Our Man in the Stands: USA vs. Ghana
When the first goal goes in we explode with laughter. Yes, we scream, we hug, we chant the three letters, but it was too soon, too quick; I had only pre-game stress to be surrendered, nothing yet born of the ebb and flow of the game, the chances lost or the cards
not shown. David had just said a mere fifteen seconds before how he hated games in which the opponent scored in the first five minutes and it becomes a flat, demoralized fight. I agreed. So when the first goal goes in, we explode with laughter. We watch Dempsey’s quick cut and his placed shot bounce in off the far post and we look at each other, eyebrows raised, and howl, not an ounce of sympathy for Ghana.
Because we do not like Ghana. This is certain. Except for them being a good, professional, consistent team, with an endearing, friendly, and rambunctious fan base (with fantastic songs, far more fantastical than ours, I’m sad to report)…except for that stuff, we really don’t like them. It is history and it is stupid and I will swallow every metaphorical drop every illustrative time. Just be a good sport about it. We vow to get a drum, some sticks, and the talent to wield them in future support of our team.
Immediately to my left my older sister Erin yells and exchanges high-fives with strangers a row ahead, a row behind. To her left is her friend, Chris, whom I have just met for the first time and he is dancing, he is singing, he is the best damn American I can see. Draped in Old Glory, with Captain America style face paint, sloshing spilled Budweiser around his bounding feet…it’s almost too much to know that we are being out Americanned by this guy who just isn’t. Isn’t American. He’s a Brit. Full on north London gunner, Old Empire, save the Queen, Marmite eating, Englishman. Initial shame gives way to beaming pride when he flashes me his winning smile, full of jubilation, and I whisper to Dave, “look at that.” We take wildly unearned credit for him, this miracle from across the pond, and accept him as one of us. Shit. Probably the best of us.
When Jozy goes down and his leg kicks out straight its obvious it his hamstring. Chris remarks that if that’s pulled he’s out for the cup, and a collective heart breaks. Followers of our team have mixed feelings on Altidore. For my part, I see his hard work, believe that a personal momentum goal (like that second true-striker strike vs. Nigeria), can change everything for a player. I argue that he will still find his legs at Sunderland, know that he really wanted this competition, and simply think that this fucking blows.
Ghanaians begin controlling the game almost immediately after the opening punch and a goal is forthcoming, we all sense it, and beers five and six aren’t making that feeling go away. I’m not thirsty though, even slightly, which is nice. When it comes, the deserved equalizer, we are deflated. I remain standing, mouth agape, clutching my hair with both hands, only now realizing how shoddy a job I did cutting it. Ghana’s fan section quakes as a huge, and I mean huge, black starred flag is raised waving above their heads, and we cant help but think “Damn, that’s cool.”
A draw is not good enough. One point from this matchup in this group will not do. I’m thinking it. That guy is thinking it. Bongo, Ghanaian 1, and Ghanaian 3 are thinking it down in the media section. I like to think Brooks is thinking it too. And we will all anxiously think it for the next four minutes. The 86th minute is when our thinking diverges, goes separate directions. Bongo is probably thinking something I can’t write here, Brooks is thinking…I don’t know. How could I know what that feels like? A game winner against a heated rival in the World Cup? My educated guess is he’s feeling somewhere on the high-end of the super freaking good spectrum. For me, in this moment, there is nothing else. There is only jumping. There is only screaming. There is only elation and love for the three around me and triumph induced unity with all the other fans and the red, white, and blue players embracing on the field. There is only a scoreboard reading USA 2, GHANA 1. I give my sister a massive suffocating hug, the hug she deserved when I first saw her in Brazil last night, finally out of working in Afghanistan.
Reality would settle back in though. A reality in which two beers were dropped instantly and without thought by an exuberant someone (me) onto my $1000 camera. A reality in which there are five minutes of added time. FIVE minutes? Fuck off!
This is the greatest sporting event I have ever witnessed. Certainly not the best performance, but the best feeling; an engendered sense of importance and history, an idea that it mattered to people thousands of miles away, and that this game, this spectacle, has the power to unify or divide any or all of the diverse people this world has. Much and more would happen this night, many people hugged, many voices singing , “Ghananana, Ghananana, hey heeeeey, goodbye,” many questionable shots purchased, before we get to the Hotel. ‘Eyes on a jungled horizon’ again, vision…well….blurry, but focusing on Ronaldo’s Portugal.
By, Our Man in the Stands, Kevin Blankenship.