Saturday, 17 June 2006
I cannot explain my attachment to sports. Particularly if you consider that in my young school days the only competitive sports I played were Table Tennis (played for Mawuli School without setting the world alight), and Rounders, which to the young and uninitiated is a game like Baseball, which used to be played by girls.
But I follow sports and watch sports with a passion that has not dimmed with age. In my journalism days at one stage, I translated this passion to sports writing, and it is true that when I take a newspaper my instinct is to turn to the back pages first.
Apart from the news, it is fair to say that all I watch on television are sports and I do always say a small prayer for the Super Sports channel.
I have dreamt for years about Ghana qualifying for the World Cup and it has been a privilege and pride to have been part of the Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu and Yaw Osafo-Maafo teams at the Ministry of Education and Sports that presided over Ghana's first qualification. I was determined therefore that I would be in Germany to see Ghana play.
We shall not talk about the logistics involved in getting to Germany to watch the matches: acquiring match tickets, visas, flight tickets, hotel reservations, and the proper gear to wear to the matches.
Mind you, this is a pilgrimage being undertaken as a fan and not as a Minister of State. Simply put, it is horrendous. But I am one of the very lucky few Ghanaians that got tickets for all Ghana's three matches, a visa, flight tickets and on Sunday morning before I left, managed to get some Ghana team jerseys in a shop in Osu.
I got to Cologne, or Koln as the natives properly spell it, on Monday morning on the match day to link up with the people in my group. All proper fans would know that whether on television or in the stadium, you never watch your team play alone. My group is made up of three males, two of us females and two young boys aged eight and almost ten.
The two boys are my technical advisers, seeing as they are the most up to date with the current trends and names in Association Football. You want to know who was the leading scorer in the 2001 Bundesliga season? Just ask my eight-year old nephew and you don't have to go to Google.
I had a choice of Appiah, Essien and Muntari jerseys to choose from and I chose Muntari. We dressed up: various hats, bandannas, shirts, whistles, Ghana flags (too expensive to buy, if you ask me) and a lot of hope and started on our journey from Cologne, which is our base, to Hanover, the site of Ghana's first match.
The German organizers have not left anything to chance, I might write about that later, but for that moment the most important thing was that armed with a match ticket you could travel free on local transportation across the country to every stadium.
"GHANA", we shouted, "ITALIA" they shouted back, they were the most good humoured group of fans you had ever met. Most of the Germans appeared to be dressed in Ghanaian colours and there were certainly a lot of imaginative attires. We took photos and had to pose with numerous Italian fans: "we shall beat you two-nil, oh no, we shall beat you two-one, the score will be three-nil" and on and on we went.
The closer you got to Hanover and the stadium the more impressed you got with the organization. It seemed the whole of Germany and Germans had been primed for one thing and one thing only: to make a success of the competition and, as the slogan says, "a time to make friends."
It was a good day to be a Ghanaian in Germany. You had to give away as many Ghana T-shirts and bandannas and other paraphernalia as you could, without stripping yourself naked. Young Germans had painted their faces in Ghana colours and were rooting for us; how could you not give them a Ghana T-shirt or hat at the very least?
The walk from the train station to the stadium was probably the most exhilarating: a sea of colourfully dressed humanity intent on having a good time and loving each other.
Up until then I had never had to shout "GHANA" so many times, now the Italians were shouting GHANA and we were shouting ITALIA. Slowly and ever so slowly we all made it to the stadium and to our allotted seats and the serious business of cheering on the Black Stars of Ghana was just about to start.
I have no idea how the professional sports writers and commentators have reported the match back in Ghana. The whole point about following football is that after you have been to the stadium or watched a match on television, you still want to read the match report as seen by the "professional".
Believe me, it was a great match. I had been so afraid, the Italians would out-shout us as there were more of them than us, but I needn't have worried; the Germans and the non-Italian football fans in and out of the stadium appeared to be supporting Ghana.
Just before the start of the match, a huge cheer went up: the giant screens in the stadium were showing scenes from the World Cup trophy visit to Ghana. A smiling and good looking President Kufuor was charming Franz Beckenbauer and Yaw Osafo-Maafo was strutting his stuff.
And Ghana played well. Our wonder Captain Appiah was a joy, he was busy throughout and led from the front. We cheered.
It did not take very long for me to discover that many of the people seated in my part of the stadium were mostly Ghanaians resident abroad: UK, Holland and Germany and other parts of the world. They were not au fait with the latest cheer songs in Ghana and so we ended up with various takes on the Accra Hearts of Oak cheer song: "we are the famous Ghana Black Stars, we never say die!"
Every once in a while, we tried the "Oseyee, Ghana Osee, Forward ever" but the most successful really was simply the GHA-NA, GHA-NA, GHA-NA chant and the rhythmic clapping.
Yes the Italians scored, but you could tell they were not convincing. Of course the referee was not kind to us, but since when has a referee ever been kind to a losing team? We had been warned by one fan outside the stadium to be careful of the Italians, "you know they bribe referees, even in their national league"!!!!
There were some Italians amongst where we were seated, very much outnumbered. One of them told me: "Ghana was magic" and that was good enough for me.
But the second goal got to me. The Black Stars did not deserve to lose two-nil and you could see our defenders took that second goal very badly. I wished it were possible to walk on to the pitch and put my hands around them and say to them: keep up your heads, we are proud of you.
Of course, we were disappointed, but not depressed; the Black Stars had given a good account of themselves and had made many friends.
Yes, yes, yes, we need some strikers and urgently and after the match those dressed in Ghana colours were obviously the more popular fans in town. We continued with the cheering, we took more photos and posed for even more with delirious Italian fans as we worked our way to the train stations.
"Ghana", one elderly German told us in the train, "you were not lucky against Italy, but you played well."
So I am getting ready for today's match against the Czech Republic. That will be a red-letter day for Ghana and the Black Stars and I shall be dressed in a red shirt and Mother Luck will shine on us.See also: