Travel Writing
Featured Article
Ghana: “The Pride of Africa” in the 2006 FIFA World
Cup
By Laura Horwitz

A group of young boys, aged eight to twelve, practice soccer
in a dirt clearing surrounded by small houses and derelict
shops. A few old men watch from the sidelines, perched on
discarded barrels or fallen trees. Things taken for granted in
the western world – such as gridlines on the pitch – don’t
exist in most of Ghana. Yet these children play with all their
hearts, inspired by their country’s new heroes – the
Ghanaian Black Stars – who not only qualified for the very
first time to compete in the FIFA World Cup, but who also
became the only African team to advance to the second
round

These children view soccer as the world’s great equalizer. In
their eyes, under the gleaming lights of a brand new
stadium, it doesn’t matter where you come from or how rich
you might be. It doesn’t matter that these children awoke with
the dawn to do chores before school, some sleeping on
straw mattresses in mud huts, before practicing in the
blazing heat of the afternoon. In a northern village called
Larabanga, the children had to take up a collection from all
4,000 villagers to purchase a new soccer ball when a
passing animal destroyed theirs.

Even in the capital, Accra, a city of over 1 million residents,
chickens and goats wander periodically through the playing
field, forcing the kids to work around them. Women with
baskets on their heads cut through the game to get to the
market. The old men watching huddle in the shade as a
respite from the 100 degree heat while the boys practice
scoring goals.

As the afternoon advances, some older boys show up –
aged 17 to 18 – and take over the space from the children.
No one objects. It’s all part of the culture. The bigger you
are, the more you can have. So the young kids march off for
twenty minutes down the road to a park overgrown with
grass. On some of the smaller boys, this grass comes up to
their knees, but yet they play on. Their beloved Black Stars
are showing the world what Ghanaians can do, and these
boys want to follow in their idols’ footsteps someday.

Advancing to the second round in the FIFA World Cup may
not seem like such a huge accomplishment in the modern
West. However, as the only African nation to do so, in spite
of being in one of the most difficult opening groups, the
Ghanaian Black Stars inspired an entire continent.

Their first game was against Italy – the future tournament
winners – and naturally Ghana lost. No one expected the
Black Stars to perform any better in their other games
against the Czech Republic and the United States, both
ranked within the world’s top ten. But against all the odds,
Ghana beat both of them.

When Ghana won its first game against the Czech Republic,
you would have thought they had won the final trophy based
on the size of the celebrations. Scores of fans took to the
streets, banging on drums or makeshift instruments such as
gas cans or blowing through pipes. Every car blasted its
horn. Groups stretched the Ghanaian flag out before them,
letting it catch in the wind with a sharp snap. Screams of
victory emanated from everyone’s lips. I watched a two-year-
old clench her fists to her chubby cheeks, her eyes wide in
happy wonder at the throngs of people dancing before her.
A stooped old woman, dressed head-to-toe in an outfit
resembling the Ghanaian flag, wiggled her hips and shuffled
her feet in a victory dance. A crowd of wealthy business men
and sophisticated ladies in the latest western fashions
merged with scruffy teens and dancing street sellers to sing
the nation’s anthem together. One man, stripped down
except for his underwear, had painted his skin in Ghana’s
colors. Another group held a replica of the World Cup
Trophy high above their heads as they began a parade. And
even a dog dressed in a Black Stars Jersey barked his
support.

In spite of being one of the only white faces, or obrunis, in
the crowd, I was welcomed to the party with open arms –
literally. Random people kept picking me up in hugs or
spinning me around into a dance. The warmth and
friendliness of the Ghanaians, exemplary on even an
ordinary day, permeated the air and captured every passer-
by in its jovial spirit.  

It was an uncomplicated victory for all of us American
volunteers in Ghana at that time. But what about the next
game against our own country? Where did our loyalties lie?

All of us gathered at what’s known as a local Spot Bar with
the Ghanaians to watch the game. The crowd gathered in
front of a small television propped on top of a metal table.
Folded chairs had been set up, but when those filled we sat
on the wooden floor in front of them. The bar staff carried
around beers in crates that we could purchase. The sun
leaked through the thatched roof over our heads and we
sweated in the midday heat. But no one thought of moving.

Perhaps surprisingly to anyone not caught up in the spirit,
nearly every American there routed against our own country
and for Ghana. We screamed like banshees every time
Ghana scored a goal, and wailed in despair anytime America
did. It might seem unpatriotic, but we all realized winning the
World Cup would mean so little to most Americans and would
mean everything to Ghana. This game determined who
advanced in the tournament, and doing so would take
Ghana further than anyone had thought possible. And when
they won again, we joined in a celebration that somehow
managed to top the first.

In Ghana, the World Cup becomes the greater equalizer the
children imagine it to be. I have never witnessed such an
event in the western world, where rich and poor stand side-
by-side in support of their nation – not for a war or a political
cause, but simply in a celebration of life, a triumph of the
possible. The day Ghana won against the United States
represented a true story of an underdog getting its time in
the sun.

No one expected Ghana to defeat title-holders Brazil in the
next round, and they did not, so this final victory celebration
was somewhat bitter sweet. But the triumph of the Ghanaian
people permeated the air. It was their day, and no one could
take it away from them.
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