In this interview with Punch, Olubankole Wellington, popularly called Banky W, shares his views on how to develop Nigerian football, his wife’s attempt to stop him from playing football and his dream of becoming an Arsenal striker
Did you play football while growing up?
Of course I did. In fact, I still play football twice weekly, I am a striker. We have a league called Empire. We play twice weekly. M.I is in the league, Falz is in the league too.
What do you want to be done differently in Nigerian form?
Football is beautiful and we all love it. But can we take things a bit deeper, not just seeing the games on television. Can we uncover stories that will inspire the Nigerian audience, young people? Can we uncover stories about footballers who came from nothing to become something, beat the odds and obstacles in their craft and use that to inspire our audience to do the same thing? Can we bring the audience closer to the players and give them odd things that they could never have gotten? For me specifically, that represents a very powerful thing. You know I am always trying to inspire young people to greater heights, to do better and make their dreams come true.
Are you talking about inspiration through current or past players?
It is not just about players who are playing now. It is also about those who have played before. It is about stories of the legends, uncovering inspirational stories and using football as inspiration for young people in Nigeria.
Did you aspire to become a pro footballer at any time?
You don’t have to be a professional football player, especially in Nigeria. It is a beautiful game that the entire world enjoys, and specifically in Nigeria, we love it. We were playing in Nigeria with no shoes at one point on the streets.
If you were so passionate about football, why did you then settle for entertainment?
I think majority of us are football fans. In my mind, I see myself as a striker for Arsenal but there is a difference between your imagination and reality. I still play with my mates week-in-week-out. I don’t know if I have the talent to compete at the Premier League or Super Eagles levels. But I think the beautiful thing about football is that it is for everybody.
Between EPL and La Liga, which one do you prefer?
For me, I think EPL. I have been an Arsenal fan since I was a kid, my dad being an Arsenal fan from the days of Henry, Nwankwo Kanu. For me, there is a stronger connection to EPL for long. I have been following the league for as far back as I can remember. I think La Liga is growing in leaps and bounds too. Most Nigerians usually tend to pick between Real Madrid and Barcelona. In my football team, we play El Clasico: the Barcelona guys on one side and Real Madrid guys on the other.
Would you abandon your love for Arsenal to watch a La Liga game?
People have started to follow La Liga because of players like Samuel Chukwueze, who we are very proud of. I think the love for La Liga is growing. If you look at all the leagues in the world, EPL and La Liga are probably the two most followed.
As an Arsenal fan, how do you feel watching Alex Iwobi play for the Super Eagles?
I feel great. I think Iwobi has inherited certain greatness from his uncle and you can tell that it runs in the blood. But for young Nigerians all over the world, he is definitely an inspiration. We have watched him grow and I think what everyone wants is to see somebody that you have emotionally invested in continuing to make the leap and do better. We have seen that he was incredible at the Africa Cup of Nations. He really represented himself and his country well.
Between Super Eagles and your club, where does your loyalty lie more?
If you followed all the noise we made about the (2018) World Cup and the noise we created about the Super Eagles, I think I am the chief of the supporters club, in my mind. I bring it from that fans perspective; as someone who genuinely loves the game, players, and the beautiful play.
Have you gotten into trouble playing football?
I injure myself weekly. My wife keeps trying to get me to stop but I will never stop.
What can be done to improve support for our female football?
This is something that in all aspect of the society, we have to talk a lot to ourselves and do better for our female footballers. I don’t know if asides from the Women’s World Cup, there are female games broadcast on television. I don’t think any of the media houses makes any effort to even broadcast the game. That is what will help more people to be interested. I think it is a question for the society to say, ‘there are women who are interested in football, and can we see more of it?’ Can we broadcast more of the games, put up highlights on the female league? I think brands typically want to support what their consumers are interested in. So, if the society gets interested, you will see more brands behind it too. Let us do better as a society, not just for the female games but even the local leagues. How many of us are even watching (Kano) Pillars or Enyimba? I think that is a question for all of us, myself inclusive.
What’s your advice to parents who are scared of allowing their kids partake in sports?
First, we have to realise that when parents push back against their children’s dreams and aspirations, most times it is borne out of love. But parents need to understand that their job as parents is to help their children discover their own dreams and purpose as opposed to enforcing dreams and aspiration that they have on the child. I think Nigeria parents are beginning to understand that the world is changing, times are changing, it is not just about being a doctor or engineer anymore. Not that those things are bad; they are fantastic – a lot of our children are still going to do those things; but there are careers in sports and all kinds of professions. I think parents need to be aware of the times. If there is something that your child is interested in, support that. If your child has the talent to go to school, let him go to school. I studied engineering but I am now in entertainment, politics and everything except from engineering.