Posted by News Express | 21 March 2019 | 767 times
The title of this article asks: Can girls play football better than boys?
No, this is not about gender inequalities.
Before we delve into this discourse fully, let us answer these questions, shall we?
1. Can girls play football at all?
2. Should girls take an interest in football?
3. Can girls be good at playing football?
Tradition of Civilisation.
The setting of this real-life sporting piece is the early 1980s to early 1991 in the city of Enugu, then capital of Anambra State, and now the capital of Enugu State in the Federal Republic Of Nigeria.
This narrative is about a young Ìgbò girl named Noa.
In the countryside of various parts of Alaìgbò, female children were gently persuaded to refrain from certain acts.
A girl did not climb trees nor did she pluck fruits from a tree.
Should she desire to obtain a fruit off a tree, she sought the assistance of a boy or a brother.
That was the omenala of the people of Ìsúíkwúàtọ̀, Noa’s ancestral home.
At a tender age, she learnt that omenala from Nnenne, the name with which she addressed each of her Grandmothers.
On this occasion, her maternal Nnenne introduced her to the culture that umunwanyi anaghu ari elu osisi.
Neither adult women nor girls were to climb trees.
Females were not to strike a fruit, while standing near the tree trunk, either.
Being the stubborn girl she was, Noa protested lovingly to Nnenne, probably in the fashion, over an unrelated issue, recounted by Nnenne decades later:
A ma m ụdịka ịfe a!
Clearly, Noa did not understand the purpose of that particular omenala, which removed the spontaneity of picking fruits at will.
Notwithstanding her curiosity and, in observation of the tradition, Noa would hold a stick in the palm of her younger brother and knock off guava from a guava tree in front of Ahamefula’s home.
Her younger playmate Ahamefula, though a boy, was not always available, which left the sole option of her three-year-old brother.
Despite the difficulties in manoeuvring the hand of a toddler, Noa got the job done, again and again.
A girl was free to enjoy the feast should she explore her critical analysis skills and design a means to achieve the feast.
On girls playing football, omenala Ìsúíkwúàtọ̀ was silent.
Decades later in Ìsúíkwúàtọ̀, Noa was to discover the purpose of this omenala: That the private parts of a woman not be viewed by a male passing below her.
The incident that led to that discovery was Noa’s observation of a trousers-clad woman on one of Nnenne’s palm oil trees harvesting akwụ.
I thought women do not climb trees, Noa expressed, puzzled.
The answer came from her Mum that that was needed to prevent female genitalia becoming exposed.
Women now wear a pair of trousers, the response concluded.
The city of Enugu offered girls the freedom to climb trees.
Critical reasoning was a useful skill, as a girl would not want to expose her underwear to a boy who looks upwards.
She would not want to slip and fall either, a major source of embarrassment.
Noa played safe by rarely climbing trees and staying as close to the ground as possible on the one or two instances she did.
Noa’s self-pride and self-respect had nothing to achieve on a tree and everything to lose.
Nothing stipulated a censorship of female participation in a predominantly male physical activity.
Both genders interacted and did just about every activity together.
The game of football was no different, for girls readily played alongside or against any gender, male or female.
It was in this city that Noa explored her love of football.
By her first year in secondary school, she was versed in football events relayed on television.
Whether on the street or in the classroom before morning assembly and commencement of classes, Noa played football with her friends, boys and girls.
Inside the empty storeroom attached to her classroom, she and her friends practised dribbling the ball and repeatedly bouncing the ball on own foot and thigh.
She paid avid attention to the games played by the national football team, the Green Eagles later Super Eagles, and knew offhand the name of each player.
Her favourite players, she admired for their style of play.
With her friends, especially the girls, she would recount the latest football events, for they too loved football.
As she and her friends routinely arrived school very early, they had ample time for their deliberations on football prior to official school hours.
Football was her passion; academics was both her passion and her future.
Chekeleke, Soar To The Heavens!
There was a healthy competition between Noa and the boys in her circle of friends.
Outside the field of academics, Noa’s discomfort with being overshadowed by a boy extended.
During friendly interactions, she would ask any boy standing beside her to sit.
Every out-of-school physical game – football and other childhood activities – she played against boys, she scored higher than her opponent.
School sports were too rigid for her liking, not to mention being monitored by the teacher.
While Noa detested Physical Education as a school subject, she participated fully in street games.
On the streets, the rules were decided by children and, there was hardly any audience, except the adoring few, every now and again.
She was so adept at playing football that whenever she stepped outdoors in the evenings, each team eagerly sought her on their side.
She is very good, remarked the rare male adult in the audience.
She loved football and played it well, defeating any boy who played against her in a one-a-side game.
Football was the love of Noa’s life, as were her studies, which occupied most of her free time.
Actually, often her Mum literally had to tell her to go out and play, before she would put down her book, and then, only if she noticed her Mum opening the master bedroom door, an indication the latter was about to approach.
After the first term of junior secondary school, Noa on realising two boys preceded her in grades, swore it would not happened again.
Boys will not lead this class again, academically, was the pact vocalised by Noa and a close female friend to their male counterparts, who were ahead in the class.
They never did, for the next term Noa led, followed by a boy.
In the third position, was a girl, her friend.
At the end of the year, her friend led, with Noa in second place.
In third position, was a boy, the same that had attained the first and second position, respectively, in the previous terms.
Overall, Noa took the first position.
Two things Noa never did during a game of football were:
a. Never did she head the ball.
b. Never did she fall to the ground.
The one was out of immense pride; the other was her awareness that her head contains the most vital organ of her body – her brain.
Should a ball head towards her head, Noa would swiftly lower head, dodging the projectile.
Her brain was far too important to jeopardise over a sport of football.
Throughout her childhood, she was careful to avoid running into door frames and other solid structures children frequently encounter in the home.
An impossible task it was, for she did hit her head on a door frame and other solids.
Nevertheless, she persisted in preventing or reducing such an impact on her head.
The rest of her body, though, took the hit doing everything to stop a ball getting past her.
She would leap, swirl around, and obstruct an incoming ball with her back and, in a quick succession, resume her previous position to take possession of the ball.
This was in stark contrast to halting the ball with the chest.
As she progressed into puberty, arresting a ball missile with her chest was simply not tenable.
Thus, she designed a method of halting the ball, while protecting the soft tissues of her chest.
She was a highly skilled football player.
Once, while playing against a male friend, she was so immersed in the game she sustained a grievous injury to the tip of her right big toe.
The injury carved off a chunk of her toenail and the flesh behind it.
Despite her injury, Noa continued playing, until the pain became excruciating, compelling her to retire and tend to her injury, on a winning note.
Putting aside her pair of sandals, Noa would play barefoot, usually on the sandy road.
On this occasion, she played barefoot on the concrete grounds of her residence and dug her toe into the hard concrete.
To answer the title question:
Yes, girls can play football better than boys under the same circumstances.
The older generation of Noa’s family and relatives in Ìsúíkwúàtọ̀ were aware of her football skills.
No one discouraged her from playing football and enjoying the game.
Dedicated to Nnenne, a fiercely independent woman. Sleep tight, Love.
Dedicated to Ahamefula, whose sudden death in their early years remained a mystery, until as an adult, Noa discovered from Nnenne that her friend Ahamefula was strangled by his father.
Dedicated to WTC and USS/ UGSS.
•Umm Sulaim is the Publisher of Umm Sulaim’s Thoughts (https://iamummsulaim.wordpress.com).
Copyright © 2019 Umm Sulaim. All rights reserved.
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