X: @MikeOkuley

Football mostly referred to as ‘soccer’ is one of the world’s most popular sports. It’s enjoyed by a lot of people across the globe. According to Qatar media group, beIN Sports, their channel alone recorded over 4.5 billion cumulative views for the recently held 2022 FIFA World Cup hosted by Qatar. This endorses the level of love and patronage of people for the beautiful game.

The game is played by over 250 million (professional and amateur) players in over 200 countries with the highest television audience in the sport. The World football governing body Federation of the International Football Association, FIFA has a membership of 211 which means football and its related activities are undertaken in these countries.

With six subsidiaries, FIFA has empowered the various confederations to embark on their football administration. For instance, football and its activities are purely controlled by the Confederation of Africa Football (CAF), and by extension, the respective countries known as member associations operate within their jurisdiction.

The round leather game is played by two (2) teams against each other with ten (10) players and a goalkeeper per team. As the name implies foot ball”, the game is played with mainly the foot or the legs and other parts of the body supporting apart from the hand for the outfield players. However, the goalkeeper has the diplomacy of using any part of the body to play with the hand main part in performing the basic goalkeeping functions of preventing goals.

In the just-ended FIFA world cup hosted in Qatar, the world football governing body earned an unprecedented $7.5bn in revenue through four years of commercial deals tied to the 2022 World Cup tournament. The revenue generation, passion, and emotions attached to the game have attracted a lot of attention to it. Each participating country earned at least $9.5m – making it one of the most lucrative football competitions in the world.

Apart from the economic reasons to be qualifying for tournaments, the wrestling for the 3 points up for grabs makes teams defy all odds for a win. This is not just to be victors but also to satisfy their supporters. The win gives the fans the bragging right ahead of their opponents. Winning on the field and winning the bragging rights during an argument makes it fulfilling for the fans. The only reward for the fans during a football game is the win and the 3 points available for any game.

Fans and spectators are mainly limited to the activities of 90 minutes on the field of play. The farthest a fan can witness is the pre-game warm-up and possibly extra time after 90 minutes if the rule of the tournament permits to break a tie.

Per the laws, every football game lasts only 90mins with each half consuming 45mins plus additional time which takes care of the stoppages during the game. This additional time is mainly based on the discretion of the referee in collaboration with his or her assistant referees. This makes it simple for fans watching the game either at the stadium or on television in their various homes glued to their seats for this duration.

There are a lot of activities that go on behind the scenes before and after every football match. Some of these activities could be permitted and mandated by the laws of the game whereas others could be shenanigan ways of influencing the outcome of the game.

Before every football game, there is a pre-game technical meeting held like few hours ahead of kick-off. These meetings are normally done with the representatives from both teams, the officiating officials (referees and their assistance), and the Match Commissioner who serves as the manager or the chief executive officer for the game.

Certain key decisions are taken at this meeting including jerseys to be worn by both teams concerning who is playing as the away team and the home team. Let’s be clear on the fact that, by law, teams are asked to register their home and away colours before the commencement of the said tournament so the decision of which jersey to wear is influenced by this. Other key decisions taken are, the number of security personnel needed, the number of ball-boys, and how the game will be organized in all.

In my experience as a key follower of the game from Ghana to Africa and the global stage, I feel fans who are the umbilical cord of the various teams are denied what goes on behind the scene. They are too restricted to only 90 minutes of action hence missing the real actions and drama which are served before the games. A school of thought that I disagree with believes those scenes must be protected and hidden away from the sight of the fans which tends to influence the fans to misbehave.

The decision on how games should be influenced spiritually, physically, and emotionally is taken based on the geographical beliefs of the various teams, players, and administrators. In what was described as one of the greatest sporting stories, English premier league side Leicester City was crowned champions of the 2015/2016 English Premier League. The achievement of the team that season which was doubted was linked to the spiritual bathing from a respected Thai Buddhist monk by the order of the then owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha to bless the team at the start of the season.  

Furthermore, another scene that looks very open but is not visible to many fans is how the pitch is prepared to the disadvantage of the away team. Jose Mourinho in his days at Chelsea made sure the grass at Stamford Bridge is cut a bit higher than normal whenever his team is playing against Barcelona. This is because Barcelona loves to pass the ball around so many times which will require the players to exert more energy for accurate passes due to the level of the grass and would be tired after 60 minutes for Chelsea to capitalize on.

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Although the various governing bodies have tried to drive away or minimize these practices, the teams and the players find their ways of executing them. This and other ways are means of discrediting opposing teams at the blind side of the supporters. There have been several legislations to wipe away some of these unsporting behaviors for a ‘clean’ but to no avail.

In Africa, the approaches to unduly take advantage of your opponents are performed differently based on your spiritual beliefs. There are also physical ways of weakening an opponent before the referee whistles for the commencement of the game. Have you heard the term “Ways & Means” in Ghana football? The phrase implies ways and means.

Practically, anyway and means to win the battle for the 3 points are indirectly accepted. One common and easiest way of disturbing your opponents’ play is to water the pitch just before kick-off. The irony, however, is that the watering of the park to make it soggy subjects both teams to a difficult condition of play. This has forced most African football administrators to adopt this style.    

