With testing assignments ahead, the Black Stars need hugs and kisses from the city that’s always done it best, but not before a two-year grudge is thawed
By: Sammie Frimpong
It feels like just yesterday, but it’s already been two years since Ghana’s senior national team got entangled in their own nefarious web at the 2014 Fifa World Cup, had themselves eliminated earlier than predicted, and subsequently lost the comforts of their favourite arena — the Baba Yara Sports Stadium — shortly thereafter.
While all Ghanaians were rightfully outraged by the manner in which the Black Stars held the nation to ransom over obscene financial demands in that summer of 2014, fans in Kumasi felt they had the greatest cause to treat the team with deserved contempt on its return — and justifiably so.
The Garden City had bred the Stars and lovingly nurtured the dream which ultimately led to maiden participation at the Fifa World Cup in 2006 and two more appearances afterwards. Kumasi shared the lads’ highs and lows, cheered them to many memorable victories, and cradled the team in its bosom during the few sorrowful moments that came along the way. So, then, why wouldn’t Kumasi feel especially peeved over said embarrassment?
On the occasion of the Stars’ first post-Brazil 2014 home game later that year — against Uganda in an Afcon 2015 Group E qualifier — spectators in Kumasi expressed their ire in the only practical way imaginable: boycotting and booing training sessions, compounded by even more resounding boycotting and booing during the match itself. A visibly deflated Ghana could only play out a tame 1-1 draw, with the visitors’ strike receiving wild applause from those in attendance.
The message was clear: the Stars were no longer welcome at what had once been a beloved fortress. The months which followed saw the team converted into a wandering circus, making stops to entertain in Tamale and later Accra, and never playing in Kumasi again till some 14 months after they last did. That affair, when Ghana hosted Comoros in its opening qualifying game for the 2018 Fifa World Cup, was met with a reception that could best be described as lukewarm — perhaps the reason for which the side’s next home contest was honoured in the capital — and it didn’t help that the outcome was a laboured 2-0 victory over an opponent so vulnerable.
Next, though, looms the ensuing prospect of six potentially gruelling qualifiers which should be rewarded with a ticket to the next Mundial. Winning the three home fixtures involved would be key, but establishing stability while doing so — namely, by having an atmosphere where the Stars could build an aura of impregnability and ease — would prove just as vital. And, really, no venue ticks as many boxes in that regard as Kumasi does, a fact Ghana midfielder Emmanuel Agyemang Badu agrees with.
“Kumasi is my favourite ground,” Badu told Kumasi-based Nhyira FM after last Friday’s World Cup draw which, incidentally, placed Ghana alongside Uganda [as well as Egypt and Congo] again in a Group E pool, and the Cranes are due a trip to Ghana in October to commence the marathon.
The 25-year-old added: “I feel at home whenever we play there and although Ghana FA determines where we should be, we will have to talk to them about the venue which will help us in the qualifiers.”
Needless to say, Badu’s call is one the Ghana Football Association — and Kumasi — must heed. Vestiges of hostility might always linger, but the national interest should matter more. The Stars, in any case, are a fresher, less selfish group (or so they’d have us believe) than before, having long been pruned of some of its most divisive elements.
Even more crucially, Avram Grant’s men require that extra leverage to help get them to Russia and atone for under-performing and misbehaving at the last global showpiece and, for as long as most of us could recall, only Kumasi — with the city’s unrivalled passion for the sport and the team — could provide that.