What an atmosphere? I have never seen such a magnitude of human congregation at a football match in my life, a middle-aged man observed at the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi, a few minutes before the Ghana-Nigeria world cup qualifier last Friday.
The atmosphere in the stadium was indeed a sight to behold.
Virtually every space in the 40,000 capacity stadium was occupied with hundreds of people on their feet because they couldn’t find empty seats in all the stands including the VIP stands.
Even the press box that is reserved for the media was taken over by fans, forcing some media persons to run commentary on their feet for the entire 90 minutes.
Depending on one’s location in the stadium, a cursory look at the length and breadth of the stadium only portrayed a sea of people singing on top of their voices as they waited for the two teams to emerge from the tunnel.
Dominant in the stands were the red, gold and green colours with a few green and white colours, representing the two countries seeking for qualification to the FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
As expected, a tumultuous noise from the “vuvuzelas” of the huge crowd greeted the players as they walked out of the tunnel to commence proceedings.
There was no doubt that most of the Black Stars players had not seen such massive support while representing the country for many years.
Indeed, affection for the national team among Ghanaians had dwindled in recent years to the extent that some compatriots openly supported opposing countries against the Black Stars. The situation was even aggravated by the abysmal performance of the Black Stars during the recent African Cup of Nations (AFCON) which saw the team exiting the competition at the group stage.
Many Ghanaian hearts were literally broken when the Black Stars failed to progress from a group comprising Comoros, Gabon and Morocco.
Even more disheartening was the fact that the team couldn’t win a single game and embarrassingly returned home with just one point out of a possible nine.
It was against this background that a lot of Ghanaians had given up on the senior national team even in the face of a crucial World Cup qualifier against perennial rivals Nigeria.
In fact the “Bring Back the Love” campaign launched by the current leadership of the Ghana Football Association (GFA) appeared to have made little impact considering the general disposition of Ghanaians towards the Black Stars.
But in a sudden twist of events, Kumasi has changed the narratives by truly bringing back the love and igniting the passion of the whole nation which had taken a nosedive in recent years.
As fate would have it, the “Garden City” which had always been a fortress for the Black Stars was chosen as a last minute alternative to host the first leg of the playoff between Ghana and Nigeria after CAF inspectors rejected Cape Coast.
Initially, people were indifferent about the relocation of the crucial encounter to the Baba Yara Stadium but the arrival of the team in Kumasi on Tuesday, March 22 turned things around. From the Kumasi Airport to the Noda Hotel where the team camped, and to the Baba Yara Stadium later in the evening for their first training in Kumasi, people lined up the streets to cheer the team.
As the match day approached, the euphoria in the city increased as radio stations dedicated their sports programmes to rally support for the Black Stars.
Even avowed critics of the Black Stars who saw nothing good about the team and the GFA ceased fire and turned themselves into ambassadors for the Black Stars in the national interest.
Their usual fault-finding ahead of such matches in the name of punditry on the airwaves gave way for a united voice of patriotism and togetherness which resonated throughout Greater Kumasi and beyond.
Also joining the fray to whip up public interest was the Metropolitan Chief Executive (MCE), Mr. Samuel Pyne who embarked on a radio tour to encourage the public to show love to the team.
For two consecutive days, Mr. Pyne hopped from one radio station to another to explain the huge economic benefits that Ghana stood to gain if the Black Stars qualified for the World Cup.
He also shared free tickets as his contribution and urged the people of Kumasi to fill the Baba Yara Stadium to support the team and also be part of history.
The involvement of the MCE and efforts of other stakeholders increased the euphoria and on the eve of the match, Kumasi was awashed with the red, gold and green colours.
That evening, thousands of fans stormed the Baba Yara Stadium to watch the last training session of the Stars and the security personnel had a hectic time getting them out of the stadium after the training to pave way for the Nigerians to have their turn.
On the match day, everything in Kumasi was all about Black Stars especially at the Central Business District where the fever of the match could be felt with many people wearing one Black Stars paraphernalia or the other.
As early as 9:00 hours, fans had started trooping to Baba Yara Stadium for a match that was scheduled for 19:30 hours, creating a suitable environment for traders to cash in on the huge crowd at the precincts of the stadium.
There was never a dull moment during the long wait for the stadium to be opened to the fans as the various “jama” groups from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) sang all along to entertain the crowd.
At about 17:00 hours, the stadium was almost full with thousands of fans still outside the stadium struggling to enter due to challenges with their e-tickets.
At some point some fans had to force their way into the stadium out of desperation as kickoff approached, thereby leaving no space in the stands unoccupied.
Obviously, the crowd in the stadium played the number 12th role for the Black Stars who played one of their best games in recent times and for the first time in a while, the fans applauded the performance of the team even though they did not win.
They continued to cheer their players even when the team bus was leaving the stadium, a clear indication that the love for the Black Stars was back, at least for the fans in Kumasi.