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Hooliganism: Ghana football’s hydra-headed problem

On Sunday Ghana football recorded yet another despicable incident of crowd violence. This time a man got hit by a stray bullet as scores of fans gathered around the police armoured vehicle at the Baba Yara Sports Stadium. While the fan survived, Ghana football still counts the cost of hooliganism on its image.   

Like the mythical ‘Head of Medusa’, hooliganism has become a hydra-headed beast. The mythical monster, Medusa, had venomous snakes in place of hair and cutting off one just wouldn’t do so Perseus had to behead it. Job done. Sadly though, ours is a monster we seem too willing to nurture. While we identify hooliganism as the bête noire of our game, the efforts at curbing the menace just undermine the fight against hooliganism, if ever there was one.

The fans

They are the principal actors of this hooliganism game. Often vilified for their role in this and rightly so. The thing about the average Ghanaian football fan is that they hardly pay attention to the rules. Heck, I will go as far as saying most of these hooligans do not even know the rules and how they are to be interpreted. As for the distinction between interpreting rules in the spirit of the law and the letter of the law, it is an issue that can cause a migraine so I will not stretch things that far. It can be confusing even for journalists. So it is not surprising that even the most incontrovertible calls are met with abuse by these fans.

On the weekend the league commenced, a referee was beaten in Shama for refusing to award a penalty in a handball incident during a community gala. The ball had bounced off a defender’s thigh before it struck his arm. In the eyes of the fans, once it hit the defenders arm, it was a stone-wall penalty. Wrong. The new IFAB amendments which took effect on September 1, 2019 now mean that if a player makes contact with the ball with another part of the body before it touches their arm, a handball cannot be given.

Last week, a similar incident played out in Medeama’s 3-0 win over Hearts. The venue is the Akoon Park, Tarkwa. Hearts are two goals down. Ebenezer Akhabi tears away from Fatau Mohammed in one of many marauding runs. Mohammed Alhassan tries to clear but the ball bounces awkwardly and strikes his arm. Knowing the rules very well, the referee ignores it. In the stands though, there are half-hearted protests. Half-hearted because Medeama were two up and were in no danger of losing their lead. Had the circumstances been different, my guess is that the calls for a penalty would have been louder. The referee would have needed security protection to leave the venue.

Yet, it is not every fan who is oblivious of this. Neither is it every fan who wrongly accuses referees of dubious officiating. Many know the rules and accept refereeing decisions, even the dubious ones. It is my belief that the more knowledgeable one is one a subject, the less likely it is for them to be irrational about its outcome. If fans understand the laws and how they are to be applied, chances are that they will be more receptive to refereeing decisions. Of course they will rant when decisions go against them but when the waves of emotions subside, emotions will give way for logic and reasoning.  

The Clubs and their officials  

Football fans have an interesting relationship with their team officials. Much the same way players feed off the energy a charismatic coach transmits from the bench, fans can also feed off the energy the team’s officials emit through their conduct, utterances in reaction to decisions taken against the club. If a club official publicly states their displeasure over a match official assigned to officiate a game – and this happens very often -, he has more or less encouraged fans to reject any decisions from the match official that will not be in favour of the team in question. So when a club official – in this case, the Operations Manager, Isaac Donkor, rushes unto the pitch in protest against a decision, what he does not realize is that the fans will follow his line of action.

Moments after the game, Nii Darko, Kotoko’s Greater Accra Regional Circle’s spokesperson accused the GFA President and his executives of a grand agenda to ruin Kotoko. When such reckless statements are made, fans are conditioned to doubt every decision that goes against the club. Worst still, in instances where fans are arrested, club officials join forces with families of the suspects to free them. In 2016, a notorious Sekondi Eleven Wise fan, Mena Badu, slapped then Elmina Sharks coach, Kobina Amissah during a Division One League game. Sharks Chief Executive Officer Dr Papa Kwesi Nduom was also pelted with stones. She was arrested and freed within days. Why? Some high profile personalities associated with the club impressed upon Dr Nduom, the Division One League Board and Kobina Amissah to drop the case.

Clubs cannot be seen to be encouraging hooliganism but they have been very much complicit. If any gains are to be made, clubs need to be seen to be willing to punish fans, officials who engage in such unruly behaviour and not become a safe haven for hooligans.

The GFA’s Disciplinary & Ethics Committee.

In all jurisdictions, people will commit crimes if, they, for whatever reason believe they will get away with it. So it is in football. The interesting thing is, the sort of crimes that are committed at match venues are the ones people would not dare commit anywhere else. When the notorious Seidu Mba stopped Zdravko Lugaruzic from training, he knew neither the club nor the FA will punish him. When Albert Commey, an executive committee member, allegedly slapped the club spokesperson, he knew he would be shielded. Hearts of Oak, Asante Kotoko etc have failed to keep fans in check but the sanctions have either not been deterrent enough or non-existent in some cases.

Such has been their attitude towards this. However, this is a new administration and it deserves the benefit of the doubt. While their swift response with a statement was refreshing, it should not end there. Kotoko needs to be punished for failing to keep its fans in check. They have a rather storied past with crowd violence; held their own players hostage versus MC Eulma in 2015, attacked officials in a game versus Hearts of Lions in 2016, did same versus Medeama in 2018 etc. Hooliganism can have no place in our game and which better way to communicate that than to severely punish those engaged in it?

Journalists and the Police Service

There are many football fans who still treat every word from a journalist as gospel. To such fans, if their favourite journalist questions a referee’s decision, a GFA Executive’s decision or conduct, that as is all they need to protest. Accuracy and discretion are therefore as important as knowing the latest amendments to regulations and the technicalities associated with them.

Our security services have long failed here. In this very instance, a fan was shot when there was no physical threat to the bullion van or its occupants. Going forward, officers on duty need to employ the best crowd control measures and discretion when in similar situations. The police service also cannot be seen to be shielding its own when they misconduct themselves and this particular incident is a test case for the Ashanti Regional Police Command.

Source: Victor Atsu Tamakloe


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