1-2: Mountain of Fire and Miracles
Godwin Enakhena: [00:00:01] MFM is about spirituality. It is not a conventional football... MFM is not a conventional football club.
David Goldblatt: [00:00:13] That's my guest, Godwin Enakhena. I met him for the first time in Lagos last year in Nigeria and I interviewed him in his car which was a lot quieter than the riotous radio station he was working at. He's the sporting director for Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries, MFM, and he's absolutely right. MFM Football Club is anything but conventional.
DG: [00:00:39] I'm David Goldblatt and this is "Game of Our Lives." I went to Lagos to watch the football, but not the Nigerian football initially. The English Premier League has over 300 million regular viewers on the continent of Africa and nowhere loves the Premier League more than in Nigeria. So I went to Lagos to meet official supporters clubs of Tottenham Hotspurs, Arsenal, and Chelsea. And while it was great to hang out with them in the TV bars and restaurants of Lagos, without doubt the most lively, the most exciting, and the best football that I saw was at Mountain of Fire and Miracles.
GE: [00:01:18] Agege Stadium was packed to the rafters for this one.
DG: [00:01:28] Mountain of Fire and Miracles is a Pentecostal church based in Lagos and it's part of the fastest growing social movement in Nigeria. Maybe 20 percent of the population is now a member and amazingly, Pentecostal churches and their preachers are pretty much the only people who are actually selling out football stadiums in Nigeria. Their church services get numbers that league clubs in Nigeria would die for.
Pastor: [00:02:04] Put your hands together for Jesus! Put your hands together.
DG: [00:02:04] So unlike the other Pentecostal churches in Nigeria, MFM came up with football as a way of engaging the youth of the slums of Lagos.
[00:02:14] Giving order, purpose, and pleasure to their day and the message came right from the top of the organization.
GE: [00:02:20] A message that was divine, to rescue youth of the generation from Satan. It's your responsibility as a church to mold these people.
DG: [00:02:28] And that's how it began back in 2007 when MFM was just a church youth football event. Every year, they pick the 11 best players from their training and coaching sessions to create an all star team. And it turns out that team was consistently good. Indeed, the players realized they could compete with the best and called on MFM to actually take them into competitive football.
DG: [00:02:56] So in 2011, MFM FC entered the bottom rung of the Nigerian league as an amateur team. By 2014, they've made their way to the very top, the Nigerian Premier League, where this tiny team from a tiny working class neighborhood in northern Lagos has been challenging for the Nigerian title.
Lagos resident: [00:03:18] Every Lagotien want to see the beauty of the game back to Lagos again.
GE: [00:03:23] Football is back to the city and MFM are giving the fans reasons to be happy.
Other Lagos resident: [00:03:28] Lagos was without a Premier League club... they came in, MFM Football Club, like a fairytale. They proved their mettle this season.
DG: [00:03:36] It's really a remarkable story and a remarkable ascent. I caught up with Godwin on Skype recently and I wanted to know more about their secret. What is it they do that Nigerian football teams can learn from? For a start, Godwin says, MFM look after their players.
GE: [00:03:55] Is a family. You go and train, you come back, food is waiting for you. You have television, you got everything working, in a country where electricity is a big problem. You've got electricity 24/7. Whatever else you need as a footballer?
DG: [00:04:09] If you're playing for MFM, you need some rules.
GE: [00:04:12] First and foremost, if you are playing for MFM you can't carry the kind of hair you are carrying now, David. That's number one.
DG: [00:04:23] Ok I see you got to cut your hair short, right?
GE: [00:04:25] It has to be like mine.
DG: [00:04:27] Ok, so like a Number One, a buzzcut, right?
GE: [00:04:29] Keep it tidy. Yeah. That's the first condition.
DG: [00:04:33] OK.
GE: [00:04:34] Number two. No obvious tattoos. If you had it before, you must cover it when you are playing. That's number two. Number three, you cannot sag. You can't do that when you are playing for MFM.
DG: [00:04:45] Now sagging, this is like letting your trousers kind of hang low off your hips right? Hip hop style.
