Rapper Akitoye Balogun, popularly known as Ajebutter22, relishes watching the Super Eagles at the 1998 World Cup, his expectations as an Arsenal fan and more in this interview with ABIODUN ADEWALE
It’s good to know you are an Arsenal fan, but aside from football, what other sports do you follow?
I’m inclined to football and basketball mostly. Those are like the sports I am so into. I am an Arsenal fan and I also used to support Miami Heats in the NBA, although I no longer follow basketball as much as that again.
You must be having the time of your life with the Gunners. How have you managed before this season?
You are not an Arsenal fan if you don’t know heartbreak. You should understand disappointment very well. I’m not complaining, we are taking it game-by-game, doing our best and focusing on the next game right now. There are times when games haven’t gone our way, but as fans we just have to keep believing, the team has really surprised me with the way they play and it feels like a great time to be an Arsenal fan.
How long have you been supporting Arsenal and what are your best memories?
I’ve been an Arsenal fan since 1998. It was after the France ‘98 World Cup. I supported France then and I saw there were some French players in the Arsenal team when I started watching them. I didn’t know what other teams like Man United looked like but I just felt Arsenal looked like another version of the French national team back then and over a period of time I just started liking them. Winning the Premier League with an unbeaten record in 2004 has to be the greatest moment for me as a fan. It was special to support the Invicibles.
What are Arsenal’s chances of winning the league for the first time in almost 20 years?
We just need to keep the belief, keep the strength and just do it the way we are. We also have to manage the fixtures in both the Europa League and the Premier League, manage our core players and the team generally, I think we will do well. There are only 12 games left and if we take it game by game, it will end well. I must say that Mikel Arteta has done a great job as well. Also, we have some of the players like GabrIel Jesus coming back from injury, and some of them like Saliba hitting form and Zinchenko is also getting used to the team more. We are no longer afraid, I must say.
How much do you also remember about Nigeria’s participation during the 1998 World Cup?
I was seven years old during the ‘98 World Cup, and I remember Nigeria’s match against Spain and that was like the game that made me start liking football. I remember we won 3-2 and everybody went crazy over that result. Sunday Oliseh’s goal in that match cannot leave my head, it almost made all of us run mad. That time, even if there was no light in your house, you would know Nigeria scored, it was thunderous. I also remember that we lost to Paraguay and that was probably where the heartbreak began and then Denmark in the second round. I can never forget how I watched that game with my sister as well. They scored us at one point and there was power outtage, so my sister and I went upstairs to pray and afterwards power was restored. Before we got back, they had scored another goal. I really hated Denmark for a long time then.
Do you also follow the Nigerian league?
Not at all but I know the names of some of the teams like Enyimba, Shooting Stars and others.
If the local league has to be viable like our entertainment industry, how do we get there?
The Nigerian league will need a lot of investment and media attention. And it has to be one step at a time. It’s not until we replicate what is in Europe or elsewhere, I think we have to create something unique to us, like our music. We will need to build the culture of going to the stadium to watch games in large numbers. The magnitude can be as small as community football and we also have to take advantage of technology to tell and push good stories about our athletes.
Watching football as a child, were you ever inspired to become a footballer?
Being a footballer was not something I thought was possible even though I played a lot with every chance I got, but I was never good enough to say I wanted to make a career. I didn’t train properly like a normal footballer would, it was just in school and I didn’t really have neigbours that would play with me, except when I was young,
Do you still play at leisure?
I play mostly basketball now. Football is just sometimes.
What have you been up to with music recently?
I have an album out titled ‘Soundtrack to the Good Life.’ It’s an album to take us away from our mental space and daily realities. Nigeria, Africa and the whole world has been somehow for some time and there’s been a lot of people who have done music for deep thinking and analysis of our situation but unfortunately, we are still where we are. So, I just wanted to make music that will take people’s mind off the current situation and have something to look forward to. Everything about the album is supposed to be soft.
Finally, let’s go back to football. The Super Eagles were really good in the 90s, but we can’t say the same lately. What are your expectations?
Nigerians are attracted to winning. We have a great team in terms of individual talents that are playing in different clubs around the world. So, it’s up to us to bring back the winning mentality, it’s really what we can do.