“Pomp and pageantry will welcome you in Lome tomorrow and we need to create some magic around The Ball”, says DHL’s PR guru Sammy Duodu. The Ball is going to meet the Togolese Minister of Sport in an official ceremony at the border. Sammy sources a polystyrene box and decorates it with DHL tape, a DHL sticker and lines it with comfortable yellow silk material to provide extra comfort.
Amazing, (yes, his real name!), is a freelance media expert hired by DHL to help out in Ghana. He assists with filming, logistics and setting up lots of TV appearances. The Ball is all over the press in Ghana and we find out that Ghanaians are mad about football and very interested in The Ball.
The Ball was injured and rushed to hospital in the Ivory Coast. In the intensive care station it received a bandage and a telling off and it was told in no uncertain terms to rest. But rest is one thing that this ball cannot do. The Ball MUST be played in countless games of football all the way to South Africa. It cannot stay in bed. The referees will be waving play on until we get to Nairobi, where The Ball will be re-stitched in the same place it was hand stitched in January by Bernard at Alive and Kicking’s stitching centre.
Let The Ball roll.
Cape Coast, the former capital of Ghana, is a relaxed fishing town and tourist spot about two hours drive along the coast from Accra. We arrive in the middle of the day as the sun blazes and the sweat pours. We’ve heard that somewhere around here the first ever game in Africa was played, some 39 years after the very first game to FA rules was played in Battersea Park — the place where our ball, The Ball, started this epic journey on January 24th 2010.
Cape Coast has a fearsome history. Millions of Africans, who had been rounded up and enslaved, were held in dungeons at Cape Coast Castle before being marched through the “Gate of No Return.” Beyond this gate, they were packed like sardines into waiting ships and sent, many dying en route, to Europe, America and Brazil. Those Africans were never to return. But today people come to this castle from all over the world, including Barack and Michelle Obama. They come here to pay tribute to what happened here and to ensure that it will never happen again.
But we are here for another reason. We have heard that the first ever game of football in Sub-Saharan Africa took place here. “Football took off in Cape Coast, formerly Gold Coast, Ghana, around 1903,” Morgan Mason, a Cape Coast historian, tells us. “The first team founded was Essesoir and they played at Victoria Park. The team was founded by a Jamaican headmaster,” he continues.
In The Ball is Round, the Global History of Football, author David Goldblatt writes that “a group of 22 keen pupils of the Cape Coast Government Boys School embarked upon a secret training course in football. They trained mostly at night, when the full moon was over Victoria Park, then a well-kept place for official ceremonies.”
Why was it a secret? “Blacks were not allowed to play the beautiful game in those times, but those days are over” says Morgan. “Football has now grown up to be this game that we all enjoy, globally. Now we are one body, one people”.
Morgan takes us to Victoria Park and we find the field where that very first game was played. Nowadays, it is a concrete square used for official ceremonies — but back in those days it was a rocky, dry patch of land. We locate the half-way line and kick off. Morgan and Andrew exchange several one-twos, cutting the opposition defence open, before Morgan cracks The Ball into the top corner of the goal. Oops, he hits the top corner of a pavilion and The Ball just about hits an old woman selling bananas. Onward.
Can historians also predict the future? We ask Morgan who would win the World Cup. “Ghana will beat Spain in the final”, he says. Unsurprisingly, we have yet to meet anyone in Ghana who doesn’t believe that Ghana will win the World Cup. In fact, Andrew’s friend Kweku told him that Ghana will win the next three World Cups. Good luck to the Black Stars. It is high time for Africa to win a World Cup.
As we part company, Morgan gets emotional and tells us this:
“The mission, the reason, and the aim of which you came to this castle is recommendable. We pray that the good lord keeps you well and wherever you want to visit you should be warmly received so that you accomplish your mission and that when the whole world comes together on the 11th of June to the 11th of July converged in South Africa that there will be happiness, oneness, love, unity and above all respect for each and everyone on this earth.”
Kweku Obeng Lartey is a Ghanaian and a good friend of mine. We both studied our masters in Public Policy at the now named Willy Brandt School of Public Policy in Erfurt, Germany.
Kweku, the organiser in his year, was constantly coming up with ideas for interaction and throwing himself totally into the university community. It is no overstatement to say that nearly everyone on campus knew and liked Kweku. He is one of those people who never has a bad word to say about anyone, who always has a smile on his face and whose positive attitude to life brings out the best in the people he meets.
Kweku, a highly talented and skilled young Ghanaian, graduated with a Masters degree in Public Policy but he didn’t want to stay in Germany, he didn’t want to remain in Europe: No. Kweku, like the countless number of educated Africans we are meeting on our journey to South Africa, was always intent to take his education and head back home to give back to his community and to be with his people. And Accra, his home city, is a great place to be.