GE: [00:04:52] Certainly you can't do that. Yeah, exactly. Number three, you can't put on jewelries. You know, no earrings. Nothing. You know, and you must conform. Like you guys say, when you are in Rome, you behave like the Romans. So you are in a church environment, you are playing for a football team and that means you must comport yourself within and outside of the football team. So wherever we play football, it's the beauty of the game that you play. You don't find our coaches harassing referees. We are not known to be a team that encourages hooliganism. So these are the traits you find when you see MFM play.
DG: [00:05:31] And what about your issues on smoking and drinking. What are the rules for the players on how they behave when they're not... when they're not playing and training?
GE: [00:05:41] Within, outside. You don't drink, you don't smoke. I mean, these are not allowed at all. They're worse than sagging your trousers.
DG: [00:05:52] OK. And do you... my my sense is that your investment in your players this is repaid many times over. I mean, your... you've got to be the smallest club in the, in the Nigerian Premier League and yet there you are challenging you know Plateau, Rivers, all of these big clubs. It's been an exceptional achievement. So how did that happen?
GE: [00:06:16] Is simple. Consistency. Let me give you an example. The MFM of today, the coach that we started the journey with, some 11 years ago Fidelis Ilechukwu is still the coach. The captain of the team Austine Opara, we started this together some 11 years ago, still the captain of the team. You know, it was 70 percent of this team have been together for 11 years. David, can you beat consistency?
DG: [00:06:43] You can't beat consistency and particularly in Nigerian football where there's so much chopping and changing and above all a lot of players who are not getting paid a lot of the time and I wonder how important you know, do you differentiate yourself by being regular payers? I mean just a simple thing like that?
GE: [00:07:03] That also stands us out. We have a team that at the end of every month or before the end of the end of the month, salaries are paid. You don't... the players are not thinking about their salaries. They know that before the end of the month, there is an allot and he says there's money in your account. I can't think of a team. I don't know how many teams do this in Nigeria, so you know beyond that, is a family. Hardly would you find a city in the world where you don't find MFM as we call it.
[00:07:33] If we are going to play a game in Kano from Lagos or we just needed to show up in Kano. Before we get to Kano, the pastor in charge of MFM in Kano would have provided accommodation, would have taken care of our feeding, would have taken care of our logistics. He would have taken care of the allowances for the players. So all you need to do as a team is to just show up, you get to the football pitch, the pastor mobilize supporters who are going to support you. That's how it work. No team in Nigeria enjoys this. It is unbelievable, you know. So that makes us uniquely different from every other club site. We also go into games not wanting to win every game. We go into games and we say our message is enjoy the beautiful game.
[00:08:25] We're going to play the beautiful game without violence.
DG: [00:08:29] You play in the Agege stadium and Agege is a suburb, a neighborhood in northern Lagos. Can you for our listeners just paint us a picture of what kind of place Agege is and what MFM is like on match day there.
GE: [00:08:47] The Agege stadium is uniquely different. It's it's a stadium it's a community stadium, less than 5,000 capacity. So what... the ambiance is unbelievable. You know you have 1,000 people in that stadium. It feels like the Maracana. It feels like the Wembley Stadium. That's the beauty of it. The Agege Stadium doesn't need any loudspeaker to have people coming to the stadium. You know, Lagotians are also very glad. You know why? For almost two decades, we've not had Premier League football in Lagos.
[00:09:23] So that is also a big motivation for Lagotiens to turn up every time so we don't make too much noise. Again...
DG: [00:09:31] I don't know about that, Godwin. When I went there, your crowd was making a lot of noise. What about your brass band and your singers down in the cheap seats?
GE: [00:09:43] A stadium is not a burial ground. Is it, David?
DG: [00:09:47] No, it's not a burial ground.
GE: [00:09:50] So you must create some entertainment for those who came to watch football. So that's why we have our band that plays purely gospel tunes and the people, mostly Christians, they dance to these tunes.
DG: [00:10:04] I wanted to ask you. It reminds me, what happens if you have a Muslim player who wants to come and play with you or would you consider signing a Muslim player from another team? I wonder how that would that would work for you.
