Monday, 28 January 2013

Football


At a Hearts of Oak match
The African Cup of Nations is here again and Ghana’s Black Stars are one of the favourites. Their games are notable for two reasons: they offer a rare chance to see Accra (virtually) devoid of traffic, and they are one of the few times when Ghana’s many football fans watch an African game.

For the rest of the year, people follow the English Premier League, the Spanish La Liga, and increasingly Italy’s Serie A and the German Bundesliga. The talk in the bars and ‘football theatres’ – small set-ups that show the games via South African DSTV – is of Chelsea, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Man Utd.

Epo's
Debates rage as fans of the big European teams (and Liverpool) argue about which is the best team, who are the ‘true champions’, which club has the greatest history. It’s remarkably heartfelt, considering virtually none of them has seen the teams live, or likely ever will. The fervour surpasses the atmosphere at Ghanaian league matches; Hearts of Oak, Accra’s leading team, rarely sell even a quarter of the tickets for their games.

There is interest in other English teams as well: a few hardy souls will turn up for Wigan v Reading. For the first time in my life, an in-depth knowledge of lower-league right-backs is proving useful; certainly more than it did as an opening chat-up line at university. 
Epo's at night

One of the most popular places to watch games in Accra is the terrace bar at Epo Spot in Osu. Its reputation means you are as likely to be sat next to a Canadian volunteer as a Ghanaian, but it maintains its friendly chaotic ambiance. The shouting is loud, the beer is cold, and the aroma of grilled food drifts up from the surrounding snack bars.

I went there for Ghana’s last group game in the Cup of Nations, against Niger. Radio XYZ was commentating directly from the venue, adding an authentic atmosphere to their coverage. Ghana won 3-0, an easy victory to top their group. But many fans are still downbeat about the team’s overall chances following the experience of last year’s tournament.

Ghana lost to Zambia in the semi-finals in 2012, with Asamoah Gyan missing another penalty to follow his effort in the World Cup quarter-final. As the final whistle blew, the fans at Epo's were all in agreement: the team had failed to live up to expectations; the coach was clueless; the star players were more interested in money; they never win on penalties. 

They clearly watch too much overseas football – apart from the heat and the smell of grilled goat, it was just like watching England. Hopefully they can go two better this time around – not least because it will keep Accra traffic-free for a good few hours.
Epo's at dusk

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