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22.09.2005 Football News

FIFA witness Ghana's daily devotions

By Raymond Yeboah
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An evening of cultural awe and wonder lay in store for fifa unsuspecting observers in Trujillo after the Ghana players had packed ready to leave Complex C of the Gran Hotel El Golf for the trip to their next match in Piura. One by one, and then in groups, the entire Ghana squad emerged from their rooms on the first floor after watching the Netherlands against Brazil on TV. The youngsters assembled in the corridor - and then it started. To a backdrop of rhythmic clapping, the players warmed up their vocal chords with increasing intensity, and before too long, a resonant wave of sound reached into every nook and cranny at the team hotel.

Every evening after dinner, the players separate from the rest of the staff to sing and round off the day in prayer. "It takes us between 30 minutes and an hour," striker Ernest Asante tells us.

Some of the players appear barefoot, others wear flip-flops or trainers, some show up in a plain T-shirt, still others pull on the fluorescent yellow team training top. It takes us a few minutes to pick up the unfamiliar rhythms, but soon we are clapping along with gusto. We are invited to dance in the midst of the group as the younger players sense a few moments of high entertainment. Suddenly, the song changes and a new melody rings around the lobby. "We have a repertoire of about 20 songs. We never sing the same song two evenings in a row," Asante smiles.

"We're almost all Christians here," delegation member Fred Crentsil informs us. Some 20 percent of the Ghanaian population are Protestants, 10 percent describe themselves as Catholic, 30 percent are Moslem, and 40 percent followers of traditional religions. A long musical tradition ranging from a National Symphony Orchestra and the National Theatre dance troupe also extends to gospel and indigenous drums. Dance is an integral part of the West Africans' music-based rituals.

After 30 boisterous minutes, a deep silence settles over the group. Voices die in throats and the players clasp hands. One of their number remains in the middle, defender Jonathan Quartey, who has been chosen to lead the prayers. "We could all do it, but he's really good," Asante explains. Quartey has conducted the prayer session from the age of 14 onwards. "It's a very special honour for me," he reveals.

Prayer is part of the squad routine for every representative team from Ghana. "All the teams use the same prayers, and some of them have the same songs, although not always," Asante observes. The prayers on the eve of a match are slightly different from a normal day, as the team petitions for a good result. The squad also collectively pleads for a short bus ride to the stadium. Captain Emmanuel Ansong even makes it his duty to get up at 3 am and offer prayers on behalf of the team. "The captain of the senior squad does the same thing," Asante reports.

"Do you pray? If so, pray now," we are instructed. The players lower their heads, close their eyes and begin their supplications. The dimly-lit passageway is alive with a polyphonic murmur, a litany of respect and devotion, before the session ends a quarter of an hour later. The players bid each other goodnight, and suddenly the corridor empties. We just have time to say thanks for a fascinating and moving experience.

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