I once travelled to Berekum in the Bono region of Ghana to cover a Ghana Premier League game at Golden City Park. As a first-timer in that region for that mission, I got there very early to familiarise myself with the town and to pick the psychology of the natives before heading to the stadium. After all this, I entered the stadium 4 hours before the start of the game, and to my surprise, I saw the then director of operations who knows me very well sprinkling dirty and smelly water on the pitch and as I greeted him, this is what happened

Me: Chairman good afternoon

Him: Good afternoon! What do you want here at this time?

Me: Oh chairman I have come all the way from Accra to cover your game.

Him: Time is not up for the game go out [stadium]. You like that too much

Me: Oh chairman I want to stay and wait

Him: Hey Biggie [calling one of the thugs] come and drag this boy out of here. He has seen enough

With this order, I was thrown out of the stadium like my presence will obliterate their ambition of winning the game. I left the stadium at the time and came back only for me to be told that the chairman says I shouldn’t be allowed entry despite being accredited as a journalist to cover the game.

That’s how far teams can go just to win the game of the day which happens at the blind of their fans. When I finally found my way into the media tribune, I was determined to analyze if really, their rituals had any bearing on the game. Though they won the game by two goals to one, circumstances leading to both goals and happenings during the game made me believe that

there were some forces manipulating events and it was easier for me to link the victory to what I witnessed hours before kick-off.

Despite, the evidence confirming the evolution of the game to its scientific status, culture and traditional beliefs have made it impossible for those around the game to wipe away the unconventional ways of cheating opponents for just three points. Club administrators are okay with investing in this unscientific way of winning games at the expense of their players.

In football, there are factors affecting or improving performance that the clubs are aware of but will be ready to invest short cut. Prior to Ghana’s qualifications for the 2006 World Cup in Germany, it was alleged that the then captain of the team Stephen Appiah paid a pastor who claimed that the Black Stars were owing him after rendering some services to the team in the past. According to the story, the pastor claimed until that payment is done Ghana would not qualify for the world cup. One would ask, what service did he render to the team to charge them?

It is also rumored that the Starlets 95’ winning squad couldn’t make it big at the professional level after their heroic performance in Ecuador winning the u17 world cup because they ritually sacrificed their career for the trophy before jumping onto the flight from Accra to Quito. That squad was promising with the likes of Awudu Issaka, Joe Ansah, Attakora Amaniampong, and Bashiru Gambo. Apart from Stephen Appiah who wasn’t a key player in that tournament, none of these shining starlets were able to reach their potential.

According to the laws of the game, every venue must have at least three dressing rooms for every game. These rooms serve as the changing and rest rooms for the teams and officiating officials. Before every game, the home team is expected to prepare the rooms for the away team by way of sweeping and other cleaning activities to make it hospitable. In another scheme to gain undue advantage over their opponents, they end up sprinkling concoctions and performing o other rituals which are believed to work on the team that occupies the room. Sometimes, they do that to neutralize their opponent’s magical powers. 

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The referees for the game are not spared in this. They are either induced physically by way of bribes or casting a spiritual spell on them to act under duress by way of sprinkling the concoctions in their rooms too. Occasionally, the away team would decide against using the dressing room upon suspicion of the unfriendly acts and will either stay away without using it which could attract punishment from the game’s organizing body, or would perform their own rituals in the bid to fortify themselves spiritually at the entrance of the dressing room which usually attracts exchanges from the top officials of various teams. All this happens on the blind side of fans who will be busy singing and chanting the names of their teams and players in the stands.  

As part of activities to get themselves ready for the battle of the day, teams engage in war songs and chanting on top of their voices in their various dressing rooms. Since the rooms are so close to each other the wars songs and chanting are done as a psychological way of intimidating opponents. This session is taken very seriously due to the fact that it is perceived to be the foundation of the battle for the promised land. 

In addition to the team’s effort to win the spiritual battle, individual players also arm themselves. This is first to secure their position in the team, protect against degrees of injuries, and good performance. Have you heard of the term “mallam goal”? Simply put, goals that were worked for spiritually before the game and it manifests.

For instance, a mallam or spiritual man tells the team that a penalty would be won in the game and if it happens-a particular player should be allowed to play the penalty. Should things manifest in the game and the penalty goal is scored it’s termed a mallam goal. These types of goals have no specific definition but have some similar attributes. They are mostly the goals scored in difficult and unexplainable situations. That is not to suggest that any goal scored in this circumstance is a ‘mallam goal’.  Some attackers spiritually buy the goals they score whiles some goalkeepers lock their goalposts so they don’t concede. These are some of the things that might only make sense to the ordinary supporter when they are exposed to them.

Many footballers and key individuals who are deeply rooted in the game have denied the impact of black magic or declined to have that discourse with the intention of deflating its gravity. There have been divided positions as to whether the usage of black magic works or has influenced football. Recently the former Ghana captain and all-time top scorer of the Black Stars, Asamoah Gyan was quoted by kickgh.com to have confirmed the existence of juju in football.

The former Sunderland striker never disputed his involvement after admitting to using it at the colts level. It will be interesting to know that most Ghanaian sports journalists are disappointed footballers. They had the dream of playing football to the highest level but had to cut it short to venture into sports journalism and I am no different from that breed of sports journalists who were once footballers.

During my days at Adeiso Secondary School in the Eastern region of Ghana, we twice used black magic during our Inter Schools & Colleges sports festival in Asamankese. The juju was given to us in a form of extremely dirty water to be sprinkled on our jerseys and boots before entering the inner perimeter of the stadium. Also, we were to perform some mini rituals in a form of prayer whenever we cross any river on our way to Asamankese from Adeiso.

We did all this but funny enough we lost our first game miserably as defending champions. Had we won that game after all these rituals which were led by the team captain, there would’ve presence of jubilations amongst the fans without knowing the machinations that went into the victory.

Apart from the constant pieces of training and honing of skills by footballers, the ability to score goals or prevent goals as a goalkeeper from being scored could spiritually be worked on. To the fans in the stands, the player has missed a glorious opportunity. A goal-scoring opportunity that is easier to score than to miss. This, with no trouble, attracts all manner of criticisms and to some extent attacks on the said player considering the magnitude and how important the game is.

To avoid situations like this, teams and individual players create a session they term as spiritual purifications for luck. According to a few people who are deeply rooted in this, mother luck is very important in every game hence they need to invoke it to their advantage. With several incantations and spiritual activities, they do in their dressing rooms, one thing they don’t joke about is what they call “colour of the day”.

The belief is that- every day has its favorable colour which emits luck to whoever is able to use it right. Every football team has colours they are accustomed to which were chosen through the inspiration of the spiritual foundation of the club. For instance, Ghanaian premier giants Accra Hearts of Oak is synonymous with the rainbow hence every colour must reflect or must be dominated by red, yellow and blue. They are known for using yellow-dominated jersey with a touch of red and blue during home games whereas their jersey for away matches is mostly white and have a touch of red, yellow, and blue.

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 After several incantations, they are able to determine the exact jersey colour that will produce the luck for the day. With all this, the fans are kept in the dark simply because their ultimate satisfaction is win to enhance their ammunition stock for bragging battles. When the colour of the day is confirmed and they are convinced, the team tries every means to don a jersey with said colour.

Every footballer will tell you the adrenalin heartbeat that comes with in facing opposing players coming out of the dressing room through the tunnel as they march onto the pitch for the real hostility of 90mins actions. For the young and inexperienced players, the opposing players could adopt a tactics of intimidating them by all manner of things.

This could include shouting at them, hitting their chest, squeezing their palm in the name of exchange of pleasantries, talking dirty and eyeing them the wickedly. All these are aimed at inexperience player losing his confidence ahead of the them. Players who have been subjected to such treatment without mental fortitude are most likely to be wasteful in the game. A fan would not see this and will only be concern about the output of the player which is likely to entice insults and all manner of provocative actions towards the player which further dampens his spirit for the game.

The excitement of football and the tension are likely to massive should the fans be exposed to this situation. I have always enjoyed the warm up sessions of the Super Clash in Ghana between the country’s most two dominant forces Accra Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko more than the 90mins of the game itself. Simply because, both teams have their spiritual ways of entering the pitch for warm ups.

Hearts for instance are used dividing the team into two- where one set jogs in a line towards the goalpost and the other set do same towards where the officials will seat receiving cheers and applause from their fans. This comes with all the antics that excites me especially being a believer of spiritualities in football. On their way back to the dressing room after the warm up will see the whole team dancing choreographically to their famous chanting song just at the edge of the tunnel.

Asante Kotoko on other hand, aren’t predictable like their bitterest rival when coming onto the pitch but will always come in with something very unusual which will charge their fans. Such activities make the supporters happy and it charges the atmosphere for the games and I am of the believe that, should fans be exposed to the game beyond the just 90mins of action on the pitch- the narrative would change.

After a constant conversation with some of these players who have tasted such atmosphere, they have always agreed that these ways of entering the field has a psychological urge over the other team. It makes the inexperience players coil psychologically which ultimately affect their performance.

Research has shown that, winning of games hasn’t been the only target for football clubs in Ghana. Some go as far as playing games for some teams. You are shocked and surprised how it is done? Well, teams deliberately produce results that are after their rivals in the tournament. Teams go as far as deliberately losing games against some teams with the aim of helping those clubs to overtake their rivals.

The bitterest rivalry in Ghana football exists between Accra Hearst of Oak and Kumasi Asante Kotoko. With this, Kotoko will not be worried to lose a game against a different team that will overtake Hearts of Oak for a position on the league table or for that team to win a trophy and vice versa.

One would ask how are these done. Management of these clubs does by sometimes consciously influence their players to attract cards or cautions to miss certain games or weaken the club. Some go to the extent of fielding unqualified players to lose points to the team so they leapfrog their rivals especially when their team is not in a position to challenge them.

With fans hugely considered the major stakeholders of the game and the football clubs, one would’ve thought that they would be informed of any key decision for the club regarding how the team performs. This will prolong football activities for the day for the fans to enjoy, unlike the limitation of 90mins.

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