Every four years I take a break from being an anti-football supporter to scream at the big screen with the rest of the world.
This year has been particularly special: I watch it as a resident of the host continent AFRICA.
Uganda didn’t qualify for a place in the World Cup. No matter, for if passion were all that were required they’d have been among the first through. Everyone’s been talking football, and I can confidently say there are more avid British Premier League supporters here than in the whole of the UK. On match nights, crowds of men line up 10-deep in the street outside bars and restaurants, peering at the small TV sets.
And so last Friday the huge expectant crowd of Ugandans, expats, volunteers, NGO workers and visitors from across Africa crowded into the bar and onto the pavement of Kisementi, Kampala. The early birds – still in shock at the earlier thrashing of Brazil by the Netherlands? – had the best seats, or at least they had seats. Inside, necks were craned up at the screen in expectation, ladies perched on upended beer crates. The Vuvuzela Virgins passed the instrument around nervously, daring each other to purse their lips around it, as if they were caught smoking in public. (We don’t worry about a little thing like smoking in public in Uganda anyway, it’s just another one of many well-meaning but ignored laws).
The bar will remain nameless thanks to their World Cup pricing policy (you’re supposed to see double, not pay double). I was slighted by the “manager’s substitution” too: replacing Triple Distilled Uganda waragi (gin) with the local village yellow jerry can variety. (I didn’t wake up blind like some people have, so at least I can see my lucky stars to thank them).
You could hardly contain the Kampala crowd’s excitement as the Ghana players walked onto the pitch. There was no doubt that everyone believed the Black Stars would get through to become the first African team to make it to the World Cup’s last four.
Oh Ghana, you were our last hope.
An American woman screamed full-blast in my ear and I knew the game had kicked off.
The atmosphere was palpable: hoots, cheers and screams accompanied the incredible build up to half time. After a bit of practice, the Vuvuzela Virgins were getting into their stride. Barely discernible above the baying of the crowd, the TV commentator screamed “ … and, with just 20 seconds to half time, if Ghana want to get through …..”
The whole bar went into total meltdown. The man behind me leaped onto my shoulders, I couldn’t see the screen for people jumping wildly up and down, arms and beer bottles waving in front of me; you’d have thought we’d won the match there and then!
The atmosphere soon changed in the second half after Uruguay equalised.
The Congolese guy in front of me shifted his body weight from one foot to another, back and forth nervously, willing Ghana to pull ahead.
So many chances, so many lost opportunties. The man moved in such an exaggerated fashion that I had to mirror his movements just to see the screen. His movements were giving me ‘mal de mer’ (seasickness) so I pushed my way in front of him.
With disbelief, and our hearts in our mouths, we watched on as Uruguay’s Luis Suarez snatched the ball out of the mouth of the goal in the last seconds of extra time. Everyone agreed it was clearly a goal.
It was all over for Ghana when Asamoah Gyan’s penalty hit the crossbar. Who’d want to be in his shoes? We all wanted to cry for him.
According to the BBC: ”It was a truly remarkable final few minutes, surely some of the most dramatic in World Cup history, and came at the end of an engrossing and occasionally bad-tempered contest.”
Back in Kampala, people hung outside the bar, unsure what to do next.
And so, exhausted and hoarse, I drove home, the solemn words of a passing boda boda [motorbike taxi] driver marking the end of Ghana’s dream: “They cheated us” he said.
PHOTO: Kids at the Royal Academy School all want to play with their new football, given by VSO friends Alan and Alison.
On my trip to South Africa in November 2009, preparations for Africa’sWorld Cup were well underway: World Cup advertising hoardings everywhere, free World Cup merchandise at the new airport in Cape Town, the new stadia, newly planted flowerbeds, you couldn’t ignore it: