May 26



Ever since a cantankerous Spanish consular official in London inexplicably refused  to grant me a visa to attend a conference on “The Short Story” at the University of Madrid, I have observed  Spain with glasses tinted with pain.
When I see Lionel Messi scoring goals that remind me of the young Osei Kofi, Mohammed Salisu, Baba Yara  or C K Gyamfi, a part of my mind sniggers, “He’s playing for Barcelona but he’s Argentinian.”
Even when another part of the same mind retorts: “But without the  superb  passes of the Spanish players, Messi couldn’t have got near the ball to dribble it home in the first place”, the unforgiving part of my mind is ready with the riposte: “But how many of those who pass the ball to Messi  are actually  Spanish?”
Oh well, the fair part of me can’t win, can it? My  love for Spain was once  spurned and as is well known, there is no fury like that of a person whose love has been  rejected. In my case, I blame  Ernest Hemingway for implanting the love in the first place. It was he who  invented the term “The earth moved” — when relating the story of how one of his heroes had made love to a Spanish beauty called Maria, during a trek in the mountains  during the Spanish Civil War. Those three words, in their context,  can be counted  among the greatest romantic sentences ever written. 
Years after reading  For Whom The Bell Tolls, and topping it by also seeing the movie version of the story (in which Gary Cooper played the hero and  a short-haired, full-lipped  Ingrid Bergman played the wench Maria) I passed through Madrid on my way back from Havana, Cuba. I couldn’t see much of Madrid because of a horrible deadline that kept me in my hotel room all day. But  whilst flying from Madrid to London,  I  saw Hemingway’s  Spanish heroine  in the flesh! She was in the form of  a divine air hostess serving passengers on the Iberian Airways flight that was taking me from Madrid to London.
I’d spent the previous weekend drinking in the beauty of  great dancers  at the Tropicana Night Club in Havana. Nevertheless, I  was so smitten by this Spanish goddess that although I normally become tongue-tied when I am slain at first sight by a woman’s beauty, I actually summoned her to my side and began  to buy several unneeded items from Iberia’s duty-free catalogue.
Do you like the fragrance of  Cool Water by Davidoff?” I asked her.
She said “Yes.”  I bought two.
Did she think the watch that looked so good on paper would really work or was it just a piece of bling?
She opened her beautiful mouth and laughed. “It is under guarantee!” she said.
My sane mind told me that it was almost impossible to claim any money on the basis of a warranty  issued with a purchase on an aircraft. But because she had
said it was ok, I bought it.
Next, it was a bottle of Chivas Regal whisky.
Eventually, as I fantasised that I’d seen enough interest in her eyes to justify me popping the question, I asked her directly:  “Is there any chance that you might be night-stopping in London tonight?”
Oh, the  naïve  bravura of youth! My audacity actually made her smile. She wasn’t offended, no! But she did shake her head. Enigmatically.
I don’t know whether there was real  regret in that shake of the head, or I was just seeing things. Can you see how love can make a man go completely stupid? It only took about 2 hours to fly from Madrid to London. Why on earth would Iberian Airlines night-stop its staff in a hotel in London, when it could fly them back to their own beds in Madrid in two hours? Let’s just say that I shall never forget the young lady as long as I live.
In fact, I have often wondered: suppose, in answer to my question about night-stopping, she had  replied, “Yes – and  we shall be staying at the Churchill Hotel,
not too far from Selfridges!” Buying goods under the influence of champagne is one thing, but would I have dared to go and look for her? 
That is not the only pleasant thing I have to say about Spain. When I wrote about how the  Spanish consulate official  in London had treated me, his boss,   the Consular Officer , phoned me personally to apologise for the recalcitrance showed by his junior!  That impressed me a lot. How many embassies, staffed  by pompous, officious pen-pushers, would even have read what was said in a newspaper about their legations, let alone actually apologise for  a slip-up?
That made up my mind for me: one day,  I shall  fulfil my desire to go and see the works of Goya and Picasso in their original home. And I shall trudge  the streets that inspired  George Orwell to write Homage to Catalonia. But I shall definitely resist the temptation to go and run with the bulls at Pamplona!
What’s all this gushing about Spain in aid of, anyway? Well, no football-crazy reader  would be asking that question. For on Saturday, 24 May ( a day I enjoyed tremendously because it was my birthday) two Spanish clubs – Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid – played for the championship trophy of Europe. Now, this championship is probably the most prestigious in the world, in the sense that really  formidable teams from major European soccer nations like  Germany, Britain France and Italy had also taken part in it.
Because of the strength of European football teams, it is extremely unusual for two teams from the same country to play in the Final. So it was a great tribute to Spain that its  soccer genius had flowered to achieve  such a feat. The irony, mind you, is that the two teams that fought for the European Cup are not necessarily the best in the land and – indeed,  the world. That honour, in the opinion  of many,  goes to Barcelona.  
Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid were playing for the European trophy in Lisbon, the Portuguese city in which Eusebio achieved fame.  I was rooting for Real Madrid during the game. For Real was responsible for the faith which many Ghanaians acquired in the 1960s,  that made us believe that our nation was destined to become  a great footballing nation on the world scene.
You see, on 19 August 1962, the Ghana Black Stars drew 3-3 with  Real Madrid at the Accra Sports Stadium! Ohene Djan, our incredibly imaginative Director of Sports, brought Real over to Accra, at a time when  Real was not  not only  Spanish champion, but former European and intercontinental champion as well. And we drew 3-3 with them!
This was an even sweeter event in the evolution of the Black Stars than the victory won  by the Stars on 15 May 1960, against Blackpool of England – with whom Stanley Matthews had achieved immense fame in England. The Black Stars beat Blackpool by, I think,  4 goals to nil; some reports say it was 5-0, but I shall stick to my own memory of the event. 
It was this  match against Blackpool that crowned Edward Acquah as the goal king of Ghana. For  Acquah scored all four goals for the Black Stars.
When Real Madrid came to Ghana in 1962, it came with two of the best-known stars known to football at the time, the Hungarian legend, Ferenc  Puskas and Argentina’s  Alfredo Di Stefano.
Anyway,  Atletico Madrid are playing Real in Lisbon on Saturday 24 May.  The day happens to be my birthday, so by the time the  kick-off comes, I am a tad
spent – at the   physical level. Indeed, Atletico’s ability to frustrate the attackers of Real Madrid made the early part of the match boring to me, and – will you believe it – I dozed off whilst watching it.  I blame this not on my tiredness but on the propensity of both teams to play the ball not to their team-mates but to their opponents.
How I missed  Barcelona! Why is it that it is not necessarily the best football teams that  manage to reach the finals in important competitions?
I admit  again that shortly after Atletico’s opening goal, I fell asleep. When I woke up, the  recording of the match that I had been making had ended, and the blank screen of the  TV set stared back at me!
I  checked up on the match on my computer. It had been won by Real Madrid by 4 goals to one!
I was happy, because of  my invocation of Real’s past relationship with Ghana.
Indeed, I was inclined to believe that Real Madrid had donated its performance to me as a birthday gift!
Why not? A football match is not  quite as good as a beautiful Iberian Airways Air Hostess, yes. But so what?  You don’t look a gift match in the bosom, do you? 



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