The Ghanaian Times 24.07.2012
Secondly, only very tough guys agreed to “hold” the prize money, because they needed to be able to resist arrest by the police, if necessary. The only trouble was that such tough guys could run off with the money, if they felt like it. If one of them did this, there was nothing anyone else could do about it. I mean, one could hardly go to the police and report that someone had run off with the proceeds of an illegal act – i. e. gambling.
Indeed, there were some physically strong hoodlums who claimed particular areas of the Park as their patch, or “territory”, on which they arrogated to themselves, the task of guarding every penny that was gambled.
They took a “cut” of the winnings, but occasionally, they were not satisfied with that but pocketed the lot. One of the most notorious of these draughts “emperors” was nicknamed “King Solomon”. He was given the name because he interfered in cases involving other hoodlums – as well his own. Since he was a very strong bloke, his judgement was as “final” as the judgement of the Biblical King Solomon, in the sense that if you complained against anything that the draughts emperor “King Solomon” did, he would put his own policemen on to you – his two fists. So, he was more feared at Jackson’s Park than the Government’s police themselves.
It is no wonder that having got himself involved with characters like “King Solomon”, my brother was not able to pay his school fees with the money my father sent to him, and that he eventually returned home without obtaining a certificate of any sort. But no matter: he talked my father into allowing him to go and continue his education at West Africa Secondary School in Accra. There, too, he frequented draughts dens near the school, at an adjacent place then called ‘Lagos Town’ (now Accra New Town.)
So he became a very good draughts player and when he came back to Asiakwa during the school holidays, he was able to defeat everyone in the town. Only one chap, Kofi Misa, who had learnt to play in Kumase, could match him. He and my brother engaged in some fierce contests, all of which I watched. Had I had the knack for the game, I would have learnt a great deal from these two adversaries about how to “set traps” and all sorts of tricks used to win draughts matches. But I lacked the interest and concentration.
But back to cricket. One day in mid-1978, I travelled to London to try and settle a dispute between the Ghana High Commission in London and the Sunday Times newspaper, whose Accra Correspondent I then was. The dispute was over was an article on Ghana that had been written by a guy called David Leitch, author of the book, God Stand Up For Bastards. He had interviewed some Ghanaians arriving at Heathrow airport, in London, from Accra, who had given him exaggerated accounts of a “last flight” by Ghana Airways from Accra before a “political siege” they claimed was taking place there. True, strikes by the Association of Recognised Professional Bodies had created a tense situation in Ghana, but it was nothing like what David Leitch had been made to believe. Had the London staff referred the article to me, I could have saved him a lot of embarrassment.
As the case was, the Ghana High Commission in London had reacted angrily at the inaccuracies in the article and had even implied that the Sunday Times might have acted out of racism. I went to London and set the record straight in a piece that gave the factual situation as I saw it. My article did not please the High Commission either, but when it raised the bogey of racism once again in a letter to the Editor that the paper published, I wrote a rebuttal, pointing out that I am an African and could hardly write a racist report about my own country. I shut them up by producing evidence to substantiate anything I had said in my piece that they disputed.
David Leitch was pleased with the gentle way I had corrected his inaccuracies and he asked me out of the blue, “Will you come to Lord’s with me?”
I knew that Lord’s meant cricket and I did not think twice in rejecting the idea. I now seriously regret not having gone with him, for I would have got to appreciate cricket much earlier in my life. In fact, a friend of mine, Kwasi Frempong, who was then living in London, had also tried earlier still to interest me in going to watch cricket. “The West Indian fast bowlers are something to see!” he’d said. But I just wouldn’t take the bait, as I regarded cricket, if I ever thought about it at all, as a relic of imperialism. But in 1982, I became mildly interested in the game, after seeing a Pakistani player, Mudassar, take some quick wickets against England.
Next, I went to live in Britain towards the end of 1983. My watering-hole was a pub close to my new home at Clapham Common. I visited the pub most lunch-times. I was largely ignored by the regulars, who occasionally exchanged a polite word with me but didn’t warm to me.
I used to miss my drinking companions badly — I am talking of hot afternoons spent quaffing cold beer at the Continental and Star Hotels in Accra or the Polo Club. I really missed the carefree, uproarious laughter of my friends, as I sat drinking by myself in the North Pole at Clapham.
