Pictures and videos help to tell stories. Words may fill the spaces in one’s memory. But to get a collective feel of the atmosphere on the day of Ghana vs Serbia in Africa’s first world cup, you had to be there. It is a fairly straightforward 45 minutes to Pretoria from Johannesburg. We were in Pretoria shortly after 1 pm. We left at 7.30. For six and a half hours, I was immersed in excitement, expectation and eventually unqualified joy.
Before going to the stadium, we went to the “Ghana Bar” where at any given time there were about 120 people eating, drinking and mostly making noise. This is the kind of place Ghanaians outside gather just to remain close to home. Ghanaians in major cities around the world can probably imagine it. It is a no-frills place about 20 minutes walk from the stadium. In Ghana, it would be your local “spot” where if you asked for some akpeteshie or alomo bitters it would be produced at a moment’s notice. The fufu and the light soup on the other hand would appear after a few drinks but that is the only way you’d enjoy it. The crowd was predominantly Ghanaian but there were also South Africans who had adopted the Black Stars. But if Ghana Bar was the appetizer in a four-course meal then the walk to the stadium was the second course.
And what a course it was. Generally I don’t do brisk 20-minute walks but I could have run a marathon with the crowd on this day. Hundreds of people got out of buses; some with drums and horns while others figured they didn’t need trumpets as their vuvuzelas were good enoug. I have never seen an orchestra and army march side by side but that is literally what it felt like as teeming numbers of fans marched to the designated gates. The energy was beautiful, all harnessed to giving the Black Stars the best they had. It was as though the Black Stars had called in the rear guard and they came just in time.
Entering the stadium, it was like a giant mural with the predominant colors of red, yellow and green. You could make out oversized hats, scarves, flags, and in a very small part the colors of Serbia. The blue plastic seats of the stadium were there to remind us that this was a football stadium and not an artist’s impression. And the players had not emerged from the dugout yet. But when they did, craziness. The vuvuzelas always seem like they are at one constantly high decibel level on television. In the stadium though, it is clear they don’t have a scale and can go high enough to split all spectators’ ears. This was especially so when the Ghana team emerged, whenever there was a Ghana corner, when the crowd sense Ghana had some momentum or really whenever they felt like it!! And oh as for when Asamoah Gyan scored.
Well that was the dessert and fortune cookie part of this meal. It was the way you feel after your fufu has gone down and you want to sleep but cannot. I wanted to scream loudly but could not. I had tweets to post. The crowd had no such restraint though and the party was just clearly beginning in the stadium, outside it, and from many accounts, all over the world.