We need a Black Stars reality check

On Friday evening, just after 6pm, I called a friend to discuss with him what I believed was an important issue. I had barely got the introductory pleasantries out of the way when he interrupted me apologetically and asked if he could call me back after the match.

“What match?” I shot back. He stifled a giggle and reminded me gently that the Black Stars would be playing Brazil in a friendly match in a few minutes. I shrugged, and then started looking for my TV remote control to scan the channels and see if I could locate the match.

I had seen some comments on social media platforms earlier but had not quite connected them because I tend to skim over football-related stories and armchair analysis by overenthusiastic fans who almost always seem to know best.

To my family and friends, this little tale would come as no surprise, due to my well-known aversion, or at best indifference, to what has invariably and somewhat inexplicably been described as ‘the beautiful game’.

Despite my late father once chairing the Prestea Mine Stars club and both former national coaches Kwasi Appiah and Emmanuel Kwasi Afranie staying with us in our home in Prestea at different periods when I was a child, their stardom and the magic of football never quite rubbed off me.

I find it particularly difficult, for instance, to see why grownups would shed tears because one part of a group of 22 adults kicking around a piece of leather has lost the game, according to whatever rules are in place.

But then, a football fanatic friend who does not care about politics once told me to situate a football loss to my favourite political party losing an election, and that the pain was similar. That hit home.

I suppose we all have things we are passionate about which stir our souls most deeply and evoke the most passionate of reactions. Live and let live, they say.

Football paradox

Almost paradoxically, however, while club football, whether local or international, hardly means anything to me, it is a different story when it comes to the national team.

I do perk up and pay attention when Ghana is playing during the relevant tournaments. I even persuade myself to watch all of the 90 minutes, even if I hardly recognise many of our players and cannot figure out an offside if it hit me in the face.

I suppose the sense of patriotism and belonging, complete with the national anthem and the flag waving on an international stage is what does it for me, and not necessarily a love for the game.

Brazil factor

It was obvious to me, even before the whistle went, that Ghana was not going to win the match against Brazil, and those who predicted otherwise and even went on to place a bet on such an outcome clearly did so more out of sterile hope than brimming confidence, just in case fate dealt a cruel hand and caused a major upset.

As our elders say, hope does not cook yam, and Brazil coolly placed the ball three times in the Ghanaian net within the first half.

My brother Tony wryly remarked on his Facebook that the Brazilian goalkeeper might as well whip out his mobile phone and starting browsing the Internet because there was absolutely no threat from Ghanaian side.

Mercifully the star-studded Brazilian side eased up in the second half, perhaps mindful of the fact that this was a friendly match, and that to keep banging the ball into our net would be a bit of an overkill.
At least we came out of the match with a respectable score line of 3-0, rather than say, a humiliating 10-0 score line.

Coach Addo

Naturally, upset fans descended on the national coach Otto Addo for his selection and strategy and blasted him to smithereens.

I am not qualified to comment on either, but my more knowledgeable and forgiving football fan friends tell me this was an experimental platform for the coach to guide him for the real tournament.

It makes sense to me. I shudder to think what Brazilian fans would have done to their manager if his team had lost against Ghana, because that would have been the real story.

Reality check

Of course, Ghana has quite some respectable international football pedigree, but the reality is that our team is not world class and comes nowhere near the list of favourites to win the World Cup.

At best, we can expect to make a decent showing and then come back home along with others, leaving the real gurus to tough it out for the ultimate glory. We can save the hopeful fever for the AFCON instead.

I can understand the angst and the pain whenever our boys let us down on the international stage. I can understand why some people vow never to follow or support the Black Stars because of the heartache the team induces, even though most eventually recant and run back when the team steps up again.

I think the relationship between the fans and the team is a love-hate one, with the fans always quarrelling with the team but never quite walking away into the sunset because the truth is that the love runs deep.

Let us take our football forays as a realistic excursion into nationalistic fervour and no more, and we will be just fine, avoiding a collective rise in blood pressure.

Ghana vs Nicaragua

I understand Ghana faces Nicaragua in another friendly today in Spain. I am not quite sure what to make of this match or of the Nicaraguan team, but I believe their team is one we can easily pick on and beat.

Regardless, I will only hope for the best and ground it in reality, my miniature flag in hand and bursting with nationalistic pride.

My meal of fufu will take a comfortable lead ahead of the match along with a bottle of mortuary grade beer, just in case…

Fufu is too important to allow a football match to get in the way.

Go, Stars! Bring back the love!!

Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng, Head, Communications & Public Affairs Unit, Ministry of Energy, Accra.E-mail: rodboat@yahoo.com

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