FULL CIRCLE: GHANA FOOTBALL ‘COMPLETES’ RECOVERY FROM MAY 9

Last Monday’s incident-free ‘Super Clash’ passed a test of nerves that the same contest fatally failed 15 years ago at the same venue

By: Sammie Frimpong

The widows/widowers and orphans Africa’s worst sporting tragedy created are no closer to having their deceased back than they were 15 years ago, the emotional wounds haven’t properly healed yet and, for a while, it appeared domestic Ghanaian football wouldn’t ever recover fully from that blow.

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The May 9 stadium disaster remains a dark blotch on our memories

Last Monday, however, offered a glimmer of hope for the latter as we witnessed the earliest — and perhaps brightest — signs yet that the gloom of May 9, 2001 has been satisfactorily lifted, its cruelly-delivered lessons learned.

The most recent instalment of Ghana’s biggest club fixture, between Asante Kotoko and Hearts of Oak, was a landmark occasion in the long and painful recuperation process that’s followed the disaster. On the surface, it didn’t seem like much: this wasn’t the first time post-May 9 that the two teams had sold a full-house (though the characteristic fervor had been at an all-time low in recent episodes), the football wasn’t exactly exhilarating, and the contest was eventually settled by, not a flash of genius or two, but one man’s momentary lapse.

Put simply, there have been many Kotoko-Hearts games which proved better spectacles than this one. Still, for its own reasons, the latest derby stood out. The stakes, though not at the highest they’ve ever been, were still considerably high enough to inflame passions at the least provocation. Hearts, resurgent and high-flying after a period of underachievement, sought to halt a five-season winless run at home to Kotoko; at the other end, the Porcupine Warriors, who’ve not been their usual imposing selves this term, were desperate to cling to that record.

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Ghana football fans are beginning to exorcise the ghost of 2001 by turning up for games in their numbers

And, speaking of provocation, there were quite a number of reasons for which spectators could have had aggressive emotions roused. Two red cards (contentious, if you somehow didn’t think them glaring), a ridiculous own goal that — to some Phobians — may have smacked of prior backstage mischief by the opponent, and some rough play (including a particularly naughty one on Kotoko goalkeeper Ernest Sowah which held the game up for minutes). . . any of those sparks could have set this match ablaze — far worse had been triggered by far less in the past, as survivors of May 9 and the wrecked lives that fateful incident left in its wake would have you know.

This time, though, was different.

Kotoko fans didn’t feel Edwin Tuffour Frimpong deserved his prompt sending-off any less than Hearts goalie Abdoulaye Soulama did his, a consensus many in the other camp would likely concur with.

Oh, and about Soulama’s own goal, one which an older generation of Hearts supporters would perhaps have reacted to by throwing plastic bottles and ripped chunks of the stadium’s seats, many opted to subject it to mere debate (a bribe, ‘juju’ or, between those two, anything just as sinister) and nothing more.

In the end, the only loss anyone mourned was Hearts’ 1-0 defeat, and even the pain that brought, though certain to be deepened by persecuting taunts from Kotoko’s followers, would last no more than a few days — unlike May 9, 2001, of which many would be reminded inevitably come next Monday when its 15th anniversary would be marked.

At least, though, we’ve taken one little step forward; one that could change our version of the beautiful game for the better.

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