The Premier League Title Race the Whole World Is Watching

Mayowa Abeshina should, really, be at work. It is the middle of Sunday afternoon, and he has not yet finished his shift at the barbershop. He is here, clad in a red-and-white Arsenal jersey, only by the good grace of his boss. Well, grace is one word. Resignation is another. “I took a break for the love of the game,” Mr. Abeshina said. “The manager knows this. He’s not new to the routine.”

Many West Africans live to the rhythm of European soccer, with mostly male crowds massing outside bars, hair salons, street restaurants — any establishment, ultimately, with a screen — to watch idols playing thousands of miles away. Real Madrid, Barcelona and Paris St.-Germain all have considerable followings in the region, but in Nigeria, nothing matches the appeal of the Premier League.

On game days, fans of all stripes flock to viewing centers — street venues equipped with a few screens, a jigsaw puzzle of wooden benches, a thicket of wires and a canopy to block out the sun and reduce the glare — like the one Mr. Abeshina and his friends descended on to take in his beloved Arsenal’s meeting with Tottenham Hotspur.

Mr. Abeshina became an Arsenal fan in the late 1990s, when Nigerian cable channels first began broadcasting the Premier League. His older brother instructed him on which team he should support, at a time when Nwankwo Kanu, one of Nigeria’s greatest stars, was a fixture in the team’s lineup.

If anything, though, Mr. Abeshina says his connection to the team is even deeper now. Arsenal’s academy is stacked with English prospects of Nigerian ancestry. One of the club’s brightest stars, Bukayo Saka, grew up in a Nigerian family in London. “He’s Yoruba, I’m Yoruba,” Mr. Abeshina said, in a tone rather softer than that with which he celebrated his idol’s first-half goal against Spurs.

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