“Okay, bye, Tilly. I’m going to go root for my African brothers,” my dear friend Fentuo (Fent) said to me a few weeks ago after a long Skype conversation. We had just spent an hour catching each other up on our recent returns to our respective homes. Fent had been at Elon for the past academic year, while I had been at his university in Ghana for the spring semester. We had met at Elon in the fall and quickly become good friends. It was exciting staying in touch with him while I was in Ghana; I remember calling him and listening to him gush about seeing snow for the first time and going sledding around Elon, while he in turn listened to me tell him about my first experience eating fufu.
Fent’s back in Ghana now, and we had Skyped while I was in Germany. Seeing as we were smack in the middle of the World Cup, our conversation turned to football (I just can’t bring myself to use the American term while in Europe; I get nicely chastised more for that here than I do for mispronouncing German words!) Fent was about to go watch Nigeria play, and even though he of course wanted to see Ghana make it far in the tournament, he was cheering on all the African teams. When I asked why, Fent explained. “No African country has ever won the World Cup,” he said. “If any of them win it, it’ll bring pride to the whole continent. We’re all rooting for each other.” This overarching support from the entire continent for the entire continent fascinated me. I realized that it was precisely because no African team had ever won that it mattered so much that one get far enough to do so.
All this was still on my mind when I arrived in Vienna and began my internship. So, when I was told to write a last-minute commentary for the newspaper on the topic of my choice, it didn’t take me long to decide to write about what an African team winning would mean for the continent’s 54 nations – and, at this point, Ghana, as the only African team left in the tournament, was their only hope. (To see my article, you can go to http://www.viennareview.net/commentary/can-ghana-do-it-4019.html)
I thought about Fent and my other friends in Ghana so much throughout the match between Ghana and Uruguay that Friday night. I knew their eyes were glued on whatever screen they were in front of countries below me, and I knew the streets of Accra were teeming with fans. I was so sad for all of them when Ghana lost. It really surprised me just how much I wanted Ghana to win; maybe I had become even more invested in the Black Stars progressing as a result of writing that commentary, or maybe I just wanted a team that so many were calling ‘the underdog’ to surprise the world.
It’s true that I felt conflicted when Ghana played both Germany and the U.S. During both games, I was the only person among those who I watched with rooting for Ghana. Where, oh where, do my loyalties lie these days? I’m a proud American but have never followed “soccer” in the U.S. – and I know the U.S. is better at, and more known for, sports like basketball and baseball. And I of course got caught up in World Cup fever in the summer of 2006, when the tournament was held in Germany, watching the games with my friends in Stuttgart. I loved Germany – the place I’ve called home for six years – that summer; I couldn’t get enough of the electric atmosphere and the permeating sense of pride that didn’t need to differentiate football team from country.
But for this World Cup, I was fresh out of four incredible months in Ghana, a place I miss terribly that’s full of football fanatics, from the kids who play football in dirt roads every single morning to grandmothers who know the name of every Black Stars player. So when I asked Fent how bad it was for him the night Ghana lost, I understood when he replied, “I was broken.” Africa was out of the World Cup, and it looked like Europe would win it – again. I’ve seen first-hand how football is an integral part of the culture in both Europe and Africa, and in my opinion, it can’t be underestimated.
I watched the Final at a venue called Strandbar (“Beachbar”) in Vienna, and despite what looks like a sea of orange here, the Spanish fans outnumbered the Dutch ones.
Those of you who watched it will probably agree with me that it was far from an exciting game (unless you considered all those yellow cards to be thrilling). Spain scored the only goal of the game in extra time, which won them their first ever world crown. Afterward, the streets and trains of Vienna were teeming with jubilant Spanish fans, and although I had been rooting for the Netherlands, I have to admit it was fun to be enveloped in the atmosphere. (For the most part, unhappy Dutch fans laid low.)
Who knows what 2014 will bring? Personally, I wonder what country I’ll call home four years from now, and if I’ll still be cheering on multiple teams during the games like I was this year. In many ways, I hope so, as it would raise the chances of me being one of those deliriously happy fans running through the city streets the night of the Final!