GE: [00:10:23] Lovely question. Easy answer. MFA was not set up for MFM members. It is called youth repositioning. It's about helping the youth, not helping MFM youth. So it goes beyond the church. All you need to be there is to have what it takes to play football and that's it.
DG: [00:10:44] OK. And as long as you stick to the rules, no problem.
GE: [00:10:47] You must stick with the rules. When you are in Rome, you behave like the Romans.
DG: [00:10:51] Let me just take you back a moment. And as you say you're sporting director, but you've been intimately involved you know there with the squad sometimes and at times it's actually got too exciting and too much for you. I wonder if you can tell us a little bit about that.
GE: [00:11:08] So when you get there, the pressure gets to you.
[00:11:10] You don't want to fail. You know, especially when you're giving your all. You've done everything humanly possible. You know, I paint a picture of the last game two years ago when MFM were fighting relegation. We had a last game to play at home against Ifeanyi Ubah, the billionaires club. We needed victory. David, I don't want to go through that experience again. I died many times, you know. The game was so bad 2 minutes into the first half, my captain, the best player on my side got a red card. 10 against 11, a game we needed to win.
[00:11:51] Then miraculously we scored a fantastic goal that there's no ref in the world who want to play with his job by disallowing that goal. Then second half, 15 minutes to the end of the game, we conceded a penalty. And when the penalty was awarded against MFM, I couldn't watch it. I went on my knees you know, tears were coming out of my eyes I was like God, this is not my covenant with you. If this penalty goes in, MFM is doomed. So Godwin Enakhena took a team to the Premier League and demoted them... So, I couldn't watch, but thank God, my goalkeeper caught that penalty and the rest, like they say is history.
DG: [00:12:40] But I think you've taken a step back from the bench these days. No more no more direct coaching for you.
GE: [00:12:48] Definitely not.
DG: [00:12:50] MFM is is you know, it's one of the bright success stories of contemporary Nigerian football. Everybody loves the little guy coming up to the top and then you know, toughing it out with the big teams.
[00:13:04] But most Nigerians that I met when I was in Lagos would probably prefer to be watching Chelsea or Tottenham or Arsenal. How does European football and its ubiquitous availability on mobile phones and TVs in Nigeria, how does that affect MFM and what you are trying to do?
GE: [00:13:27] David, this is one cankerworm that’s eating so deeply into the fabric of our football. For instance, today we have a young man called Junior Lokosa. Junior Lokosa is top scorer in the league in Nigeria.
GE: [00:13:41] I just did a voice pop, all the opinions of Nigerians, you know at random. I tell you we spoke with seven people, none of them can tell Junior Lokosa is. You know why?
DG: [00:13:55] Not one of them?
GE: [00:13:58] We play 10 games every weekend. Only one of these games is on television. How do you get to know your players? So in Nigeria you have to go to the stadium to go see games.
DG: [00:14:13] Now going to see MFM you know I can confirm is a great experience. No problems, no hassle, lot of joy. But that's not always the case going into the stadium these days in Nigeria. You know we have there are problems of violence, crowds. There are problems of attacks on referees and the record of the clubs, many of them I think the majority owned by the state governments of Nigeria, do not have a great record on this. I wonder is there any hope there or would the best thing be for you know more MFMs, more privately held clubs rather than relying on these regional governments?
GE: [00:14:59] 17 clubs in the league in Nigeria are run by state governors and these clubs are more like PR. Yeah, that's the word I was looking for. PR, for state governors. So let's have I mean privately... let's have the MFMs of this world. You know, the business of government is not to run club sites.
DG: [00:15:18] So you're up against the Delta State Government. Tell me, you say the state governments use football clubs as a form of PR, but so does you know the royal house of Abu Dhabi or Manchester City. That, let me tell you as you know Godwin is producing terrific results. Why do you think they support clubs you know that are actually bad PR for them a lot of the time. What are they getting wrong? What don't they do? What do they not get right?
GE: [00:15:49] What they are getting wrong is that the players are treated like civil servants. They're not treated like professionals. If a governor in Nigeria who cannot pay the minimum wage of about a dollar or something. I mean, how is he going to pay a footballer about a thousand dollars? You know what I'm talking about. So that's the difference. The Abu Dhabi guys you were talking about, for them business first and foremost. Yes, massive PR. You have to get the business side of it very right for you to have the PR that you want. So that is the difference here. It's no business for the Abu Dhabi guys. It is business and PR.
DG: [00:16:34] Nigeria's governments might be a disaster at football, but Nigeria itself continues to produce the most incredible body of football talent. I mean of course young men, but increasingly young women as well.
[00:16:48] To what extent is it possible for Nigerian domestic football at least to hang on to some of these folks for a little bit? And to what extent can Nigerian football you know actually begin to profit from you know their European or foreign careers? Because at the moment, you know many of the best players don't even seem to be moving through the Nigerian league before departing.
GE: [00:17:11] David, it is simple. It's about the power of the Naira. It's about economic factors. I mean you play Nigeria at the minimum wage. The highest paid Nigerian footballer at this point, earns less than 1 million Naira. You cross to somewhere in Sudan, you earn ten times that amount.
DG: [00:17:30] You're earning ten times more in Sudan than you would in Nigeria? This is incredible. Nigeria, the biggest economy in Africa?
GE: [00:17:37] It is a fact. Because like I said, 17 clubs in the league in Nigeria are run by government. So what do you expect? The economy is not good at this point. We have our challenges that we're dealing with. The governor cannot pay civil servants. It is looking for money to pay wages. So is from that same place, that is going to pay footballers. So that's where the problem... That's why sometimes we find that players have not been paid for six months, seven months and what have you. That's the bottom line.
GE: [00:18:06] It is not entirely wrong for government to run football. I mean, if you want to hold the World Cup in Nigeria, there must be a guarantee from government before we allow Nigeria to host. I'm talking about security. I'm talking about funding. I'm talking about stadiums. Everything just telecommunications and the private individuals cannot provide this. So you can't wish away government from you know running football or sport in Nigeria.
[00:18:33] The point is, run football professionally, leave the PR side of it, deal with the professional side of it and PR will come naturally.
DG: [00:18:44] How do you feel in this context than when you know Nigerian celebrities, particularly the rappers, but also the politicians are thinking of Obasanjo's vice president you know are tweeting about Arsenal or Chelsea or Manchester United? What is it going to take for them to start tweeting about MFM or Plateau United or Kano Pillars?
GE: [00:19:08] David, we will get there, a step at a time. They mostly put on us for now... The first one will be professionalism. The club should be run professionally. Number two, let us have TV in our league. Let Nigerians get to see our games on TV. I'm sure you remember the young man Sikiru Olatunbosun of MFM that scored a goal that was judged the best, for seven days the world over by CNN.
DG: [00:19:39] It broke the Internet. Three three passes, all in the air and then that volley at the end of it. There wasn't a better goal scored anywhere on the planet last week.
GE: [00:19:50] David, imagine if that game was not on television.
DG: [00:19:52] Sure, you don't you don't get to see them.
GE: [00:19:55] Deal with the economy. Let us have a good economy. Everything will be right. The politicians, the celebrities who rather wear an MFM jersey, instead of a Chelsea jersey. I look forward to that. I look forward to that moment. Let's look a little bit to the future. It's fantastic news that this year 2018, the Super Eagles have qualified for the World Cup. What's the mood in Nigeria about the prospects for the Super Eagles this time around?
GE: [00:20:27] Before we talk about the prospects, I'll talk about that first time in a long while that our beloved Super Eagles of Nigeria qualified to play at the World Cup. Without Nigerians having to import calculators. We didn't have to calculate at all.
DG: [00:20:43] Kept it nice and easy, no playoffs, no last minute points needed.
GE: [00:20:48] Yes, it was lovely. Then we had a young team with a foreign manager, not a big deal manager, but a man who had proven on the pitch that is as good as the best coaches you can find anywhere in Africa and even in the world.
DG: [00:21:05] And his name?
