Sporting Lagos are without a doubt the rave of Nigerian league football right now and their home games are fast becoming a destination for young people, just as club-owner Shola Akinlade envisioned.
With an atmosphere that rivals Anfield, Sporting Lagos’ 'Happy Corner' is a game-changer in Nigerian football
Exploring the magic behind Sporting Lagos’ sect of die-hard Nigerian football fans called the “Happy Corner”
But, beyond the actual football, the multiple celebrity appearances and the half-time shows which often end with someone winning at least a hundred thousand Naira, the biggest attraction for a Sporting Lagos home game is the “Happy Corner”.
The Happy Corner is an aptly named, small yet rapidly growing group of Sporting Lagos fans in the VIP section. But these are in no way the VIPs you are accustomed to; these people are loud, passionate and energetic.
A group of young Nigerians paying to watch a second division league game in Lagos sounds unlikely, that group being the loudest at the game seems almost impossible, yet these guys have done just that for each one of Sporting Lagos’ four home games so far.
“The Happy Corner is a bunch of people that have been looking for something to invest in, something to do every Sunday,” a short but encapsulating description of the movement by one of the pioneers, Tomiwa Abiola.
By “invest”, Tomiwa of course means the money spent on the VIP tickets but beyond that, it is an investment of pent-up energy and passion that has been looking for release.
“We want everybody to catch that vibe,” were the words of Bamiji Ojo, Tomiwa’s co-pioneer of the Happy Corner, and for anyone who has attended any of Sporting Lagos’ four home games so far, it is almost impossible to not feed off their highly infectious energy.
From the rhythmic, on-beat and coordinated blasting of multiple vuvuzelas to the incessant chanting of “Let’s go Sporting, let’s go!!!”, the Happy Corner represents the energy core of the Sporting Lagos fanbase, which is simply not something that is regularly said about VIPs at any function.
It is no surprise that Sporting Lagos are unbeaten at home so far, with three wins and a draw at the Teslim Balogun Stadium thanks to the massive home support, anchored by the Happy Corner.
“The Happy Corner is the start of something big, we want this to go round the whole stadium, we want the whole stadium to feel this and know that there are people that enjoy doing this,” Bamiji added.
So if you’re wondering how a two-month-old club already has a core of organic die-hard supporters, the short answer is that it has a unique meaning to each individual which spurs them to willingly part with their money and still participate to the fullest extent.
To Tayo Ashogbon, a Lagos-based architect, Sporting Lagos means community. “They’ve gotten this community, I can go to their Twitter page, they have a website, I can go their IG, the community gave that traction to it.”
To Kolamide, a comic and content creator, the Happy Corner’s sense of belonging is what keeps him coming to watch Sporting Lagos at the Teslim Balogun Stadium. “Everybody likes belonging to something, we are Nigerians, we are Lagosians, we are Sporting Lagos fans,” he said proudly, grinning from ear to ear.
To Adedotun Adekambi, a marketing and PR guru, Sporting Lagos’ Happy Corner means expression. “I didn’t realise how much I missed watching sports live until I came here for the first time and this just gave me the energy.”
By all accounts, it appears the seeming lack of interest by fans in Nigerian league football for the past few decades was not borne out of a false sense of supremacy or ‘forming tush’ in local parlance.
The interest was always there; the people just needed a Nigerian club that was intentional about getting people to identify with them, and Sporting Lagos are doing just that.
Shola Akinlade and his team have tapped into something big here, whether intentionally or plainly by luck, a Nigerian second division team is succeeding where many established NPFL clubs have failed over the years in building a solid fan-based culture.
And with at least eight more home games still to play in Sporting Lagos’ first season in the NNL Group B2, the home support can only get bigger, thanks in large part to the evangelical efforts of the Happy Corner.
“This is like church to me…it’s a tradition, the goal is to keep bringing people, I like to bring people around, let people enjoy what I’m enjoying,” Tomiwa stated.
But it was Tayo Ashogbon’s words that fully captured the heights of the Happy Corner’s ambition, “Anfield’s Kop, Dortmund’s Yellow Wall…Sporting Lagos’ Happy Corner.”