In the literal sense, FIFA’s Germany 2006 is a level playing field. No country is too rich to lose or too poor to win. Being a team from an industrialized nation counts for nothing-you have to fight to win your match, for what matters is your ability to put the ball in the opponent’s net, pure and simple. The USA went home, and so did Japan, whilst France teetered on the brink of an embarrassing exit before finally making it. Ghana and Ecuador, on the other hand, are through to the last 16.
In the world cup, your high GDP or GNP means nothing, neither does your arsenal of menacing artillery. And in a sense, this is perhaps exhilarating, for inventing your own rules and bullying another team into submission is out of the question. All must obey the rules of the game and are terrified of the shrill whistle of the referee awarding a penalty or free kick against their team. His decisions are final and protests on the field are pointless. He reigns supreme for 90 minutes, and his decisions, generally fair, can induce heart attacks in coaches, make grown up men cry, curse, wail or punch the air in unbridled joy. If only global politics followed this format, the world would certainly be a better place.
That the Ghana national team, the Black Stars, has done well is a gross understatement. It is hard not to be proud of them and to try to follow each of their matches, even if, like this writer, your level of interest in football prior to Ghana’s first match against Italy was such that you did not even know who the team captain was prior to the arrival of the stars in Germany. Ghana’s achievements have brought a sense of coming together one could not have imagined. Suddenly, albeit probably temporarily, as a nation, our differing political allegiances and other dividing factors do not matter as strangers share their football wisdom with each other, the only common denominator between them being their pride of belonging to Ghana, the only African team to progress to the next round in Germany against very stiff competition. It was pure joy to witness, on this writer’s way home from work on Thursday afternoon, the normal quiet ‘Malata market’ in London’s Camberwell packed with a throng waving giant Ghana flags and downing bottles of Guinness and Star beer whilst singing popular ‘gyama’ songs at the top of their voices, to the bemusement of passers by. One can only imagine the sheer ecstasy erupting in Ghana when the referee blew the final whistle in the Ghana-USA match. This writer is of the strong conviction that drinking bar proprietors in the country had an extra reason to be joyful as they watched their stocks being drank dry by ecstatic customers.
We all hope, despite the morbid fear that has gripped some, that Ghana whips the Brazilians come Tuesday and makes it to the quarter-finals. Miracles do happen, and I am sure that Ghanaian Christians, Moslems and Tigari devotees all over the world will all be feverishly invoking the powers that be to camp on the stars’ side that day.
It must also be universally acknowledged that even if the stars were to be kicked out, there would be no shame in this, having reached the last 16 and having been knocked out by no less a team than Brazil. We will still party anyway. I am sure the Italians will be grateful for having to deal with the Australians rather than the Brazilians. The nation will forever be grateful for these heroic young men whose feats so far have ensured that Ghana’s name is recognized by many for positive reasons rather than what the continent is always in the news for- AIDS, grinding poverty, corruption, wars, droughts and famine. Ghana has got free and excellent global publicity that money cannot buy.
So how do we as a nation express our gratitude to these gallant men? It is sad that Ghana does not have a very good record of taking care of its sons and daughters who have done the nation proud with whatever endeavors they have excelled in. The list is simply too long to go through here, but how have we honoured gallant men like DK Poison and Abedi Pele? Sadly, most of the time, we wait for the person to die before rushing to sing their praises. This is simply not good enough. This writer hopes that come what may on Tuesday, we as a nation will make these boys proud of having served their country, and hopefully, motivate others to do the best for the country.
It would be a grave mistake for the powers that be just to give the boys cash bonuses for a job well done, however large the amounts might be. For a start, most of them play in foreign teams and are financially stable. How much, for example, do you pay Michael Essien to make it meaningful to him , given what he earns at Chelsea in a week?
I think that apart from the victory parade being planned by the authorities upon the stars’ return home, other ideas need to be looked at to show the country’s appreciation that future generations shall be able to witness. For instance, a Black Stars Monument to be sited in a prominent place in Accra with the all the players’ names etched on it would be a fantastic idea. So would naming some public buildings, streets, parks after some of the outstanding players or the whole team. We could also look at a viable sports scholarship scheme in their name, as well as awarding each of the players and the coach the state’s highest honour for civilians, the Order of the Star of Ghana. They deserve it. These will be meaningful to the players than mere cash, which will be spent and forgotten pronto.
To begin with, I quite like the sound of the name ‘Black Stars International Airport, Accra’. And whilst we are at it, I say let’s engrave the names of each of the players and their coach in solid gold on a granite plaque in the arrival hall for their historic achievement. It will make them beam with pride.
Black Stars, Ayekoo!! The nation is truly proud of you.