Female footballers to the rescue

BY: Elizabeth Ohene
 Ghana’s Black Maidens celebrating one of their victories
Ghana’s Black Maidens celebrating one of their victories

Last Saturday, I went to the Accra Sports Stadium and watched the opening match of the Women Africa Cup of Nations between Ghana and Algeria.

It has been about 10 years now since the last time I went to the stadium for a sporting event.

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This is from a woman who still believes that  being in a crowd to watch any sporting activity is superior to anything on HD curved television.


The stadium itself had gone through major rehabilitation after having been left to deteriorate since 2008 when Ghana hosted the African Cup of Nations.
 
I understood that neither the scoreboard nor the floodlights in the stadium had functioned in years.

But on Saturday, they were working and I wasn’t in the mood to worry about what was a normal Ghanaian situation of going from construction to rehabilitation, with no maintenance in between.
 
Last Saturday, I was intent on football and I felt guilty that I hadn’t paid much attention to women football in Ghana.

It should have been obvious to me that after the disaster of Brazil 2014, it would be up to the women’s team to rescue the Ghana football brand.
 
The Black Maidens set the tone in the opening match at the FIFA U-17 Women World Cup in Uruguay when the Black Maidens trashed Uruguay 5-0 and went some ways to make up for the Luis Suarez/Asamoah Gyan 2010 debacle at Soweto.

By the time this article appears on Wednesday morning, the Black Maidens would have played their last group match against New Zealand and hopefully defeated them as well.

In Accra, the Black Queens too would have played Mali and defeated them.

Last Saturday in Accra, I realised I had indeed lost touch with Ghana football.

I was mortified to discover I did not know the name of a single player in our women’s national team.

I had no idea some of them were playing professional football around the world.

And it is an exotic gathering of a team we have. Two of them in the starting 11 play in Iceland.

Let me take that slowly again so we all understand. Linda Eshun and Samira Suleman play with Vikingur Olasfvik in Iceland.

Faustina Ampah plays with FC Minsk in Belarus, Portia Boakye plays with Fradi FC in Hungary, Sherrifatu Sumaila, who won the Player of the Match Award, plays with LA Galaxy Orange in the USA, and the Captain of the team, Elizabeth Addo, plays with Seattle Reign FC in the USA.

Those are the ones who play outside Ghana but I discovered there appears to be a thriving female football competition in the country as well.
 
I was introduced to and shall be following the Immigration Ladies, the Ladystrikers, the Hasaacas Ladies, the Prisons Ladies, the Police Ladies, the Soccer Intellectuals and the Ampem Darkoa, whose player, Priscilla Okyere, wearing the number 14 jersey, was the first player to attract my attention once the match started.

Everybody who has some interest in football would know that the Black Queens won the match 1-0 and it was generally agreed that they could and should have scored far, far many more goals.

I tried to explain the team’s seeming lack of cohesion to the players, having been brought from all the corners of the world into camp a few days before the competition.

I compared our starting 11 to the Algerian starting 11 who all came from Algeria and France.

I stopped short when I came up against what I call a football moment (a football moment is when two people are watching the same thing and come to two different conclusions because they support different teams).

As I was about to launch into what a great advantage the Algerian team had over us because their players played their club football near one another, I realised the Algerian gentleman sitting next to my friend beside me was visibly very unhappy and making it known.

And his problem?

According to him, the Ghanaian girls looked masculine, were so obviously bigger and stronger than the Algerian girls it was not surprising that the Algerian girls were being muscled around!! “C’est tellement injuste (“it’s so unfair”),” he grunted in that very disarming gallic way.

A football moment, as I said, because up until then, it had not occurred to me that the Ghanaian girls playing on that field had any height or weight or muscle advantage over their opponents.

So, I took a look, and from my very biased Ghanaian perspective, the Algerian players looked more rounded and certainly even taller than the Ghanaian players.

But I would say that, wouldn’t I?

In much the same way as I thought the referee was “tellement injuste” when she ruled offside what looked to me like a legitimate second goal by the Ghanaians (without the advantage of television cameras of course).

As I watched and cheered and held my breath and gnashed my teeth and laughed out loud, I wondered again about the wonder of sports.

Who are these girls who were able to keep a not quite full stadium completely entertained on a Saturday afternoon?

I really shouldn’t be calling them girls, the youngest one among them is 18 years old and the oldest is 29 years old, more like young women I should be calling them.

I wonder how much money they are making playing football in Iceland or Hungary or Belarus.

Attracting sponsorship

Would they ever make the headlines in the Ghanaian media, and that goal scored by Gladys Amfobea, would it make her more attractive to a possible sponsor?

The least I should do would be to buy petrol from Total stations in appreciation of the company sponsoring the 2018 Women Africa Cup of Nations.
 
Thinking along those lines of course took me to the subject of branding.

It is so much easier to brand a country through sports than any other activity.

Maria Mutola singlehandedly changed the image of Mozambique from a war-torn nation to the home of the world champion.

Does anybody think of Kenya without Kenyan athletes or Brazil without football?

I remember the day the Black Stars defeated the Czech Republic, then ranked number two in the world, at the 2006 World Cup in Germany and followed it with defeating the USA and making it out of the group stages at Ghana’s first appearance at the World Cup.

I remember the Black Stars at South Africa 2010.

There was no suggestion of anybody making a movie about all these efforts, it is our disgrace at Brazil 2014 that captured the imagination of the rest of the world.
 
It might well be that it would fall on the female footballers to restore pride to our football.

The Black Maidens and the Black Queens have started and I am supporting them.      


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