African Cup Of Nations
Vital Queens Park Rangers regular JoodyQPR has sent this exclusive report all the way from the African continent.
To access his daily blog, part of the Independent newspaper group click here.
The Heart of Ghana
Many are already hailing the 2008 African Cup of Nations as not only the best tournament to date, but more bizarrely the 'best organised.'
It's hard to believe. When the four teams based in Kumasi arrived in Ghana's second city they found their hotel un-built. Two of Accra's training pitches have been declared unplayable whilst the pitches in all four stadiums have been criticised in one way or another.
Nigeria arrived in Accra only to find their internal connecting flight was too small to fit the squad and on the opening night of Nigeria's group, the floodlights failed in the second match between Mali and Benin.
Accreditation to the tournament for worlds journalists has been cancelled after hundreds were given out to supposed fans and at the beginning of host nation Ghana's game against Morocco, the stands were only half full as thousands were queuing up outside, desperate to see their team top the group.
It sounds like criticising Ghana for all these problems but in truth most of them are part and parcel of the African Cup of Nations. We have not only come to expect but more importantly, we've come to ignore it as other things have become far more important.
If your being pedantic Ghana have actually done very well in recruiting thousands of fans to the tournament, a massive problem in nearly all the previous 25 tournaments, with low ticket prices and having games played simultaneously meaning fans of four teams and not two are in the stands.
Nevertheless, African football has never been about organisation, maybe something Berti Vogts has started to realise. Its always been about passion, heart and entertainment and these things are the reason why Ghana 2008 has been cited as the best African nations in history.
The Ghanaian fans have been nothing short of remarkable. Gracious in their welcome, however utterly boisterous in their support, it`s been as much fun walking around the stadiums, inside and out, meeting the fans and joining in their party attitude, as it has been watching the football. The atmosphere is something I've never experienced before as a European football fan.
...and what an atmosphere. Hosts of fans have banded together, creating choir like ringleaders and everyone else is more than obliged to join in. Constant colour and sound fills the stadiums as every fan, flags and horns in tow, cause as much havoc as is physically and lawfully possible.
Boundaries have been broken also. In the recent Ghana v Morocco game, tens of police, taking a break from their taizer wielding crowd control, could be seen joining in the throbbing throngs cheering on their team. Boundaries have also been broken between countries.
Whilst names such as Zambia, Sudan and South Africa may conjure up thoughts of war and racism, no such notions exists here as fans party together, whatever the colour of your skin or the colour of your shirt.
Fans regularly support other teams whilst their team is not playing and whilst the likes of South Africa and Namibia are supporting Angola, Morocco and Sudan will be supporting neighbours Egypt and Tunisia. Some fans have even stated that if their team loses in Ghana v Nigeria match on Sunday, a match dubbed 'the final before the final,' they will carry on supporting their rival team…it seems for three weeks at least, Africa is one nation.
Thousands of fans have travelled from all over West Africa to watch these games, and it's easy to see why they are creating the biggest party seen in Africa. For many of these fans this is the first and only opportunity they will have to see their heroes play.
For three weeks they can leave their troublesome or difficult lives behind and be part of the biggest party this side of Africa. It's incredibly uplifting, and it means the fans are amazingly passionate about the football. Men, women and children all join in and its not just passion that saturates these people, they know an awful lot about football.
Reading and Cameroonian defender Andre Bikey summed up the African attitude when he stated, 'Many Europeans don't understand how big this tournament is. To Africans this is as big as the World Cup.' This passion doesn't just apply to the fans.
For the players it is not just an opportunity to show off their talents or win a trophy but also an opportunity, a mission, to uplift their people. Bikey continues...
'For us players it's a chance to give some joy to our people - our people don't care what we do at our clubs, only what we do for our countries is important.'
Former Sierra Leone player Leroy Rosenior concurs. 'For Africans, representing our country means much more that it does to England Internationals.'
'When we go out on the pitch we're playing not just for money or our own reputations but for our families, our communities, for everyone. We're also very concerned about the legacy we leave, and letting people down is not a legacy anyone wants to leave.'
If only England want-always Jamie Carragher and David Bentley could take a leaf out of the African book.
These statements ridicule the idea that the tournament could ever be moved. Whilst it is an obvious problem for European managers, it is a problem they will always know about well in advance and should be able to therefore build their squads accordingly. A trip to Africa during these three weeks might change the minds of the likes of Wenger and Grant.
All of this means that it looks like I'm in for one incredible match on Sunday as hosts Ghana play rivals Nigeria.
It will be incredibly exciting to be part of the support in full throttle and refreshing to watch both sets of fans celebrate together during and after the match. No away ends in Accra, fans mingle as if it's the most normal thing in the world.
Imagine England and Germany fans being able to do this, or even more unbelievable, Liverpool and Everton fans or the Rangers and Celtic support.
One thing for sure, the majority of fans, football representatives, and journalists, me included will be leaving this tournament, not thinking about the terrible pitches, failed floodlights and botched facilities, but of the wonderful people of Ghana and how they have lit up the fastest growing football tournament in the world.
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