|In the mixer|
It’s West Africa’s Clásico, the regional clash of the titans. Accra Hearts of Oak, Ghana’s most successful team, against their fierce northern rivals, Kumasi Asante Kotoko. The country’s two most popular clubs meet in Ghana’s version of Chelsea versus
Liverpool Man United. And … it’s a little bit rubbish.
Many of Ghana’s brightest stars are whisked off to European clubs at a young age, and those left behind seem to be running through the commentator’s cliché book: the players couldn’t trap a bag of cement, and chances go begging that the most lethargic grandmother would have buried. But both sides give 110% on the pitch and plenty of full-blooded tackles fly in.
Matches at the Accra Sports Stadium are about more than the football though. The ground is nearly full, 38,000 fans wearing the bright red of Kotoko or the garish yellow-blue-red of Hearts (one of football’s more lurid kits – imagine Crystal Palace mixed with Partick Thistle, with a bit of LSD thrown in). It’s also the only place in Ghana where you see anyone wearing a scarf.
|A Hearts fan|
Vuvuzelas buzz across the stadium, far louder than they seem on TV and every bit as annoying. People sing and dance together, and after every key moment men stand up and start a fierce argument with someone nearby – anyone will do, even if they agree with you. It’s a furious burst of shouting and finger pointing, then smiles all round and back to the game.
|And..... he missed|
A rare moment of skill lights up the first half. Wilfred Kobina, the Hearts midfielder, runs towards the box. As fans in the upper tier take cover, he surprises everyone by drilling the ball into the bottom corner. The Hearts players run off to celebrate and the stadium erupts on all sides. Cue even more shouting and finger-jabbing.
At half time, the crowd join in with Hearts’ endearing chant: ‘Arise arise arise, be quiet and don't be silly, we are the famous Hearts of Oak, we Never Say Die’. Fans pour outside to buy grilled kebabs and popcorn and mingle with the opposition. It’s all remarkably civilised for the nation’s biggest rivalry; perhaps the memory of Ghana’s worst stadium disaster, in which 127 people died, is still too fresh in people’s memories for any aggression.
|The Kotoko teddy|
The second half starts at a noticeably slower pace, Ghana’s intolerable afternoon heat taking its toll. The fans find new ways to entertain themselves. A poor offside decision leads to a volley of water bottles thrown towards the offending linesman; one hits him squarely on the backside, which satisfies everyone. An ever-growing throng dances around the stand, carrying above them a giant teddy bear bedecked in Kotoko colours. They seem to have more energy than the players by this late stage.
Kotoko equalise through a scrappy header following a goalmouth scramble, and apart from a few late chances for Hearts, the game peters out to a 1-1 draw. The spoils are shared and both sets of fans head home happy with the result. But that doesn’t stop them arguing furiously outside the stadium, about offside decisions, missed chances, and which side has the best teddy bear.