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FOOTBALL or “SPIRITBALL”: The relationship between football and superstition

The myth surrounding a supposed relationship between football and spiritualism has lingered around for quite a long time. For many, the game dabbles on work on the green field – efforts, tactics, skills, just to name a few. Whereas for others, the game goes beyond the work on the green field; but also, what happens in the unseen world- black magic or “juju”.

There have been many cases of clubs coming up with bizarre gimmicks all under the guise of spiritual advice. From entering the playing field in unusual ways to entering the field with handkerchiefs and other weird materials, to sprinkling of foreign materials on playing field, to using unfamiliar routes to the stadium and a host of others, many clubs and players have wowed their fans with so much drama.

While some are shocking and quite difficult to believe, others appear as a mere fable. Whether a tale or simple logic to win the mind game, the issue of superstition will continue to grab the headlines when it comes to football discussions in Ghana.

A recent case in scenario is the match-day 11 Ghana Premier League encounter between Aduana Stars and Asante Kotoko where both sides started the game with 10 players instead of the usual 11.  Ridiculous as it looked, both sides seemed unconcerned as the played out the first compartment of the game a man short of the usual full complement.

While fans at the Nana Agyeman Badu I Park were left gobsmacked and shocked at scenes, the Coaches were not perturbed as they saw their teams walk through the entirety of the first half before finally allowing their 11th men who were on the side-lines join their colleagues after recess.

Rumours have it that the decision to start the game a man short of the usual 11 was due to some spiritual advice from a “Mallam”. Midfielder Martin Antwi of Kotoko and Aduana Stars’ defender Farouk Adams were the sacrificial lambs in the plot of the supposed spiritual advice.

Outrageous and mundane this may sound, amidst the technological advancement in this day and age, it goes to show that for some, success in a football game goes beyond the work on the field; but also encompassed what is done behind close the doors. However, is the game really Football or “Spiritball”?

Wednesday’s events at Dormaa incredibly was not the first of its kind to have occurred in the country and also not the first time a club had come up with an odd act under the mask of “spiritual advice”. Although some may disagree that superstition has no role to play in football, some ardent followers and players of Ghana Premier League clubs know it takes more than just playing to win. Here is a recap of some matches that were speculatively characterized by queer acts of superstition.

1998 – Hearts vs Kotoko, FT Score (1-1) 

Undoubtedly the biggest game on the local scene, games between these sides are never short of drama and suspense. When both sides met in 1998 for the June 4 cup match, both sides decided to start the game with 10 men; leaving the 11th man to stand on the side-lines. Both sides had been informed prior to the game that whoever starts with the full complement will taste defeat. Thence leading to both teams deciding to leave out their 11th man until the other bulged.

While many were taken aback by occurrences at the NAB I Park, history makes us understand, proceedings at Dormaa was not the very first time two sides have kicked off a match played with a man less.

At the end of the day, the game ended in a draw with Hearts proceeding to the Cup match 7-6 on penalties.

2011 – Hearts vs Kotoko, FT Score (0-0)

Once again, the country’s biggest game was embroiled in another controversy. While grounds work for the stadium is expected to be handle by stadium management personnel, Hearts fans decided to do the honors themselves and prepare the pitch for the game.

Two Phobian supporters were seen sweeping the portion field Hearts warmed up on and this was supposed to help the rainbow giants to grab victory. Reports have it that the two brooms used were supposed to have given Hearts two goals; one in the first five minutes and one in the last three minutes.

Unfortunately, the supposed “juju” did not work for Hearts as the game ended in a stalemate.

2017 – Bechem United vs Accra Great Olympics, FT Score (1-0)

On the mention of entry into the stadia in unfamiliar ways, Great Olympics cannot be left out when the list is being called out. The wonder boys as they are nicknamed produced another “wonder” when they visited Bechem United in 2016-2017 Ghana premier league season.

The entire entourage of capital-based side entered the stadium in an outrageous manner. Instead of the usual head-on facing the door entry, the away side entered the dressing room with their backs.  While those around the stadium entrance were left in utter shock by the gestures of the Wonder boys, reports indicate it that was a ploy to intimidate the home side. Leadership debunked the reports and claim it was to protest the treatment meted out to the away side when they arrived at the stadium.

Following all the drama surrounding the entry, the game ended with Bechem United carrying the day through a solitary goal from Ivorian forward Amed Toure.

2020 – Karela FC vs Hearts, FT Score (0-0) 

The match-day 11 mid-week encounter between Karela and Hearts also was entangled with some acts of superstition. Fans who trooped in to get a glimpse of the encounter at Akoon Park, to their awe saw gari and dry pepper smothered up at some section of the stadium.

For whatsoever reason and manner, the gari and pepper found its way to the stadium one cannot tell. Nonetheless, it is believed it was perhaps to aid one of the sides to secure victory. Hearts also have reportedly made a complaint of an incident of sprinkling of velvet beans (apia) and concoctions in their dressing room by some unknown persons before their clash with Karela United FC.

All these bizarre acts were supposed to intimidate the away side or perhaps enhance the home side’s chances of winning. However, none of these was the case as both sides shared the spoils at the end of 90 minutes.

2020 – Aduana Stars vs Kotoko, FT Score (0-0)

The showdown between Aduana Stars and Kotoko was expected to be the highlight of the match-day 11 mid-week encounters. Nonetheless, the clash still grabbed the headlines albeit for the wrong reasons.

The game was marred by a number of superstitious acts which strangely were being executed by the away side. Unquestionably one of Ghana’s biggest clubs, it was extremely surprising and shocking to see Kotoko engage in such primitive acts, in this day and age of technological advancement.

The first of the incidents was when right back Christopher Nettey tried to throw something into Aduana’s post but was stopped and subsequently booked. Incredibly, this was even before kickoff. Striker Naby Keita was also caught on camera urinating behind the goal post for reasons unknown to anyone.

The height of all the controversies that ensued at the NAB I Park was when both teams decided to kick off the game with 10 men instead of 11.

Kotoko for reasons best known to them decided to send out 10 men before kick-off with midfielder Martin Antwi waiting on the touchline. Aduana puzzled by Kotoko’s decision to start the game with 10 men also withdrew defender Farouk Adams leaving both sides with 10 men and their 11th men waiting on side-lines.

Interestingly, Kotoko had never won a game in Dormaa since the 2009-2010 season where they even played with 11 men in all those encounters. Thus, fans were left astonished as to why the team decided to start the game with a man less knowing very well it’s a tie they have struggled with in times past.

The game produced photo finish as the home side scored a late goal to secure the maximum points and continue their unbeaten run against the Porcupine Warriors amidst all the superstitious acts deployed.

If the above experiences are anything to go by, it can be alluded “juju” certainly does not play a role in football. Although the power it wields undoubtedly can never be underestimated, be it emotional or otherwise, juju alone cannot take a team anywhere.

In the game of football, obtaining results are all that matters irrespective of the manner you obtain it. Whether or not juju plays a role in getting the results one cannot tell. Albeit it could count as complementary ammunition in the quest for victory, one cannot also underestimate the power of preparation and the role it plays in securing victory.