GE: [00:21:05] His name is Gernot Rohr. Yeah. From Germany. In Gabon, you know as a coach came to Nigeria from nowhere you know. Nigerians felt like, who is this man? Where is he coming from? We are bigger names, but he's proven to be one damn good coach. Yes. Like I said before, we are a young team. We have John Obi Mikel as captain, we have Victor Moses playing for Chelsea Football Club. We have a young man who plays week in week out for Leicester City Football Club. It also... there's confidence that we can do something at World Cup. I mean, this belief was given a bit of fill up after defeating Argentina 4-2 in Russia. I mean that tells us that Russia will be a good hunting ground for Nigeria when the World Cup comes around.
DG: [00:22:03] It's exciting you've got a great team, you've got a great qualification, you've got a coach that works, you've got a bit of continuity, but you've still got the NFF in charge, the Nigerian Football Federation. Are they going to perform any better? I mean as recently as 2014 you've got the Nigerians squad going on strike because they're not being paid and they don't believe the promises, quite rightly that are being made to them.
DG: [00:22:30] Is it going to be any smoother this time around do you think?
GE: [00:22:33] Let me tell you something. What has never been done before going to the World Cup. They sat down with the players and agreed on what the bonuses, what you are going to earn for a win, a draw, or even a defeat as it were. Everything has been well spread out. We've never had this good, the team is good, the coaching is good, the administration is good. It is up to the players to deliver at the World Cup.
DG: [00:23:02] That is a very exciting and let me say a fabulously optimistic prospect, Godwin. It's easy as we know to find the negativity and the problems in Nigeria, but at the same time well certainly my short experience was that this is a place just burning with the most incredible energies and creativity and nowhere more so actually than in football. It will give me more pleasure than I can say to see a Nigerian team under professional management get out there and win the 2018 World Cup. How far can they go, Godwin?
GE: [00:23:42] How far can Nigeria go at the World Cup? Let's play the first game then David you can ask me that question again.
DG: [00:23:51] OK, I'm going to hold you to that, Godwin. And after Nigeria's opening game in June 2018, I'd like to invite you back on the show for a discussion.
[00:24:01] I want to hear all the news from Lagos on how the people are responding. And hopefully we'll have the chance to do it many more times during the World Cup. Thank you so much for being with us. It's been a real pleasure.
GE: [00:24:14] David, it's my pleasure doing this and I'm grateful on behalf of the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries, everyone involved with the team will say thank you so very much. Let's do this again some other time.
DG: [00:24:25] Absolutely, man. Thank you so much.
DG: [00:24:35] Godwin Enakhena. You can follow Godwin on Twitter. You can find him on Facebook. You can catch his show Sport Splash on Lagos state television. And don't forget, his fabulous radio phone in, Top Sports, on Lagos's Top Radio. As we heard, getting paid in men's Nigerian football is no mean feat. But in the women's game, it's even harder.
Shireen Ahmed: [00:24:59] The Nigerian women's team hasn't had an opportunity or a match in over a year and in fact, they won the continental African championship and they were not paid.
Reporter: [00:25:04] The players have pitched camp at a nearby hotel and have promised not to leave until their bonuses have paid.
SA: [00:25:09] But let's not kid ourselves, this type of misogyny and sexism is inherent in all systems all around the world.
DG: [00:25:14] That's Shireen Ahmed, football writer, coach, and sports activist. And we'll be hearing from her in next week's show about the fight to win the hijab ban in football and the joy of watching the women's World Cup. In the meantime, check out our website, Gameofourlives.fm and subscribe to the show at Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or whatever you get your podcasts.
[00:25:36] And if you haven't already heard it, listen to Episode 1 where our guest Werner Herzog tells us what would a Werner Herzog football movie look like. If you know someone who would like the show, tell them. Spread the joy. Share the love. And if you really like us, rate us on Apple podcasts and help us tell the world. This show is a production of Jetty Studios. Our senior producer is Raja Shah, our producer and sound designer is Meradith Hoddinott. Our editors are Casey Miner and Kanishk Tharoor. Kyana Moghadam does social media. Graelyn Brashear does audience development. Our graphic designer is Sophie Feller and our podcast operations are by Jordan Bailey. The music is from Bang Data. If you like them, you can get more at Bangdata.com. Our executive producer is Julie Caine and our general manager is Kaizar Campwala. I'm David Goldblatt. See you next week.