The Modern History of Football in Nigeria


Football has been played informally in Nigeria since the 1800s, but the Nigerian Football Federation was not introduced until 1945. The Nigerian national side have played in the World Cup, Olympics, and the World Championships. Nigeria is a country incredibly proud of its national team, and of the wide range of football that can be enjoyed in the country.  Here we explore more fully the modern history of football in Nigeria: 


The First International Match

The first official International Match by a Nigerian team was playing during the fall of 1949: the match was against Sierra Leone, and not only was it the team’s first international match, it was also its first victory. They won 2-0. 


From that point, the team began playing regularly, both at home and internationally: at this point many of these games took place in England. In the 1970s, Nigerian football players participated in the second All-Africa games, and it was a big success: The Nigerian team came home with the gold medal. In the same decade (between 1976 and 1978) the squad went on to take part in the African Cup of Nations. This was another success for the team, as they took third place, cementing their place on the national stage as a team worthy of note. 


Nigerian Football in the 1980s and 1990s 

In both 1984 and 1988 the Nigerian team got to the finals in the Cup of Nations, but didn’t win on both counts. In 1994 the country experienced its first presence in the World Cup, despite not putting on the best show on this international stage, and in 1996 Nigeria even won the football competition at the Olympics. Despite the fact that Nigeria lost at the very beginning of the tournament,  the World Cup in 2018 was massively significant for the country, as they were the first in Africa to qualify. 


It was at this stage that the Nigerian interest really exploded, leading us the sport having the huge level of cult-like popularity that it has today. Football is the most popular sport in Nigeria, and there is a large industry for online sports gambling as a result. For example, Clubhouse offers a rich tapestry of sports betting opportunities, particularly in regards to crypto betting. A recent report has revealed that approximately 60 million Nigerians aged between18 and 40 are involved in active sport betting on a regular basis, which goes some way to demonstrate just how popular football and football betting is in the country. 


Football for Everyone

It isn’t just the professional footballers in Nigeria that are actively engaged in the game. Almost everyone in the country is given (and takes) the opportunity to play. Competitions are organised among primary, secondary schools, as well as in institutions of higher learning. Outside of education, there are amateur clubs and industrial establishments in the country are also involved in the game. There is a wide variety of trophies in the country that clubs and small teams can complete for annually. The most highly coveted of these is the ‘Nigeria Challenge Cup’, which is competed for yearly by all of the league clubs in the national federation. And the history behind this highly coveted cup? Well, the competition first began in 1945 when it was known as the Governor’s cup. In 1955 it was renamed to the Football Association (FA) Cup in 1955 and then in 1960, the year Nigeria attained independence, it became the ‘Nigeria Challenge Cup’ as we know it today.


Independence signaled a big change for football in Nigeria: It was at this point that the national team first began to play in white and green, although the shade of green has changed slightly over the years. The team is known as the Green Eagles, and the history of the Green Eagles is the history of the Nigerian national side, which didn’t officially exist until this point. The Green Eagles became The Super Eagles  in 1988, after the team’s success in the Africa Cup of Nations. 


Whether your interest is in the success of the national side or you’re more interested in grass roots sport, the fact is that football is truly a national institution in Nigeria: a glorious game, and one that people simply can’t get enough of.