Then in July 1984, the West Indies arrived in the UK to play cricket against England. They played so well that people in the pub, watching the matches on TV, and assuming that I was a West Indian, threw banter to me across their tables. When Gordon Greenwich or Viv Richards hit a particularly beautiful six against an England bowler, they would shout to me, “Not half bad, was it?” Or “I say, that went on to the rooftop, didn’t it?” I would smile and nod sagely, saying nothing. When it came to the turn of the West Indies to bowl and Malcolm Marshall began to take England wicket after England wicket, the remarks directed at me increased in intensity. Before play ended, someone had even bought me a drink! And I’d bought one for him in return. Eventually, I was invited to one of the tables of the cricket-lovers to argue a point.
That night, when I was alone at home, I worked out the answer to the question posed by the great West Indian cricket writer, C L R James, who had asked “What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?” He posed this profound question in his book, Beyond A Boundary(Publisher Stanley Paul & Co.,1963) [ISBN 978-0-224-07427-8].
The West Indies, by playing so well against England, in England, were proving to the English people with action, not words, that notions of racial superiority and inferiority were bunkum. I, “a West Indian” (to the pub regulars) was therefore a “full” human being to whom a hand of friendship could be extended. In other words, cricket had won for me, in a few hours, the “social acceptance” that would probably not have come my way were I to spend a whole year drinking at the pub.
Tamale Ghana Secondary (then Ghana College) was neither elitist nor a “better secondary school”, but we played cricket in the 60s and early 70s. The school had a good number of Indian teachers who abhorred soccer. They therefore rallied other Indian and Pakistani residents in Tamale and introduced cricket. Fielding positions like gully, slips, square leg and silly point sounded very funny to us. The game died with the departure of the Indian teachers.
Little wonder I was one of few African students who joined Indian and Pakistani students to watch cricket games in Bergen, Norway. I always took pride in explaining the rudiments of the game to my family and friends.
Re: what about cricket (1)
Cricket was introduced to us when we entered Prempeh College in 1974 but i personally lost interest when our class prefect, a guy called Ransford Adjei, got hit in the testicles by the ball (which is as hard as wood) and which event affected his love life. He also used to walk with a funny gait afterwards, so the effect was quite far-reaching.
It seems one of the main attractions of the game may be its comparative exclusivity in general terms.
CD’S REPLY: It was negligent of the teachers not to provide a protection called “The Box”, which is inserted in front of a player’s drawers before he goes on to the field. “The Box” feels awkward to wear, at first, but one soon gets used to it, and it does offer some protection to one’s ‘goodies’, in case a ball hits one in that region!
From: Kwasi Gyan-Apenteng:
Maybe instead of, or in addition to its AGM, the Ghana Cricvket Association should organise an open forum so that all cricket lovers in Ghana could get together and discuss how to get this most beautiful game better appreciated in Gh.
I was also misguided into thinking that cricket was an elitist bourgois game untilI caught the bug from, among other people, Cameron Duodu. I had already taken interst in the game in 1979 when I visited my cousin at Harlesden in London but it was during the thick of a monstrous England-West Indies Test that I visited
the great man in his house, this time at [East] Dulwich, I think. We discussed the game as it unfolded and ever the eager teacher, Cameron, standing amid a huge pile of newspaper clippings, taught [me] some of the more arcane rules of the game…
It would be interesting to explore why West Africa, out of the entire Commonwealth did not embrace cricket as a mass sport. I have my hunch.
I eagerly await Part 2.
Kwasi, remember that West Africa was regarded as “The Whiteman’s Grave” during the early days of colonialism? The hot, humid weather and the propensity to catch debilitating malaria made many of the colonisers less energetic than they generally were in East Africa, the West Indies and Asia. Some preferred gin and tonic of an afternoon, to standing in 90 degrees [F] heat and running around catching a wooden ball hit with great strength by young, testosterone-filled men with aggressive instincts. However, the teachers in the elite secondary schools, among the colonisers, did often regard it as part of their patriotic duty to King/Queen and country, to make Englishmen of their “native” charges, and so went the extra mile to teach them the game. Eager civil servants would also, on occasion, go and exhibit their skills in these schools, adding their bit to making Africans imbibe the unwritten but socially indispensable norms of behaviour that was considered to be worthy of “cricket”. Eventually some clubs were formed, but not on the scale of cricket clubs in East Africa, the West Indies and Asia. That seems to be the hub of the matter you raise, Kwasi.