Feature Article of Wednesday, 28 June 2006

Columnist: Nkrumah-Boateng, Rodney

Thoughts of a Football Virgin

Ponder the futile injustice of it all. After our debut world cup match with Italy, Ghanaian hopes were subdued, and we wondered if we could make it beyond the first round. These hopes were given a boost by the win over the Czechs and rocketed sky high when we thumped the Americans and blazed into the last 16. Suddenly, the world was our oyster, and many were those genuinely believed (with good reason, not because they are mad), that we could beat defending champions Brazil and go places no African team had ever gone. Alas, Ghanaian emotions turned out to be of the rollercoaster variety, and our dreams turned into disappointment as Ghanaians watching all the way from Azerbajan through Kasoa to Toronto wept into their empty beer glasses and palm wine calabashes at the thought of what could have been probably one of the biggest upsets in the history of the world cup.

As the last vestiges of African presence in Germany exits from the beautiful game and leaves the trophy to be fought over between the Europeans and South Americans, this writer can definitely point to Germany 2006 as the defining point when he lost his soccer virginity. In my almost four decades of existence here on earth, I have been completely indifferent to the spectacle of 22 grown men kicking a bit of leather (and sometimes each other) around for 90 minutes, whilst a crowd akin to that of ancient gladiatorial Rome worked itself into excitement and bayed for blood. In many cases it is the referee’s blood they want, for a dodgy decision. And back home ion Ghana, I never fully could fathom why many grown-up Kotoko football fans in Kumasi dispensed with their fufu meal whenever the club lost an important match. In a bygone age, I have slept soundly throughout a world cup final match.

How things change. During Germany 2006, I have been dashing home from work. With an array of the almost obligatory cans beers conveniently arranged within my reach, I have watched most of the matches live on TV and have watched the highlights later in the evening, ignoring my favourite news and current affairs programmes. And then I have read the post-match analysis the following day in the papers. After some struggle with an intense crash course from friends, I have come to understand the offside rule, although my grasp is still rather hazy. I can now recognize some big time players whose faces and fancy salaries hitherto meant absolutely nothing to me. I have experienced pure agony when a ball seemingly destined for the net miraculously and suddenly developed a trajectory of its own and missed narrowly. I have wailed in useless frustration as a player missed a shot and I wished I could walk into the screen and deliver the shot myself, kicking my legs on reflex and leaning towards the TV set in jerky movements. I have winced in sympathy at the sight of coaches who appear on the brink of tears or impotent rage whilst gesticulating wildly and shouting themselves hoarse. And I have clapped wildly in sheer admiration at the exceptionally classy goals. I have already started making my predictions regarding who is likely to win the cup. Overnight, dear reader, I have become an armchair football expert, like many of my countrymen.

So what is it that has set me afire like Big Scolari pacing up and down like a growling predator on heat at touchline when his Portuguese team is playing? Maybe it is the Ghana effect. You cannot be Ghanaian and fail to wish that Ghana would do well, even if you feel they are unlikely to advance further. In London, where I live, it has been satisfying to see Ghana flags fluttering proudly from people’s cars and windows. And some clever entrepreneurs, clearly anticipating a surge for a demand in Ghanaian paraphernalia, have produced an impressive array of items ranging from sweatbands, T-shirts, caps, and towels all bathed in the national flag. It is hard not to get caught up in the feeling of pride that your country is on the global stage. I have particularly enjoyed taunting my Nigerian friends who seem riled by the fact that their country did not make it whilst we did and made a name for ourselves in the process, whilst wishing Ghana well.

So what does the crystal ball hold? After the tournament is over and the TV cameras have left Germany, will my newfound passion hold or be swept away like a flimsy hut in a hurricane? Will I be dashing home after work to see an Arsenal or Chelsea or Barcelona match? Or will I be behaving like a zealous born again Christian who has suffered a relapse and now fraternizes again with the devil and his evil ways? Well, I do not know yet. Only time will tell.

But like the new convert who constantly needs to be kept on his toes for fear of ‘backsliding’, maybe I need to see more prominent Black Star displays in the soccer firmament in order to keep my eye on the ball. Come on, stars, shine ever so brightly!

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.