A feature from the Soccer World Cup 2010: Ghana
A portrait of Ghana’s self-proclaimed number one supporter
It’s a hot Sunday afternoon at Odaw Station in Accra and the bad smell coming from the slum almost spoils what promises to be a great day ahead of the match between Ghana’s Black Stars and Sudan’s Desert Hawks football teams.
Hundreds of people who live in Odaw seem not to be bothered at all by the heat as they hurl insults at me and shout “Oboa” repeatedly as Ghana’s self-proclaimed number one soccer supporter, Samuel Oboa, emerges from the east side of the slum looking a bit depressed, carrying a plastic bag with Juju and green and red fabrics.
I get goose bumps as I look into his red eyes and wonder if I should carry on with this journey. He leads the way to a taxi rank where he and six friends, do what they are famous for in Ghana. They are commonly known as body painters during Black Stars’ matches. They paint their bodies in the colours of Ghana but Samuel’s famous pot, which he carries on his head during matches, captures the attention.
Today, things are not looking good as they have to move to an old building at the slum’s train station. Again people shout “Oboa Oboa” and he waves back at them like some dignitary. As we arrive at the room in the station the excitement mounts when Oboa’s friends quickly take off their clothes. No, they keep their underwear on. And the preparation for the match finally begins. The plan was that I also paint my body but I looked at their muscles and my big tummy which has been caused by the good food here and changed my mind. Even if I had painted my whole body people would see that I was not one of them.
These guys don’t blow any vuvuzelas, they don’t arrive in taxis playing loud music, and chant slogans or sing like normal passionate supporters would do. But they get enormous attention. Within five minutes after our arrival in the room there are about 40 people who also want to do some body painting.
“When you are good at what you do this is how people would respond. I can only paint six of the guys because the paint is expensive. It costs a fortune, I don’t work and I make a living from selling shoes,” says Samuel.
Life seems to be tough for Samuel who lives in a one-room shack with his brother. Many people in Ghana are patriotic about their country and paint their houses in the Ghanaian colours and you would expect the same from their number one supporter. But Samuel’s shack is plain white in colour, inside there is just a sleeping sponge and untidy laundry. There is nothing to show that this is the house of Ghana’s number one supporter. Not even a poster or the national team’s flag or his famous pot.
Strangely he keeps his pot three blocks away from his shack and pays a friend two Ghanaian cedis per day to look after it. “I do not want it in my house, it will bring me bad luck. I also don’t paint my body at my house I go where nobody will see me at all,” said Samuel.
In 1991 he introduced body painting and asked his artist friend from Kumasi, Musafa Suhb to first try it out on him. Since then it has been popular in Ghana. At the 2006 World Cup in Germany, which was Ghana’s first appearance at the global football showpiece, Samuel bought his pot in Germany and started using it. This captured the attention of the organizers who gave him a BMW sedan after he was chosen as the best supporter at the tournament. Sadly that was the last time he saw the German machine.
“I am not educated and people take advantage of that. I don’t know what happened to my car but God will deal with those who took my car,” says Samuel.
Finally Samuel and his friends are transformed and have 30 minutes to get to the Ohene Djan stadium which is about 15 kilometres from the slum. With red and white fabrics wrapped around their waists and bodies painted in the colours of Ghana they make way to the stadium. And they refused to take a taxi, insisting on walking the whole way to the stadium. These guys are passionate fans. We get to the main road, cars stop with people chanting Oboa….and we walk in the middle of the road. Cars and goats make way for us as we begin the 15 kilometre walk. On the pavements street vendors and pedestrians cheer us on. Since it has been a long hot day I pull out of the walk because these guys’ version of walking is like they are running. Oboa is carrying his pot on his head.
I hopped into a taxi and waited at the stadium for them and within 10 minutes they had arrived, these guys are fit. At the gate a police officer says, “Oboa come this side” and pushes everyone else backwards. So if you are with Samuel you don’t even pay to get into the stadium.
Inside the stadium people also made way for us to get to the bottom of the grandstand where your passionate supporters sit. I run after the group thinking that they were looking for seats but it turns out that is their routine. They walk up and down cheering the crowd on for 90 minutes; they didn’t watch the match at all but celebrated when Ghana scored their two goals.
After the match which Ghana won 2-0 they didn’t look excited at all.
“It is time to go home and sleep now we are tired. We will see you in South Africa next year,” said Samuel.
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