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World Cup: Diaspora Nigerians catch soccer fever

Matt Pearson Melbourne
July 27, 2023

The Women's World Cup is giving the Nigerian community in Australia the chance to celebrate their culture and cheer on their team, as DW found out in Melbourne.

Asisat Oshoala celebrates scoring the third goal in Nigeria's 3-2 World Cup win over Australia
Asisat Oshoala scored the third goal in Nigeria's 3-2 World Cup win over AustraliaImage: James Whitehead/SPP/IMAGO

From the outside, Adonai Food, nestled at the foot of a grey tower block in the Carlton district of Melbourne, is easy to miss. Step inside when Nigeria is playing, and it's difficult to forget.

Out on the terrace, the barbecue sizzles with Suya, a spicy beef dish, while indoors Nigerian fans gather to support their national football team and eat Jollof Rice and Poundo Yam. The restaurant styles itself as Little Lagos, and it certainly feels like a home away from home to those packed in to watch Nigeria play World Cup co-hosts Australia. 

"We don't usually have things like this where we are represented, we usually just support Australia in different sports," Ewa Osunneye told DW. "But having it in such close proximity has definitely boosted a lot of people's connection to their roots and their different countries."

DW Still Australien Fans Nigera Ewa Osunneye
Ewa Osunneye told DW that the World Cup has helped her feel closer to her homelandImage: Tom Gennoy/DW

Nigeria opened their World Cup about four kilometers from here with a 0-0 draw against Olympic champions Canada. But their win against co-hosts Australia, the first by an African side in the competition, had implications beyond the result for Osunneye and those who chanted in unison as the final whistle blew on a 3-2 win.

No place like home

"It's definitely boosted the community in being able to show pride. Even people having stuff like this [Nigeria scarf], it's connecting us a lot more. It's been great," she added. "I'm very proud, very happy. Even just the celebration after, being able to sing in my language, I really loved it. I feel more a part of a community and it’s the best feeling, it's amazing."

Adonai serves as something of a community hub for the 2,500 Nigerian-born people (there are 8,500 in Australia), and thousands more of Nigerian heritage, that live in Melbourne. Taking a short break from manning the barbecue, Chidozie Ukpaka, told DW that his homeland opening their tournament in the city he now calls home encouraged him to attend his first match.

Nigeria fan Chidozie Ukpaka
Chidozie Ukpaka went to his first World Cup game when Nigeria played Canada in MelbourneImage: Tom Gennoy/DW

"I went to the first game, and I don't think I would've been able to witness something like that otherwise," he said. 

"I think this is the first time women's soccer has had this much popularity [in Nigeria and among its diaspora communities]. I think people look at soccer in a different way now. It's not about the women or the men, it's about the game. If it's your national team, you just support them and get that feeling of happiness when they win."

World Cup brings fresh chances

With the community spread across the city of five million people, football, and World Cups in particular, are one of the primary ways in which the Nigerian diaspora can come together. With every nation's fans having to travel enormous distances from home and Australia having a multicultural population, many communities settled in Australia have found genuine value in having a piece of their old home come to their new one.

"I think with the Women's World Cup being held here, it's made it a lot easier to access everything and have other people that are also interested in being involved," said Osunneye. "In other places, people haven’t been so keen to go to a game, but now it’s in Australia everyone is asking ‘do you want to see the game, can we watch it’. So it's built more of that in."

There is one downside to all this for her though. Her nerves can't take it. "I don't think I could do this every day, or watch something like this every week," she laughed. "Because, emotionally, I could not handle it."

Although it may contain an element of stress, Osunneye and all her compatriots at Adonai Food will doubtless return for as long as their side remain in the competition. 

Edited by: Michael Da Silva