Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Boys from Gbeogo record a moral victory in narrow defeat

Sport has long been identified as a powerful and relatively low-cost means of fostering greater inclusion and well-being for persons with disabilities, and following on from the LIFE Project’s successful integration of disabled people into last December’s Feok Festival, the team agreed that hosting an exhibition match between an impaired team and an able-bodied side as part of the community’s celebration of Ghanaian independence would be a fantastic opportunity to showcase the talents of people with disabilities whilst ensuring their inclusion into mainstream cultural life.

So, after weeks of preparation and planning, on the 4th March, just two days before the 57th anniversary of Ghana’s independence, Global Stars F.C. a local team based in Sandema, managed by Sampson Akatara Omega (who plays for Wiaga United, in the Ghanaian Second Division), hosted Gbeogo Deaf [pronounced Bay-go], assembled from the ranks of the students attending the Gbeogo School for the Deaf in the Tongo Hills area of the Upper East region.

By 15:45, with kick-off scheduled for 16:00, the footballing cathedral that is Sandema Stadium was awash with nerves as the pre-match tension reached fever pitch...because nobody, neither spectators nor players, had turned up yet.

You could cut the tension with a knife

But we need not have worried, both clubs arrived and spectators, including several elders from the Chief’s palace, eventually descended on the stadium in droves, and the match did indeed kick-off at 16:00 GMT (Ghana Maybe Time), or 17:00 GMT (Greenwich Mean Time), under the watchful eye of Maurice, one of our fellow volunteers at LIFE, and his team of match officials.

In the opening exchanges, Global Stars (playing in the strip of F.C. St. Pauli, kindly donated by the German club from Hamburg) were overawed by their opponents, perhaps intimidated by Gbeogo’s eerily silent and efficient gesticular methods of communication, as they were beaten to every loose ball, coming off second best in every challenge, and struggling to deal with the deaf side’s crisp passing and powerful running.

However, Gbeogo (playing in Chelsea’s yellow alternate kit) suffered from over-confidence and lost possession in midfield with both of their full-backs pushed high up the pitch, leaving their centre-backs overwhelmed by a devastating counter-attack which left the Global Stars centre-forward with just the keeper to beat, before he tumbled in the box, and was adjudged to have had his ankles clipped by the pursuing defender. The penalty was powerfully dispatched, leaving the keeper no chance, and somehow, Gbeogo found themselves 1-0 down after 5 minutes of play.

An early penalty for the Global Stars
            Although Global Stars remained dangerous on the counter and displayed flashes of brilliance, Gbeogo Deaf dominated the rest of the match, battling hard to control the midfield and exploit the flanks with a number of well aimed diagonal balls beyond the full-backs to release their pacey wingers, crafting a number of golden opportunities following passages of scintillating wing-play. Gbeogo’s captain, a skilful left-wing-back, proved particularly difficult for the Stars to deal with, but Gbeogo lacked a cutting edge and the Stars maintained a well organised and resolute defensive shape, managing to see the game out to claim a stubborn 1-0 victory.

Gbeogo's tricky winger waltzes his way down the left flank

As the final whistle blew, the Global Stars trotted off the pitch to receive the crowds applause, medals from one of the Paramount Chief’s most senior elders, and a certificate signed by the Chief himself, as well as a stern dressing down from Sampson for failing to control the game more effectively.

Global Stars, magnanimous in victory

Sammy, the Gbeogo manager, also signed his disappointment to his players in their post-match team-talk. It was interesting that he kept repeating “you have won, you have won”. By this he meant that they played well enough to have won the game, and would have done, had they been more clinical in front of goal. However, as Sammy signed these words to his boys, and the players’ spirits rose as they received praise from the crowd, I think they held a deeper resonance. The objectives of the event were to include people with disabilities into one of Ghana’s most important cultural events, and demonstrate their qualities and abilities to a wider audience. By travelling away from home and outplaying an able-bodied side in front of a large crowd of spectators, I think it’s safe to say that the Gbeogo School for the Deaf had fulfilled this mission. They had, indeed, won the day.

Gbeogo School for the Deaf

By Ollie Buxton

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