Monday, May 19, 2008

The culture of Football...

A couple of weeks ago, as all football fans will be more than aware, Liverpool played Chelsea in the second leg of the semi finals of the Champions League. I am now living with an avid Liverpool supporter (oddly most of the expats on site are also Liverpool supporters)... a rather gutted Liverpool supporter in the end... but it meant I was very aware of the hype and excitement surrounding the match, not only in the UK but also ‘in Ghana here’. This was even more noticeable as the match finished, as we drove a friend home in the dying moments of extra time.

Everywhere along the route there were people gathered around tiny TV screens in the doorways of the little kiosk shops at the side of the road. It was something that I had also noticed during the African Cup of Nations at the start of the year, when Ghana were playing. About 20 or so men and boys, and women too, will all be straining to see the game, sat on the floor, on boxes, but all around a TV screen which I would have been ashamed of as a student back home! The picture is grainy, the sound poor, but still there are very few people on the streets!

This match probably had particular significance as of course Ghana’s favourite child, Mr. Michael Essien, plays for Chelsea, which makes Chelsea the chosen team of many Ghanaians! But the Premiership is such a well known brand; everyone here knows all the players, and everyone has ‘their’ team, many of them Liverpool. Tony, the Liverpool supporting housemate, was talking to some little boys from the North a week or two ago, and all of them had their favourite players; Fowler, Shevchenko, Torres; in fact most of them chose White players!

Of course, once the match had finished, celebrations were rife for the Chelsea fans - but good natured and happy and excited!

Again, this is something which struck me during CAN 08 earlier this year. Whereas in the UK I have no desire to follow football, here I really enjoyed it, and I think it’s to do with the attitude to football of the nation. The chat before the match is much less formation and tactics and substitutions and more just guessing the scoreline and who will score and when! Ghana-Nigeria is a match with as much rivalry and history as say England-Scotland or maybe even England-Germany, but Ghanaians seem to relish the chance to play their biggest rivals and there are parties between the fans and friendly banter. They are absolutely confident that ‘we will score them’, even at one - one with 10 men and 30minutes minutes left to play. The underlying feeling is a passionate excitement, a real love for the game and for the 11 guys that will play the 90min, and a desire to get behind the team of staff who keep these 11 guys going.

I think this is a contrast to the sometimes antagonistic attitude to the national sport in the UK. I sometimes feel that the media and the public are out to get the ‘New England Manager’ before he’s even started, that the slightest mistake from a player and he is vilified for weeks, that rather than congratulate we are quick to find fault.

The local radio station made me giggle on several occasions during CAN with their topics of discussion. There was one as to what it was appropriate for ladies to wear to football matches, specifically that when they stood up to cheer they should make sure that their jeans weren’t so low cut as to show their knickers. They discussed on several occasions, including a free-for-all phone in, whether it was appropriate for the players to be banned from having sex before the matches, whether they should have half a day off, whether they should be allowed to be alone with family members while the tournament was still on. They asked more than once if God was Ghanaian, and again invited a phone in to discuss the topic! They discussed whether Ghana’s loss in the semi finals was God’s fault. My cook, incidentally, genuinely believed that God would act on behalf of Ghana... and my friend and I were a bit surprised on the morning of the Ghana-Nigeria quarter final when the pastor in church was praying passionately and fervently for the sins of the nation, only to link it in with a passionate and fervent prayer that God would forgive these sins and thus help Ghana ‘score’ Nigeria in the afternoons match!

The morning after Ghana went out of the tournament to Cameroon, rather than incriminate and find blame, the local radio dj’s were broadcasting messages of pride, and keeping your head up, and praising the Stars!

My driver, by the by, professes to be both a Chelsea and Manchester United supporter... so I don’t know what he is going to do on Wednesday...!

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