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Opinions of Thursday, 14 February 2008

Columnist: Ato Kwamena Dadzie/Daily Dispatch

THE OUTSIDER: Black Stars didn't disappoint

So after all the talk about “host and win”, the best the Black Stars could manage was a bronze medal? The losers’ trophy? They did their best so I want to congratulate the Black Stars for being the glorified losers of Ghana 2008. Truth be told, they did much better than I expected them to. I knew from the start that they will not win the tournament. But I never expected them to win against La Cote d’Ivoire, which I tipped to win. As I eat my humble pie for backing The Elephants, I also bask in the joy of vindication.

Don’t get me wrong. As a Ghanaian I would have been pleasantly surprised if the Black Stars had proved me wrong. And I would have joined in the celebrations if they had lifted the cup. But they did not. Therefore, I am happy that I’ve been vindicated. They didn’t disappoint me at all. I stopped supporting the Black Stars in 1994 when in Tunisia the team was divided into two camps – that of Abedi Pele and that of Anthony Yeboah. I was younger then and I was crazy about football so when the divisions led to the early elimination of the squad from the tournament, I was distraught. My heart was broken.

It was then that I decided that it is better for me to sit on the fence when the Black Stars were playing than to immerse myself in the game, hopeful that they’d win. In other words, I felt that supporting the squad was too much of an emotional investment with very little or no dividends at all and that the best security for my heart was not to support them. I never backed their opponents though.

After watching each of the first round match in Ghana 2008, however, I decided that the Ivoirians were the strongest squad in the tournament. I went public and predicted that they would win. Alas, they did not. But I am not as disappointed as the millions of Ghanaians who gave the Black Stars their all; their hopes so lifted so high only to be let down when it mattered most. After each Black Stars’ victory in the just-ended tournament, people went around drumming and dancing – sometimes very recklessly, even to the point of some people losing their lives. I often asked my friends: “they’ve only won the battle, why not wait until they’ve won the war?” “Let’s savour this moment,” one of them said to me as he filled his mouth with ice cold Guinness, “You never know what will happen tomorrow”.

It didn’t take long for his fears to catch up with him. Well, who doesn’t know what happened? The Stars lost by a lone goal to Cameroon in the semi finals, bringing the “host and win” dream to a very expected end. I wasn’t disappointed at all. But millions of Ghanaians were left heart-broken and in tears. The only consolation for many football fans is the fact that the Black Stars went ahead to win the losers trophy (the bronze medal), with a 4-2 win against La Cote d’Ivoire, which on the day rested six of its top players.

Another interesting fact that should lift the spirits of Ghanaian football fans is that this is the best African Nations Cup performance by our national team in over 16 years. So in spite Asamoah Gyan’s penchant for kicking the ball away from the goal post (instead of putting it in the net) and the fact that Ghana did not win the cup, the bronze medal is the highest honour Ghana has received in international football (at the senior level) since 1992 – when we were beaten by the Ivoirians in the finals in Senegal. You can say “cheers” to that.

However, I don’t think it is right for anyone to start referring to the Black Stars as national heroes, as I’ve heard so many people calling them already. What is so heroic about placing third – especially when you have all the advantages of playing at home? We wanted to win. I believe President Kufuor took such a keen interest in the team because he wanted them to win so he could ‘brag’ that under his presidency the Black Stars won a trophy for the first time in almost three decades. He must be very disappointed that they only managed a third place finish. Some people have also referred to the squad as “gallant losers”. What is so gallant about losing?

You can say the boys are good. But I’d say they are not good enough. They did their best. And I’d say they should (and could) have done much better. It’s as simple as that. The sooner we stop heaping the sycophantic praises on them, the better our chances of building a stronger, fearsome side which actually wins trophies. The last time we won any major trophy at the senior level was in 1982. That’s 26 years ago. And we still think we are great? Maybe. But we are not that great. Accept the fact!

I know many of you reading this are going to ask for my football credentials. So let me lay it down before I proceed any further. First, I don’t play football. In fact, I’m not good in any sport. Seriously, I don’t know if I’m good at anything. As a child, my sports teachers would rather field a 10-man team in the school league than make me the 11th player in the squad. Second, I have no technical knowledge of the game. When I hear people say stuff like “the midfield is weak”, I don’t know what the heck they mean. So what do I know about football? Well, like most of the subjects I write about – absolutely nothing!

But I know when to support a team and when not to. I’m an ardent supporter of Sekondi Hassacas. They do not win trophies but they do not pretend to be world beaters either. When Hassacas wins, I feel pleasantly surprised. When they draw, that’s ok. When they lose... well, that’s business as usual. I want to approach the Black Stars in the same way as Hassacas. But I can’t. You know why? Because they are pretenders. When they win they are just raising my hopes high only to let me down when it matters the most. In other words, they lose when they should win and the win when there isn’t much at stake. For a man with a very fragile heart, I find supporting the Black Stars a major cardiac health risk. It’s worse than chain-smoking, eating junk food and binge drinking combined. So until the Black Stars start springing delightful surprises on me, I’ve withdrawn my support for them.

I know that many people support the team because they feel it’s their patriotic duty to do so. I don’t see it that way. The football supporters’ arena is not the place for me to show how patriotic I am. If the players are more patriotic than I am, they should play for free. After all, Michael Essien (great player!) earns more than 15 thousand pounds a week. What does he need 20,000 dollars extra for? Win or lose, these guys take home tens of thousands of dollars. Why should I follow them only to be sent home later to nurse a broken heart when they go to their families to enjoy their bonuses?

They must earn my support. They will definitely not do so by winning bronze medals. That’s not good enough. But who am I, by the way? Nobody. But I insist that near enough is never enough and I won’t support a bunch of glorified losers.