Of all the ingredients that make football the exciting sport that it is, superstition is one of the spiciest.
It’s incredibly popular, too, even among the very best: Cristiano Ronaldo alternating between seats in the back of team buses and at the front of airplanes, Manuel Neuer’s pre-game post-to-post ritual, Eric Cantona’s matchday warm baths — take your pick.
In Africa, though, grounds are much more fertile for devotion to a variety of superstition that delves far deeper than the psychological plane. Here, animism thrives — alongside Christianity and Islam — and there are many only too pleased to dabble in it, even though nearly all of these won’t admit it. That reality rarely surfaces, simmering beneath and producing subtle froth. Every now and then, though, it spills over in all its ugliness — as happened in Dormaa Ahenkro on Wednesday when Asante Kotoko, local side Aduana Stars’ fiercest foes, came to town.
Affairs between the pair — sharing five of the last eight Ghana Premier League titles — have always been fiery, for reasons previously explained on this platform, and their latest meeting — the 20th overall — proved arguably the most intense yet. You’ve probably heard of how Kotoko, ostensibly in their bid to secure a first victory in Dormaa, left one player out of their starting XI, with Aduana also staging a sit-out of their own to keep numbers even; quite outrageously, the stand-off lasted all of the opening 45 minutes.
The effect of reduced personnel on either head coach’s tactics — if any were employed at all — hardly mattered to anyone, and not even the rousing finale the game reached, courtesy Aduana forward Samuel Bioh’s last-gasp winner, drowned all the superstitious hogwash that preceded it. But if you thought that was all there was to the brazen disregard for common sense exhibited at the Nana Agyemang Badu I (NAB 1) Park, well, you missed the juiciest bits.
Prior to the commencement of either half were several ridiculous efforts by each club to subdue logic with magic. Before arriving at the venue, Kotoko reportedly took an unusually long and excessively tortuous route to Dormaa; when they finally turned up at the NAB 1’s gates, Aduana held them up for a while, just so they could install a charm apparently designed to disarm whatever ‘powers’ Kotoko came with.
Out on the pitch, there was still more to be done: from one player trying to plant ‘something’ into the other team’s net to another urinating behind the goal. In the end, we all applauded Bioh’s strike as a thing of real beauty, but some — like myself — couldn’t help but wonder, given all that had transpired prior, whether the goal was inspired by some otherworldly force. And who could blame us?
A day later, Aduana trainer W.O Tandoh sought to claim the moral high ground in a radio interview, describing opposite number Maxwell Konadu as “a disgrace to Ghana football and new generation of footballers,” forgetting he’d responded in kind and had himself asserted, right after the match, that one “must believe in things that are outside the football pitch.”
Now, I’m not saying there is no place for faith in football — although I’m not exactly sold on the idea of God being interested in
22 20 mortals chasing a leather ball from end to end — but, at some point, a line ought to be drawn. Incidents that smack of startling primitiveness and gamesmanship — like those that marred Week 11’s top-liner — insult the principle of fair-play and the intelligence of fans, especially neutrals; needless to say, it does very little to earn the league any love or positive publicity.
Corruption — of the sort revealed in Anas Aremeyaw Anas’ ‘Number 12’ exposé — isn’t the only plague that brings our game into disrepute, clearly, and if we’re serious about ironing out all the flaws, one as serious as this cannot be overlooked by the authorities. It transcends any boundaries of superstition that may be deemed reasonable; this, as exhibited by Aduana and Kotoko, was sorcery — pure and simple. Of course, there have always been stories — told and untold, seen and unseen — of such, but that’s hardly justification. Keep the faith, if you want — but leave it at that.
Wait, is anyone even listening?
NY Frimpong — Daily Mail GH