Last week, Ghana and Sunderland striker Asamoah Gyan was named the BBC’s African Footballer of the Year.
After having what can only be described as a truly exhilarating World Cup, Gyan has silenced many doubters as he shifted from the mad-dash style of African football into the altogether more rugged world of the Premier League.
I am certain he will go down in history as one of Africa’s greatest ever footballers, if not the greatest. But no matter what he does in the future, he will always be remembered for his part in one of the most dramatic nights in world football.
I was there. Well, I felt like I was there. I think I was in the third most I-was-there-feeling place possible. No, I wasn’t in the stadium. Nor was I even in Ghana. I was instead in a cramped, sweaty bar in Brixton. It had, for that one night at least, a piece of Africa’s soul.
My reason for visiting wasn’t just to soak up the atmosphere. I wanted to produce an audio slideshow of the night as a way of experimenting with some newish equipment of mine: an SLR (bought), a high-quality Marantz (borrowed) and SoundSlides (long fiddled with, never fully utilised).
Sadly, we couldn’t use the slideshow on the BBC site, and it has, until now, sat gathering dust on my hard drive. But, as Gyan collects his well-deserved award, I thought now a good time to relive that night in Jo’burg.
The events unfolded in incredible fashion. Ghana took the lead through Sully Muntari just before half-time, before Diego Forlan – who was later named player of the tournament – equalised in the second half. It stayed 1-1 until the final minute of extra-time when a scandalous handball on the line gifted Ghana with a last-gasp penalty – and the chance to be the first African team to ever reach a World Cup semi-final.
Asamoah Gyan stepped up, but fired the ball against the bar, and with it crushed the dreams of a continent. Ghana went on to lose the match on penalties. It was simply devastating. I can’t describe the emotions in the bar that night, so I’d like to invite you to watch the slideshow below – I think it conveys the hurt pretty well. As one text message sent to the BBC live text team remarked: “Football, how cruel and beautiful you are.”
(Pictures, audio and slideshow production by myself – with a touch of extra audio gathering (and beer delivery) from Ben James and Ben Sutherland. Cheers lads.)
I was heartbroken that night. That game was about more than football – and I hope the slideshow at least gives some idea about what that result meant – or could have meant – to the people of that country.
Brazilian football legend Pele once famously said that an Africa team would win the World Cup before the year 2000. Of course, he was wrong. But it will happen one day, and I believe Ghana have the best shot at it. I plan to be in Brixton when it happens.