Mark Steel: Traffic warning, avoid Ghanaian pubs tonight

Fan's eye view
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The Independent Online

After England v Algeria, you were left only with the puzzle of how they failed to beat such a mediocre team of no-hopers. Indeed, what a disappointing night for Algeria it was.

The escape from all this was to watch Ghana play Australia in The Gold Coast pub in the south London 'burb of South Norwood where, even before the match, the crowd was the exact opposite. I came to this place during the last World Cup, when the crowd screamed with mass disapproval when a free-kick was given to the opposition, and when it eventually calmed down a woman dressed in bright yellow stood on a table and yelled, "That referee is a wicked, wicked man!"

Instead of a background of muttered "nyeeagh fffff WHO'S THAT TO?!" noises, the Ghana crowd has a beat, an inescapable "der da-da bom bom" rhythm that keeps flowing even when their drums stop, to which you automatically move and speak in time, without realising. So you squeeze up to the bar and say "Can I please have a [two, three] bottle of Guinness [two, three]? I've got the five p [two, three], if that will help you [two, three]." They couldn't sell salt and vinegar crisps as asking for them would introduce an unwanted jazz element and ruin it for everyone.

The place was packed, so it was like watching a game on the 8.26 to Liverpool Street, and everyone was given a whistle. Then some Ghana fans around me produced an assortment of drums and started singing, so I found myself in the centre of a band, unsure what I was supposed to do, like in those dreams where you discover you're on stage with the Happy Mondays but don't know the words.

Australia scored, but after 25 minutes Harry Kewell was sent off for handball and Ghana had a penalty. Now the whole building became an explosion of drums and whistles, so that any nearby crusties must have thought, "Wow, who'd have thought the rave scene revival would start in South Norwood?" The penalty went in, provoking the uniquely Ghanaian method of celebrating, which is to all run in the road. About a hundred of them did this, including the band, so instinctively it must be taught from an early age by Ghanaian traffic police who visit schools and say, "When a goal is scored, always be very careful to run straight into the road without looking left or right and stay in the middle banging a drum." If there are any Ghanaian pubs near a major roundabout, a 2-0 win could gridlock an entire city.

When they got back an argument started, as someone yelled, "We are Africa's Brazil!" "You cannot say that," someone else called back, and this argument got louder and more animated but somehow stayed within the beat of the room, and the percussionists banged along to the argument. Maybe this is something the United Nations should consider. No dispute about territory could escalate into war if each side had to put its case accompanied by Ghanaian drummers, and insist, "This is our island [bom bom]. So stuff your treaty [bom bom]."

As soon as the game ended, a crowd returned to the road, while indoors a DJ played African hip hop, and outside there was a buzzing barbecue, yet the team hadn't played that well, struggling to draw against a 10-man Australia. You get the impression the event is a celebration of the fact that there is such a place as Ghana, so doesn't depend on the result, just as a birthday party commemorates someone's life, and it would be quite churlish to say, "What are you dancing for? You haven't done anything much today."

Maybe this arises from Ghana's status as the first African nation to win independence, as opposed to having a history that drives its supporters to imagine it ought to be winning World Cups, so that when its players fail dismally to live up to the expectations they're taken by surprise, even though it happens every single time.

So as despair and malaise circulate from the players through the country and back in a fretful spiral, it wouldn't be surprising to hear the commentator say: "The Slovenes have surrounded the referee about an incident off the ball. And I think they're complaining that Frank Lampard has wet himself. Oh yes, there's a definite puddle and that's an early red card for England. What will go wrong next?"

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