Continental football is back again, albeit this time in a different season (June-July instead of January-February) and a different format (16 to 24 teams).
If the razzmatazz of the draw – held at the picturesque Sphinx and the Pyramids in Giza – was the hors d’oeuvre, the actual competition which is in full swing is showing glimpses of delivering on its promise as the main course. From the ancient aura of Alexandria through the principal streets of Bangui to the shipping yards of Port Elizabeth, the allure for football on Pharaoh’s grass is certainly at an all-time high.
In Ghana, issues pertaining to religion, politics and football garner a lot of interest. If the assertions made by sportswriter Fiifi Anaman’s AIPS award-winning article in 2015* (“Where is the love: How the Black Stars stabbed the nation in cold blood”) still holds, then interest in activities of the Black Stars by its citizenry has waned tremendously since the disgraceful events at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Training boycotts, dollar-laden private jet interventions, John Boye’s cash-kissing and Sulley Muntari’s Azumah Nelson impression off the pitch (instead of an Abedi Pele one on it!), and even Asamoah Gyan’s recent captaincy theatrics constitute just a soupçon of major events which have irked the average tax payer and Black Stars Fan.
Currently, there is a feeling that the National Science and Maths Quiz has stolen the hearts, minds and eyes of most Ghanaians. But, irrespective of your perspective, tonight marks the beginning of another journey for the Blacks Stars to end the country’s fabled trophy drought, now in its 37th year.
The undeniable truth is that we’re, by default, lovers of the national team, hence we automatically loathe the phenomenon of perceived corruption and bonus obsession that has become symbolic with this national treasure.
Perhaps, the often cited phrase “All is fair in Love and War” sums up our relationship with the national team, and as such no act is too terrible or too great when it comes to supporting or cutting them off. Genuine love between two people often involves hurt and friction, and ours with the Black Stars isn’t any different.
For now, the Black Stars might be reminded of these lyrics of American rapper 50 Cents’ 2005 song “A Baltimore Love Thing“: “We got a love thing, girl you tried to leave me, but you need me, can you see you’re addicted to me?” – a perfect analogy for the sempiternal bond between the team and its fans, either expressed via helpless enthusiasm or deliberate apathy.
Whether it will be via the soulful melody of our national anthem or the adrenaline-inducing sound of the referee’s whistle prior to kick off, one thing is certain; we will all find it hard to suppress our affection, to deny our patriotism.
We will be watching our dear Stars, because love is what it is.