There are thousands of educated young Africans who, like Kweku, are coming back to Africa with a top quality education and international networks and investing their futures here, when they could easily remain in Europe or America or Australasia. Kweku represents the future of this continent. He has the know-how, the skills and the desire to lead Africa into the future.
The last time I saw Kweku was in September 2008. He was leaving Erfurt with his MPP. I bought him and his fellow classmate Eneda lunch. We said our goodbyes. More than a year and a half later and Kweku and I are meeting up in Accra. In early 2007 we first talked about The Ball’s journey to the World Cup. Phil and Christian were in Erfurt for a planning session. Christian and I were offering an undergraduate seminar called Spirit of Football and about 20 students were integrated into the planning. We were discussing West Africa. Kweku became our West Africa consultant. He was adamant that the West Africa itinerary was doable and necessary. “You can’t travel to the World Cup without visiting Ghana”, he said.
He was right. And here I am, staying in his family home in Accra: meeting his parents, his bible study group and introducing The Ball to his undergraduate philosophy class at the University of Accra — seeing his world and loving it.
Kweku, thanks for sharing an insight into your life with me and The Ball… and thanks for becoming part of our journey of discovery in Africa.
Samuel Duodu, DHL’s commercial manager for West Africa, is a self-proclaimed talented midfielder, “a midfield maestro”, he tells us. The team that he supports is the oldest club in Sub-Saharan Africa. “Hearts of Oak Accra was created on 11.11.11″ he tells us with pride.
We are beginning to rue a missed opportunity as we could have met up with Hearts of Oak veterans at the club’s former clubhouse in British Jamestown. Instead, we are stuck in traffic from the Volta region coming into Accra.
“They were looking forward to your visit. They would have even sung the club’s anthem for you. It goes never say die until the bones are rotting. “Is there a big rivalry in Ghanaian football?” we ask. “Well, you can talk about Man United v Liverpool or Kaiser Chiefs v Orlando Pirates in Soweto. Here it is Hearts of Oak and Ashanti Kotoko — these two are great rivals.”
In fact, another missed opportunity surfaces. Our original route had us leaving Burkina Faso and entering Ghana from the north. It would have taken us through the Ashanti region where a visit to the Ashanti King was planned — as well as a friendly match between these two great rivals using The Ball in the game.
“Anyway”, Sammy says, “tomorrow I have organized for you to go to Cape Coast.”
Right to Dream (R2D) is a charity that offers hand-picked, underprivileged young Ghanaian footballers a fully-funded, five-year education on and off the field. It empowers them to believe in themselves by encouraging them to emulate their African heroes. R2D believes that the boys will one day invest back into the communities and the continent they have come from.
CEO Anna Hegley tells us that R2D has a holistic approach to education which is aimed at nurturing the student, the athlete and the child. What she doesn’t tell us is that the curriculum at R2D has football at its very core. Headmaster George Jamieson, from Paisley, just outside of Glasgow, says that “the kids don’t know where Paisley is. They don’t know about Kilmarnock or Queen of the South but they know all about the Old Firm — they know who Rangers and Celtic are. You see, our curriculum is a nice marriage of what they are really interested in (football) and the academic side.” Everything at R2D is related to football. “The more you can integrate football into the curriculum the more alive it becomes and the more children will take hold of it and the more they will learn.” “Take mathematics” says Doc George, as he’s affectionately known here, “The ball is round so it is a sphere. It’s a globe and you can start taking radius off of it, and so you can talk about physics. If you kick the ball on its side why does it go in that trajectory?”
What about geography? The World Cup provides a great opportunity for the boys to learn about the world through the World Cup. One of my first memories as a child growing up in New Zealand was of a giant 1982 World Cup poster hanging at home on our kitchen wall. I can vividly remember the flags of the 24 competing nations. I can remember watching World Cup games and learning for the first time about countries like Brazil and Honduras and I can remember the goals that Paolo Rossi scored to take Italy to the World Cup. Indeed, my desire to see the world was perhaps sparked by the bedtime geography football questions posed by my dad to my brother and me.
The kids at R2D are learning about the world through the World Cup too. Each of them is responsible for researching one country that has qualified for the 2010 World Cup and it is their job to inform the others about that country: politically, culturally, socially — even eating habits. For example, what is the national dish in New Zealand? The kids then have to prepare and cook the food from that country for their school mates.
The classrooms of the school are all about empowering the youngsters to take control of their own destiny. Each classroom is named after a black person who has made a huge difference for the black community. “We want the boys to know that they have got champions out there. There are people out there they can emulate”, said Doc George. Those heroes are people like Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama, Mohammed Ali and Martin Luther King. Some of the graduates have gone on to win scholarships to universities in the United States of America, others have signed professional contracts at top European clubs. The boys may come from isolated communities in a small, underdeveloped country in an enormous continent but with an education from R2D they are on the right path to achieving success on and off the field.
The Ball is round and so is the earth.