Saturday, October 23, 2010

The second half

When we last left our intrepid traveler, she had just scored three free tickets to the Ghana-Sudan game, part of the Preliminary Tournament for the 28th Africa Cup of Nations in 2012. We now return you to the story already in progress.
As I headed over to the main gate to get the tickets from Coach Ebo (see my last post), I passed by the Ghana National Team fan club. They showed up in a neon green bus with matching shirts, all sponsored by Glo, one of the upstart mobile phone providers here. Outside the walls of the stadium, there were people hawking all sorts of Ghana gear, from visors and hats to vuvuzelas, those obnoxious noise-makers from World Cup game. (To my friends with kids: I seriously considered buying them for your children, but I decided that I liked being friends with you.) I thought I would have time to buy souvenirs later, so I only picked up a 5-cedi (~$2.50) photo book of the team throughout the years.

It was past 3 when Liz and Akmed, who were attending the game with me, got to the house. Even though game time was 5 pm, we high-tailed it over to the South White section to our seats. I was a bit concerned about getting there early because Ebo said people show up between 3 and 4 and the entire stadium is General Admission, with the sections being the only thing that changes the ticket price. We were in some of the most expensive seats in the house—8 Cedis (~$5), less than what it costs to buy a beer at any American sporting event. Once we got inside, I finally understood why the lines to buy tickets for the Yellow section had been so long, as it was the only section where you could buy seats that would let you sit at the centerline of the field without being a VIP.

As an American sports fan, I immediately gravitated towards the lower seats in our section, but Akmed set me straight and led us to the highest seats that were still open. I immediately saw the error of my ways, as sitting higher up made it possible 1) to see over the fence that separated us from the VIP section and 2) to see the whole field of play. Akmed was obviously right, as all the sections continued to fill in from the top-down. This bit of local knowledge was lost on the group of four obrunis who walked in and seemed to be thrilled that they got seats in the second or third row.

The Glo-sponsored fan club was set up on the centerline in the Yellow section. Looking around the stadium, I saw other blocks of people in matching shirts that were likely to be fan clubs. One of my favorite groups was in the Green section below the scoreboard and put the most enthusiastic US sports fans to shame. They spent the entire game dancing and singing and had all manner of costumes/outfits, including the requirement of having a fan fully covered in body paint— of course in the Ghana flag colors of red, yellow and green.

Prior to the game, the leaders of Ghana and Sudan came out on the field. As with World Cup, there were adorable soccer children standing in front of the players for the national anthems of the respective countries. (How anyone can stand singing the national anthem with video cameras in their faces is beyond me.) Much like any sporting event the world over, there were people selling things in the stands, but in this case they were independent operators who had hawkers’ licenses that allowed them to be there. Mentos gum was a popular item, as were handkerchiefs (carried by all men to wipe the sweat from their brows) and various local foods, like plantains. Akmed was looking out for us and made the water lady bring back cold bottles of water for us.

From our vantage point in the stands, the game was surprisingly exciting, as we could see plays developing and join in the general excitement of the fans around us. Sports are a universal language—even though most of the fans around us were speaking Twi, it was obvious when they thought that there was a blown call or an exciting play.

For anyone who watched World Cup this summer, you may remember how often it seemed that the players took a dive and lay on the ground writhing until the trainers came out with their magic spray. Sadly this game was not an exception. Late in the game, the Sudan goalie fell on the ball and then didn’t get up. Asmoah Gyan, the star of the Black Stars, obviously felt that the goalie was faking and showed him how he felt by pushing him a couple times. Four of the Sudan players jumped Asmoah and out of this melee, Asmoah ended up with a red card. The game was still 0-0 at this point, which meant that Ghana had to try to survive another 20 minutes or so playing a man down, and their best one at that. Somehow they pulled out the draw.

With only a couple minutes left in the game, Akmed looked up at the sky and decided that it would start raining soon. Rain here is not a gentle pattering or a light sprinkle, but a deluge of Biblical proportions—I’m convinced that’s why there are pairs of goats and other livestock wandering freely in town—maybe they're looking for the guy collecting pairs of animals for the boat. Given the camera gear we had with us, we took Akmed’s advice and left our seats to head home. There was s slight hiccup when we got to the locked gates outside the stadium—which made me wonder what would happen in a true emergency—but then we were out the door and into the house just before the downpour started.

Turns out it was a very good thing that I went to this game. According to what I can find online, the Black Stars won’t play another African Cup game until March 2011 in Brazzaville in Congo. But other posts on the web indicate that there may be some friendlies against other countries before then, so I’ll keep my fingers crossed that I get another shot at seeing the Ghana Black Stars.

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