It’s been three years since the Black Stars broke the hearts of Ghanaians at the 2014 World Cup by fighting for money, instead of the jersey.
It’s been 35 months since the Black Stars regrettably gave up the right to call Kumasi their home, a loss which apparently led to the significant boycott of the Afcon 2015 qualifier against Uganda in September 2014.
Indeed, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then.
Apologies have been flying left, right and centre, tears – that looked genuine – have been pouring all over.
The resolve to make amends with gold at the 2015 and 2017 Afcon tournaments, though, ended in flames, and by extrapolation, a 2018 World Cup absence looks like the biggest price they’ll have to pay yet.
On their last visit to Kumasi, the Black Stars, once treated like royalty, were passionately booed, bellicosely hooted and called all sorts of names.
They knew they deserved every bit of slander, but they also knew they’ll have to return someway, somehow, one day, for there’s no place like Kumasi!
“It’s been a while since we came to Kumasi,” deputy skipper Andre Ayew said after their first training session at the Baba Yara Stadium on Monday. “We’re quite happy to be back in a great stadium where we’ve done memorable things.
“We want to start doing memorable things again. We’re going to spend a full week training and hopefully as the days go on, more fans will be coming to give us more vim and cheer us up for the game.”
Apparently, the Black Stars are still unsure about how many men will turn up on Sunday. What they do know, though, is that they’ll have to win convincingly to begin the Operation-win-back-Kumasi on the best possible note.
They already demonstrated their resolve to impress the locals in a warm-up game on Wednesday, when they scored five unanswered goals against second tier club Asokwa Deportivo.
The national sports authority is not lost on the austere public apathy towards the Black Stars, not that it’s expected to. The body has acted smartly by pricing match tickets at very affordable prices. The highest will go for Gh¢ 5 ($1.100), but will this move be enough to gather a sizeable crowed at the Baba Yara?
“At the training sessions, the number of fans that turn up appreciate by each day,” Kelvin Owusu-Ansah, a Kumasi-based journalist, who has witnessed every practice session since the team arrived in Kumasi, told Goal.
“The players’ active acknowledgment of the fans after each session and the love for coach Kwesi Appiah could work in the Black Stars’ favour.”
Owusu-Ansah’s words paint a positive picture of forgiveness and gradual acceptance, but also introduce another important element.
Kwesi Appiah remains an ever-so-loved son of Kumasi, not least because of his exploits during his playing days with local club Asante Kotoko. He’s revered and adored, and it’s certainly not out of place for Kumasi to say ‘we’re doing it for Kwesi’.
Truth be told, the time away from Kumasi has not only hurt the Black Stars. Judging by the way the team annihilated Egypt and Zambia to qualify for the last World Cup, it’s fair to say the whole country has had to pay the price.
Ghana captain Asamoah Gyan in an interview with the press in Kumasi
Maybe things would have turned out a little better had the Black Stars played Uganda in Kumasi in the third round qualifiers for Russia 2018 last October. Ghana might have had a bright start, and the defeat to Egypt in November would not have hurt as much.
Instead, they face a battle to claw back a spot at the global showpiece next year.
The same errors must not be made in the Nations Cup campaign. Maybe it’s about time Ghanaians let bygones be bygones, about time we picked up our Black Stars, the pieces and start afresh.
Obviously, more than the Black Stars have been hurt in this war of love.