Last Friday I finally understood why football, for all its manly tackles and rippling muscles - of the players, not the ball, let there be no mistake - is such an emotional sport. I realised that my aloof detachment up until then had had a lot to do with some of the rules of the game, which I still do not understand. There is the offside rule for example, which has been explained to me at least three times. So I have always been able to enjoy watching football without bothering about the nitty-gritty. It is simply this: twenty-two people seem happy to chase one ball around, hoping to put it in some net.
But it was different on Friday. Ghana was playing Uruguay in the quarter-final of the World Cup, and my clinical interest in football had been effectively shown the door – to be let in by an enthusiasm that put football in a whole new light, as well as an impatience for the day to end quickly so the match could begin in the evening. But I wasn’t the only one. All across London, there was an eruption of cheers and support for Ghana as the only African side left in the tournament. I loved how in my 'Ghana' t-shirt, people stopped me and said they were rooting for Ghana, how a car, which passed by me as I walked along the street, bore the Ghana flag, and its owner had cranked the music so loud that when he saw that I was also in a Ghana t-shirt, shouted, ‘Dance Ghana! Dance Ghana!’
The build-up to the game was just fantastic; the game itself a real representation of the absolute highs and desperate lows of football. At full-time when the game ended on a 1-1 draw, no one could have predicted the tension, drama and finally, disappointed tears this particular game would bring, not only for Ghana, but the entire African continent. Uruguay’s Luis Suarez’s ‘handball’ in the final minute won Ghana a penalty, and for a wild, precious moment there Ghanaians from the Bronx to Bompata, Accra to Atlanta and everywhere beyond, must have thought: we’ve got this. But no, it wasn’t to be. When the game finally ended with Uruguay as the winners of the penalty shootout (4-2), I couldn’t, just couldn’t, believe that we had come so, so close and not made it. I had a lump in my throat the size of Timbuktu, and my eyes prickled with tears.
But I remember the players, Ghana’s shining Black Stars, for their hard work and team playing skills that have been hailed over and over again, and I hope that in spite of the outcome of the game, and the collective disappointment of a continent hanging over them, they can twinkle like the stars they really are. And stars, what can they do but shine brighter and brighter?