Friday, May 6, 2011

ENGLISH FOOTBALL IN GHANA


By Frances Black
Football is everywhere in Ghana - on television screens, in snatches of conversation in taxis and bars, and adorning t-shirts, flyers and stickers across the nation.  

On the night of a big match, cries of celebration or defeat can be heard all over town, and if you are ever stuck for conversation, football is a safe bet, as most Ghanaians passionately a football team, and will be all too happy to update you on their latest triumphs and failures.

Most would assume that the object of this adoration and devotion was Ghanaian football, however surprisingly, it is English football which most catches the imagination of Ghana. Teams such as Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool have huge followings in Ghana, and the Premiership and Champions League are fervently followed by most.

Ghanaian football does possess some popularity, with steady television coverage and a stable fan base; the Dwarfs, the Vipers and many other teams are well-known in Ghana, and receive enthusiast crowds at most of their matches. Nevertheless, despite their efforts, English football still completely dominates the football interest of Ghana. Factors such as the quality of the players in Ghanaian teams and their skills and technique, have been widely cited as some of the reasons for their lack of popularity. Games are often referred to as ‘not exciting’ and ‘not interesting’, as the playing and techniques demonstrated by the teams frequently do not match up to the extremely high standard of skill in Premiership and Champions League football.

Indeed, most Ghanaian footballers who do play to the extremely high level of top English football do not stay, but instead try to further their careers outside of Ghana, where there is generally perceived to be more opportunity. Take Asamoah Gyan, for example, who began his career with Ghanaian team Liberty Professionals in 2003. Clearly possessing extremely promising talent, he subsequently moved to Italian team Udinese until 2008, then moving to French team Rennes until 2010. He then gained considerable fame after the 2010 FIFA World Cup, during which he scored 3 goals for Ghana’s national team, the Black Stars. At this point he was then signed to English Premier League team Sunderland, which he still plays for to this day. Gyan has scored 24 times in 47 appearances for Ghana, and is considered by many to be a national hero, symbolizing the dream of many Ghanaian who wish to leave Ghana in order to pursue a football career in England, which is seen as offering more opportunity and potential for career development.

Other reasons for the noticeable lack of enthusiasm for Ghanaian football are accusations that it is badly organized by those in charge. The quality of the football pitches used has also been brought under scrutiny, and the playing is simply considered to be less interesting to watch than English football. English Premiership and Championship football is popular all over the world, and the standard of the players in the teams are regarded as some of the best in the world, with the most exciting and skillful techniques on display. This therefore makes the matches much more entertaining for fans to watch. In addition to this, the media is also blamed for only endorsing Ghanaian football with sense of half-heartedness and lack of enthusiasm; for example, it is often noted that commentators commenting on a Ghanaian football match will simultaneously be reporting and giving updates on English football news at the same time, showing the priority of interest given to English football.

In addition to this, Premiership and Championship football in England is associated with a sense of glamour, riches and fame, due to the astronomical salaries received by the players. Players for top English teams are renowned for being frequently in the tabloids with tales of their luxurious, decadent lifestyles, characterized by flash cars, lavish mansions and high-class escorts, and an attitude to money so carefree and extravagant when compared to most people in the world.  This image of glamour, lavishness and opulence is hugely appealing to many, and represents the ultimate dream, epitomizing personal success. For many citizens of Ghana who may not earn a great deal of money, the notion of earning so much money is quite unbelievable, and adds to the intrigue and excitement of the image of English football. Ghanaian football simply does not possess this kind of image, mainly due to the fact that the players simply do not earn this amount of money, as Ghanaian football as a whole does not receive as much as English football, which rakes in millions every year.

Many people may be asking themselves, however, why it is English football that is so popular, and not football from any other European teams, such as Italy, Spain or France. One of the possible reasons for this is that most Ghanaians living in towns own, or have access to, a television, be it in their houses or in their nearest bar, and English football is easily available for viewing. To add to this, Ghanaian audiences will be able to understand the commentary and any extra information as it would all be in English.

Football has been declared many times to be the most popular sport in the world, in all aspects the word, with an estimated 3.3-3.5 billion fans worldwide. FIFA, which is football’s world governing body, has 208 member countries, and it has a fervent following all over the world, in Asia, Europe, South America, India and China. Football also has the largest amount of tournaments worldwide, with The World Cup, UEFA Champions League, The South American Cup, The American Cup, The Asian Cup, 70 English league teams, 40 Italian league teams and 40 Spanish League teams. Cricket is ranked as the second most popular sport in the world, with 2-3 billion fans, followed closely by field hockey at 2-2.2 billion.

Football is thought to have originated in China around 2BC, and the first international football match was played in 1872 between England and Scotland. The World Cup is now the biggest sports event in the world and is played between 32 countries.

It appears that the main appeal of football is its ability to be universally played by anyone: the rules are simply and easy to grasp, and the game requires minimal equipment, with just a ball and two goalposts needed to play a game. This is in stark comparison to games such as basketball, tennis and volleyball, for example, which require very specific pitches and equipment to play, which is perhaps a reason for their lack of popularity in Ghana and many countries around the world.

It is clear, therefore, that Ghanaian football must come a long way in order to be viewed as the same standard as English Premiership and Championship football, with improving the general standard of playing being a main target. Players also need to feel more enthusiastic to stay in Ghana rather than look outside for opportunity and development.

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