The sun beats down ruthlessly on the barren pitch with no trees or tall buildings to deter it. Red dust swirls around the feet of the players, almost obscuring the ball, as sweat runs endlessly down their necks. With no boundary lines, no jerseys, and goals standing naked without their nets, the children are playing a game all their own.
History of Football in Ghana
Football was introduced to Ghana by Britain during Europe’s colonization of Africa. Ghana’s first organized matches occurred in 1882 and Cape Coast Excelsior, which was founded in 1903, was the first official soccer club.
Today in Ghana, football is a huge part of the community through both local and regional identity, and national identity. It affects both youth culture and adult culture across the country. Whether it’s going to all the games, following them on television, discussing them with friends, or playing pick-up games on the street, football is a part of most Ghanaians’ lives today.
Like those playing football on the dirt pitch, many children in Ghana play the game. It is a way for the youth in Ghana to find a community among themselves. Relationships, social development, and physical fitness are all important components of growing up that football provides. Football also allows children to grow up with dreams and hope for the future as they aspire to play on club or professional teams.
Club football teams serve as an intermediate level between recreational football and professional football. Ghana’s Premier League for club football consists of sixteen teams from regions all over the country. The teams include Hearts of Oak Accra, Asante Kotoko Kumasi, and Ebusua Dwarfs Cape Coast. Players on club teams hope to be selected by the national team or scouted by top clubs overseas.
In 2014 the Ghana national team, The Black Stars, made it to the World Cup. In a devastating loss, The Black Stars suffered a two to one defeat at the hands of the United States of America’s national team. This match ultimately affected Ghana’s chances at proceeding past the group stage.
In addition to the World Cup loss, there have been some recent tensions about the Ghana national team. The Black Stars players requested a larger salary for each game and refused to play in a crucial upcoming match unless they were paid more for the game.
The players’ salaries are paid for by the taxpayers, and since the taxpayers wanted to support their team, they paid for the larger salaries. Unfortunately, The Black Stars lost the crucial game for which they were paid extra. The taxpaying fans were devastated by the loss and outraged that the team was paid more and still performed poorly.
Those feelings of outrage have not yet faded. The Black Stars’ fan base has decreased since the incident and many Ghanaians have a colder approach to the team. Joyce Okyerebea Ottu, young woman born and raised in Ghana, no longer follows the Ghana national team. In fact, she doesn’t really watch football at all because, as she says, “sometimes if you give your heart to them, at the end they will not make you happy.”
Globalization of Football
Another reason for apathetic feelings toward the Ghana national team is the globalization of football. While Britain brought football to Ghana, today it takes the players away from their home team. Many of the best Ghanaian football players leave for European clubs who can lure them in with their prestige, higher salaries and promise of sponsors.
Since Ghanaian footballers play all over the world, Ghanaian football fans follow other teams aside from the local clubs such as Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Juventus. This globalization of football has broadened Ghana’s influence and reach on the international stage. While it is preferable for Ghanaian football players to stay with the local clubs, it speaks to their abilities that they are in high demand with such prestigious teams. Ghanaian footballers, whether playing home or abroad, provide a rallying point for culture, community, and national identity with all Ghanaians.
A lover of football and resident of Accra Ghana, Albert Ohene-Asante has seen the influence of football both home and abroad. He attended university in the United Kingdom, the country that brought the game to Ghana. He says “football always unifies us regardless of our differences” and that during the big games, the Ghana flag is flown everywhere.
In Ghana, the passion for football has survived over two hundred years, the colonization and decolonization, and several wars. All that time, football has served as a commonality for many Ghanaians through which they find national pride and a sense of community. The passion of those children playing football on the barren dirt pitch in the scorching sun indicates a strong future for football in Ghana.