When the Ghana Football Association moved the Black Stars Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Guinea to Tamale, a few eyebrows were raised.
The apprehension stemmed from the fact that the Black Stars had never played a competitive match at the newly-built Tamale Sports Stadium and whether they could truly consider Tamale as â€œhomeâ€.
The initial trepidations were well founded. Tamale was an unfamiliar territory for many of the Black Stars players. Even for those who played against Real Tamale United as opponents in Ghanaâ€™s elite division, it was in front of a hostile crowd at the â€œinfamousâ€ Kaladan Park, or for the younger players, at the Tamale Sports Stadium.
There were also those who believed the â€œhostilityâ€ shown towards the team in their first qualifying game against Uganda in Kumasi echoed the general feeling among Ghanaian fans across the country following the World Cup fiasco. And until the players issued a â€˜proper apologyâ€™ to all Ghanaians, sending the game to Tamale would make no difference.
Add that to the extremely hot weather conditions up north and the Black Stars were always going to be far from â€œhomeâ€ playing in Tamale.
But when referee Bernard Camille blew his whistle to signal the end of the game, the Black Stars were more than happy the game was played in the Northern Regional capital.
The reception the Black Stars received when they touched down at the Tamale Airport last Monday was comparable to what the stars enjoyed when they first adopted Kumasi for their home games, except the Tamale crowd was more flamboyant.
Several hundreds of motorbikes lined the streets and served as the unofficial dispatch riders for the team bus as it made its way from the airport to the team hotel. The noise levels emanating from the motorbikes were absolutely deafening.
The Black Stars trained in front of a near-full to capacity stadium on their first day of training in Tamale. Men, women, children, from within and outside Tamale had trooped to the Tamale Sports Stadium just to catch a glimpse of their favorite stars for real. To the Tamale fan, that first training session was almost like a kid waiting to try on his Christmas clothes for the first time. The enthusiasm was incomparable.
Ticket sales were set to begin at 10:00am at the stadium on match day but as early as 5:30am, a few people had already queued at the stadium waiting for their chance to buy tickets. In fact, by 6:00am the queues at the ticket windows were so long, ticket sales were brought forward to 7:45am because people were increasingly becoming agitated.
All 15,000 Tickets were sold out by 11:00am, just a little over three hours since ticket sales opened. For many of those with tickets, the smile on their faces told it all; a long time dream was about to come true.
Unfortunately, not everyone who had queued for hours got their hands on tickets. With an element of hyperbole, there were as many people outside the stadium without tickets as there were inside it. Nonetheless, most of them stayed around the stadium until the game was over.
The atmosphere inside the stadium was spellbinding with the sound of vuvuzelas eclipsing the sound of oneâ€™s own voice if they spoke. Some of the loudest fans on record are those of Basiktas in Turkey when they beat Liverpool 2-1 in a 2007 UEFA Champions League group match.
The Turkish fans reached a then-world record 132 decibels as they roared their team to victory, eclipsing the previous record set byÂ LiverpoolÂ fans themselves at the 2005 Carling Cup final. The noise levels that followed every touch, pass, tackle and goal at the Tamale stadium was not so far off from the noisiest grounds. When fans cheer for the rather bizarre time-wasting tactics of goalkeeper Stephen Adams, youâ€™d have to give them some credit.
At the final whistle, the players took a lap of honor around the stadium to show appreciation for the massive support. The players could be seen pointing to the Tamale turf, a signal to everyone that they were at â€œhomeâ€ in Tamale.
Consequently, GFA president Kwesi Nyantakyi confirmed after the game that the team will return to Tamale for their final home game in the qualifier against Togo on November 19.
The Black Stars performance on Wednesday was everything but impressive. The scoreline was a flatter of their poor showing.
Stephen Adamsâ€™ crazy antics is an easy way to turn your own fans against you. Luckily for the stars, the Tamale supporters were filled with so much enthusiasm; it is fair to assume they didnâ€™t see anything entirely wrong with his time-wasting concert party.
If they Black Stars are to continue to enjoy this much support from Tamale, theyâ€™ll have to impress the Tamale fans. The last fans youâ€™d like turning against you are the Tamale fans. Just ask the RTU players.
The writer is a sports journalist with Ultimate Radio in Kumasi.
Contact him on [email protected]