Popular interest in the Black Stars has waned. But how did it even get to this point and who is responsible? Pulse Sports' Emmanuel Ayamga investigates.
Just when everyone thought the dusts had settled, another storm erupted. The debate on who has caused the unpopularity of the Black Stars will continue to rumble on. It has been the case of both parties – the Ghana Football Association (GFA) and the Ministry of Youth and Sports – pointing accusing fingers at each other, with neither willing to take the blame.
During the week, the issue took a whole different twist when GFA President Kwesi Nyantakyi stoked up the fire by virtually calling the outgoing Sports Minister, Nii Lante Vanderpuye, “irrelevant”. It was a jab to tell the minister that he no longer wielded the same power that enabled him boss the FA around. The name-calling mantra has stretched on from “serial caller”, “he doesn’t know his work”, “he is a disappointment” et al. And it doesn’t look like coming to an end anytime soon.
Nii Lante himself has never passed on the chance to have a go at the GFA officials. In numerous interviews with the media he has also constantly hit them hard. On one occasion he is reported to have called the FA officials “maggot heads”, and there was a time when he referred to the GFA president as a “small boy”.
So the veiled digs have been mutual.
But in all this only one thing is certain: the interest in the Black Stars has waned, and the euphoria that used to encapsulate the entire nation looks almost dead.
The Black Stars have faced stern tests and battled against tough opposition over the years but, never have they gone through a period like they currently are: playing without the support and backing of majority of Ghanaians. They have been deserted by their home fans and everything around them looks completely in disarray. The Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon is supposed to be a spectacular event for all qualified nations but, for Ghana it has turned speculative – the fans are divided.
Matches involving the Black Stars, in recent times, have been bereft of the support that the team once enjoyed. When Ghana played against Rwanda in the ultimate round of Nations Cup qualifiers at the Accra sports stadium, it represented a new low for a team that was once loved and cherished. The atmosphere inside the stadium was downright drab, with even the few fans present - estimated to be about 4000 fans in an over 40,000 capacity venue - looking more passive than exertive.
Elsewhere outside the Accra sports stadium, it was as if there was nothing going on. No colour, no interest, no euphoria. On previous occasions when the Black Stars played, the atmosphere around town and along the streets of Accra was rapturous. Fans who didn't have the opportunity to be at the stadium were always glued to their TV sets. And for those who were hindered by work commitments, the radio sets became their allies: they never missed the commentaries. Yet on that occasion – and for the better part of the last two years – a Black Stars match was greeted with an attitude of total carelessness and despondency from a large section of the public. The team had simply lost touch with its home fans and the effects were evident.
For a team that has been to three successive world cups, played in the grand final of the last Africa Cup of Nations and had just qualified for the next edition's, this looked all but weird. How could a soccer-loving nation like Ghana look so dry when its national side was playing?
Fast forward, and that kind of weird, quiescent atmosphere has become synonymous with Black Stars matches. Against Uganda in the opening World Cup qualifier last October, the fans were once again missing in attendance - not for the first time and definitely not for the last time as things stand.
But the fact that the Black Stars were met by an almost empty Tamale stadium typifies the magnitude of their unpopularity. This was a match that the players themselves bought tickets for fans to have them present; they wanted to feel the love that they once felt from the fans. But in the end, it was an exercise in futility. Low turnout, scepticism and aversion characterised what was supposed to be a warm home reception in the Northern regional capital.
There is no point escaping from the obvious: the Black Stars have become so unpopular among their own fans. But can the seeming impasse between the Ministry of Youth and Sports and the Ghana Football Association really be identified as the catalyst for the recent fan apathy towards the Black Stars? This is a team imprinted on the hearts of Ghanaians. They adored, idolized and eulogized the Black Stars even in bad times, so what has accounted for the recent fan apathy?
The relationship between the Sports Minister and the Ghana Football Association can be termed frosty. But it will be totally erroneous to solely attribute the Black Stars’ unpopularity to that. The last 12 months have seen the stocks of the Black Stars drop drastically and, with that period coinciding with the minister’s tenure; it is not surprising that many are thinking along that line. There are definitely issues that affected the team as a result of the exchanges between the aforementioned pair. For instance, the actions of both parties were responsible for the Black Stars’ poor preparations, which eventually led to bad performances against Uganda and Egypt in the World Cup qualifiers. But the fact is that the recent fan apathy towards the national team did not start just a year ago when Nii Lante became Sports Minister.
From the day the Black Stars players cheekily turned their backs on the nation, it signaled a change in emotions. Ghanaians love football by nature and they made the Black Stars their number one commodity. Even when the team had not won any major trophy since 1982, the players were still pampered and treated differently from any other national assets. When the team lost to Zimbabwe and crashed out of the 2006 Nations Cup the fans were behind them, when the team got thrashed 3-0 by Brazil and eliminated from the 2006 world cup in Germany the fans were there for them and, when the team narrowly missed out on a semi-final berth to Uruguay on penalties after Asamoah Gyan had missed a last-gasp penalty in extra time the fans were still supportive. In fact, the fans have always been there for the Black Stars all through thick and thin. But all that was thrown to the dogs at the 2014 World Cup.
To the fans it was gross disrespect on the part of the players to even attempt to boycott a World Cup match; to the fans it was blasphemy when the Black Stars held the entire nation to ransom, prompting the president to airlift $3 million to Brazil under the watch of the world.
It was embarrassing.
And the fans have since felt cheated and betrayed. That is why majority of them have decided to boycott matches of the Black Stars.
The cheers that the Black Stars got accustomed to have become jeers and although the row between the GFA and the Sports Ministry comes with its own problems, it certainly is not the cause of the Black Stars' recent unpopularity.
The love story between the Black Stars and the home fans was one that superseded that of Richard Cypher and Khalan in the movie 'Legend of the Seeker', but it has turned sour.
And like the Black Stars have found out: it's easier to break peace than to make peace. They will go down in history as the first batch of Black Stars players to have ended on the bad books of the home faithful. That episode in Brazil has still not been forgotten by the fans and it is the genesis of the team’s recent unpopularity among a large section of the public.