in my head – I almost believed I was there, I was in the midst of it all, a Juventus player.
If I scored, I knew I’d put my tongue out like Alessandro did, and sometimes I muttered gibberish I told all my peers was French just to seem a bit like David. In the class teachers’ talks of geometry and multiplication were deafened by the hurling of insults towards the Milanista camp in the class – the Curva starts young in Italian schools.
After the game, we congratulated the 11 Nigerians from a Montessori school who were our respectful opponents for the day and sat on the side laughing about the game. A competitive laughter, I think.
“Man did you see my tackle on you though? You couldn’t get past me!” I would tell Abiodun, with whom I’d become close friends.
“Only because you were fouling me,” he’d retort, petulantly now that I recall it. Then again, I had my tongue out the entirety of this conversation – but I’d like to believe that was my attempt to emulate Del Piero rather than to be snarky.
We would talk with a couple cokes holstered in our hands, and it would turn out that this Nigerian boy and a Malaysian-Italian boy both shared the love for football and more importantly Serie A.
“So, are you going to watch the game tonight?” I asked him. He seemed incredulous, his disgust and astonishment at the fact that I’d ask the question was palpable.
“We’re going to kick your butt!” he would exclaim, I would only laugh at his unfortunate Milanista self, as at the time I thought he was a complete fool.
Buffon, Thuram, Montero, Camoranesi, Zambrotta, Tacchinardi, Davids, Trezeguet, Del Piero. Come on, there was no chance.
What a team that was. What it missed of course, was the blond-haired stallion than glided infinitely on the left wing. My Czech hero, Pavel Nedved. He was plagued with the Steve McManaman and what my not-so-eloqent seven-year-old self dubbed “Steve McStronzo”.
We would spend the rest of the afternoon talking about barely anything but seemingly everything. We were seven and eight after all. We blabbered on about things we knew-not of, talked about tactics we couldn’t even dream to understand and discussed the game like politicians in parliament: we were clueless.
We loved every moment of it, and every moment passed far too quickly. I would go home that night knowing calcio made me a new friend today, and it would continue to do so the remainder of my life.
May 28th was the most important day for my calcio-loving. It was the day I found out I loved Juventus and it was brutal.
Sure, the connotation with love is usually one of excellence and success – something that closely followed Juventus throughout the years I loved her, as well as women – but that night I learned what love truly was.
It was 0-0 as I endured Conte teasing the goal netting, just barely missing. In my full Juventus kit, shirt tucked-in, socks pulled up and everything, I would jump and squirm at every glimpse of a chance. Bouncing on and off the couch like a new-born puppy.
Penalties happened and then heartbreak. Trezegol’s start put me in a state of temporary dysfunction, Seedorf’s miss would break open a door of hope that should have never been left unlocked. Zalayeta. Montero. Shevchenko. That’s how I remembered the rest of the night. Like chess moves it was all over so fast. Boom. Boom. Boom. Check. Mate.
Face planted into my hands, I cried. I looked at Andrea, with whom I watched the game, and he too was audibly in distress. I wasn’t sure whether we had turned into puppies or gargoyles but we sat there for what seemed to be an eternity not-knowing what to do.
My dad came up to find a scene of two kids just sitting, crying on the couch. A fountain had replaced my eyes that were red both in sadness and anger. I sat there needing answers, not-knowing what it was that permeated through my nimble seven-year-old self. He’d get on his knees, grin on his face and whisper to me the truest words my father would ever say to me. He said to me,
“Joey, you’ve found love. It’ll hurt sometimes, like it does today. But this is love. There are people out there that’ll never have passion and sadness like you do today and they envy what you have. This is something you will keep with you forever and while today it hurts you, it will also save you. This is love, Joey.”