Tonight it’s just me and Rhino
We’ve had tension lately. A couple missteps and disagreements, for me, and him. He, soon to be a teenager and all. And me, getting older, being Papa and all. So we needed this tonight.
Just me, him
And 35,000 friends.
My friends! Ete sen?
Wo din de sen?
I stare blankly, the limits of my spoken Twi painfully evident.
Your name! What is your name?
I respond in kind. He welcomes us with a smile
I am Prince
Nice to meet you Mr. Prince!
A squeeze of hands and a snap as he directs us to our seats.
Enjoy the game – go Black Stars!
The paint worn and showing its age, the corridors poorly lit. But the seats are comfortable, the evening breeze welcome, the sight lines perfect.
And tonight, the stadium is booming.
Raucous and full of joy, a deejay pumping local beats through two arrays of monster speakers, six per set. They echo for miles. The players are warming up, keepers peppering one another with perky, driven balls.
It’s been a challenging time for Ghanaian football. Scandals have plagued the Black Stars as well as the referees. The national association has been silent for months in response to corruption.
But in Ghana, to forgive is divine. And football is life. So of course, in this AFCON qualifier, the fans have returned. They are falling back in love.
Rhino puts his hand on my chest. He wants to feel the beat.
We take our seats, all matching Black Star socks and no choice but to love one another. Tonight, this match, this mood, this is something we share, without restraint.
Pregame fanfare, the anthems are sung, the whistle blows.
It delivers on all fronts. Ghana is the stronger team on this night, holding possession, tackling with fervor, pushing the play. We know a few players – the brothers Ayew, Wanyama the Kenyan from his Spurs appearances.
But Christian Atsu stands alone.
He’s a darting, menacing waterbug. A dynamo with magical skill and pace. He terrifies the Kenyan defender tasked with containing him this night; he is, quite simply, a different class. He brings the crowd to its feet again and again with his silky touch and flashes of pace. All that’s lacking is a goal.
We’re scoreless at halftime. A quiet settles over the stands as seemingly everyone deserts to the concourse. Rhino weaves the masses to stretch his legs and idly leans against the metal rails above the stairs. Six boys wander over to chat with the Obroni boy in the Black Stars jersey. They’re curious. They ask him about football, he responds with an easy, comfortable manner, introducing himself to the crew, smiling and chatting like an old pro. And I marvel at the human being he is becoming. And the human being he is.
The second half brings more magic. This time, Atsu’s attacking our end. The chances come, but no finish. The crowd is antsy, craving the relief that only comes when the ball touches twine.
In the 82nd minute, we all get what we’ve been waiting for. A low shot finds netting.
And 35,000 souls explode.
The Wave first made its appearance in 1981. Since then, it’s been around the block and done to death. Its time is done. It’s boring and played out.
Or so I thought.
Until my son and I were swept up in a Wave with 35,000 boisterous Ghanaians in the moments immediately following a goal.
We are united. Dancing, singing. It is all celebration. No beer is served here. None is needed.
The Stars steer the match home, punctuating the final moments of the match with confident possession and assured manner. Perhaps, this is the match signaling to the world a resurgence.
We ride the wave of ecstatic bodies down to the gates. It’s dark, loud, cars and people everywhere. A cacophony of honks, shouts from tro tro operators.
Everyone is peeing.
Traffic is as expected.
On our way out, Rhino is playfully accosted.
Ayy! Black Star! Do you play for Ghana?
Not yet! Not yet!
A playful slap on his back and we are sent on our way. We walk, quickly. Snaking along with the happy throng. Things take time when you and your 35,000 friends are trying to get home.
We finally manage to secure a ride, and exhale as we continue to share all the highs of the evening. We peek our heads out the window, and soak in the light from the night’s stars.
Rhino nestles his head gently against my chest. No words are spoken. None are needed.