Let me begin by congratulating Ghana’s senior national football team, the Black Stars, for qualifying for a seventh straight African Nations Cup tournament. Goals from Andre Ayew and Christian Atsu secured a 2-0 win over Mauritius over the weekend. However, that is not the thrust of my article. I was intrigued when deputy team captain Ayew, just before the team left for Port Louis, expressed his pain at the seeming apathy shown by Ghanaian fans towards the Black Stars.
“This past one and a half year it’s been difficult between the Black Stars and fans and we have to be honest. For me as a leader and with other leaders and my colleagues, it’s very painful.
“When we played against Mozambique the stadium wasn’t full but when Hearts of Oak played Kotoko I was in France but I saw the stadium was full and it’s painful.
“I have to be honest Ghanaians want us to win and we have been winning but we still don’t feel the support.
“There are different issues that are true or false but I am just pleading that we all put things behind us and move on and that they should support us in prayers.”
So it would appear that there is less interest in Black Stars games than before. It is however not difficult to trace where all this is coming from.
Player unrest over unpaid bonuses at the 2014 FIFA World Cup led to the government flying over $4 million in cash to Brazil and Ghana became a laughing stock. Unfortunately, the message that episode conveyed to Ghanaian fans was that the players cared more about the money than representing the nation. (The players would vehemently disagree though).
That impression was deepened before a 2015 Nations Cup qualifier against Uganda in Kumasi. At a press conference, Andre Ayew made some comments, which did not go down well with Ghanaians.
“Bonuses for any Ghanaian player is deserved. We love our country but we are also working.
It is our job. Do you know what we have done for people in Ghana?
We don’t need to make these things public, we do it from our hearts.
We do charity all the time and sometimes not even monies we get from the Black Stars.
Money is not football and football is not money. Charity or giving out are things we do and we don’t need to come out and tell everyone what we do.
The monies in any case are spent in Ghana. The earnings from our clubs are used in Ghana.
Whether we buy land or use it on our family, it stays in Ghana.”
Team captain Asamoah Gyan also made some comments backing Andre Ayew.
“We don’t take the money just for pleasure.
We use it on our families and in Africa our friends are part of our families.
Unlike Europe where a family is just a man, his wife and kids but in Africa it is different.
I have a company in Ghana and pay 200 workers. I pay tax.
We bring cars into this country and the duties we pay are sometimes even bigger than the $100,000 (appearance fees per player at the 2014 World Cup)”
These comments angered Ghanaians and the atmosphere was poisoned ahead of the game against the Cranes. Indeed, there was an instruction for gates to be opened free for spectators, but that was amended to reduction in ticket prices, all because it was feared that fans would not come. The match ended 1-1 and the Black Stars were booed off the field in Kumasi.
This is where the Ghana Football Association has to carry some of the blame. Instead of launching a huge media blitz to apologise to the fans, there chose to relocate the rest of Ghana’s home games to Tamale and some very unsavoury comments were passed about fans in Kumasi by some members of the GFA hierarchy.
By the time the 2015 African Nations Cup began in Equatorial Guinea, people in Ghana were disinterested. I remember having to launch a special plea on behalf of the team on Match Day on Ghana Television, especially after the opening 1-2 loss to Senegal.
Gradually people came around to supporting the team until Ghana lost the final on penalties to the Ivory Coast. What took place after that further angered Ghanaians.
Popular Academy winning actor Sean Connery uttered a line in one of his films that has always stayed with me.
“In this sort of race, there are no prizes for finishing second.”
The Black Stars had already received their full entitlements for the competition, and then government suddenly writes off import duties on 30 Jeep Cherokee cars for the team.
Again, fans were given the impression that the connection once enjoyed with the team was irretrievably destroyed.
In short, the Black Stars have been over-monetized and after years of doing the wrong things, apathy towards the games is the result.
Unless the GFA orchestrates a media blitz that would attempt to mend broken bridges, I’m afraid, Andre Ayew will continue to lose sleep over the fact that not many people are interested in the Black Stars matches anymore. In short, the players and the GFA cannot eat their cake and have it.
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