By Aristo Dotse

Tuesday, 29 March 2011, exactly ten years ago, provided an historic and special moment as England and Ghana met at the famous Wembley Stadium in London for a friendly international football match – which was the very first, and still only,time the two countries had ever come face-to-face in any football match at senior level.

England -the birth place and home of football and champions of the world in 1966 at home – and Ghana had never ever played each other at senior level but that long-awaited Ghana dream which was fulfilled on that historic night was a truly special moment for the entire country, players and fans alike.

Ghana goalkeeper Richard Kingston summed it all about Ghana’s big excitement for the historic occasion when he said. “I have been waiting for this fixture for a long time. Football was made in England. Now, my wish has come true. I think that everyone in both countries will want to watch this game,” he told the official match-day programme for the game.

“It is a huge privilege to play at Wembley. When I was young and living in Ghana we all knew about Wembley, but even now I have still only seen it on television. So this game will be a very big occasion for me. Wembley will be full with a carnival-style atmosphere.

“Even though this is a friendly, it’s a big occasion for both countries. It will feel like a cup final for Ghana. I can’t predict the score but of course all the Ghanaians want to win. It’s going to be a great game.”

Ghana fans storm Wembley in huge number

Although just a friendly match, for Ghana it was more than just a friendly and a special moment in Ghanaian football, like Kingston emphasised. Not surprisingly, Ghanaians, both home and abroad, especially those in the United Kingdom, made it a not-to-miss event.

Ghana fans express disappointment over the absence of England’s top stars who were missing from the game for various reasons

It was such an attractive event that England saw the biggest opposition supporters for a match at Wembley, as about 21,000 Ghana fans, in good mood and high spirit, contributed to make it an almost full house of 80,102 spectators at the 90,000-capacity Wembley stadium – the world’s most popular stadium – to witness the Black Stars take on the Three Lions for the very first and – so far – only time in history.

“Confident Ghana will bring a passionate crowd and we must rise to the occasion”, England manager, Fabio Capello, noted in the official match-day programme for the game. “They (Ghana) will come into this game with a great deal of confidence, so it will be a big test. They will also have more than 20,000 supporters at Wembley, which will make for a good atmosphere”.

“Ghana are a really interesting team, they have a lot of physical and technical ability, and were very close to reaching a World Cup semi-final last summer,”Capello added about the quality of the Ghana team, which was one of the best in the history of Ghanaian and African football.

Peter Crouch, England’s unused substitute on the night, was also very impressed with Ghana’s fan contingent at the game. “I think it (Ghana bringing more than 20,000 fans to Wembley) really makes for a special atmosphere because it can really encourage the home fans and get them reacting off the away supporters.”

“”Fantastic” was Capello’s considered and entirely correct verdict on a night when Ghana’s supporters illuminated Wembley and the Black Stars combined with England to deliver one of the finest friendlies the stadium has seen in recent times,” BBC chief writer Phil McNulty wrote in his post-match commentary.

Black Stars hero at Wembley Asamoah Gyan being joined by his teammates

He added: “Asamoah Gyan’s injury-time equaliser, and the celebrations that followed among 21,000 visiting fans, was a reminder of the magic Ghana brought to the South African summer when they fell just short of reaching the World Cup semi-finals.”

The big number of Ghanaians at Wembley even prompted then England and West Ham striker Carlton Cole to joke on social media that the police were waiting outside Wembley to pounce on illegal Ghanaian immigrants after the game. That expensive joke, which he quickly removed from his social media account after he received heavy bashing for it, landed him into trouble with a 5,000 pounds fine from the FA.

Desperate catch of the game

In the desperate bid not to miss the game my self, it was a hellishly tough time to finally be in the UK and find my self in London and at Wembley on the match day.

With a visa arriving late, only four days to the match on the evening of the Friday preceding the game, and with not many suitable flights to London from Accra available at the time, I finally got one that arrived at London’ Heathrow airport only four hours to the game’s 20:00 GMT kick-off time. And following arrival formalities at the UK entry border, I left the airport at around 6pm and headed straight to Wembley with my luggage, as there was not enough time for me to pass through any where before getting to Wembley.

However, there was more delay on the way for me, as I joined a train heading to a wrong destination. Instead of a Wembley-bound underground train, I unknowingly sat in a Wimbledon-bound train and thus had to change at a stop to connect another train to Wembley.

This made my Wembley journey from Heathrow longer and it delayed my arrival at Wembley Park. But at last, I got to Wembley Stadium just in time, some 30 minutes to kick-off, although I had to wait for another 20 minutes to get an alternative media accreditation pass to have access into the stadium and media area.

My original accreditation badge, along with others’, had already been submitted to the GFA media officer in the person of Randy Abbey, presently a member of the GFA executive council, who was then busy with official match duties and so couldn’t come out to hand over my original accreditation badge to me.

So fortunately for me, I made it just on time to see the kick-off of the match which still has so much memories for Ghanaians, especially those were privileged to be there, for happenings both on and off the pitch.

Missing in action: Big deal for Ghana but England take it easy with late star pull-outs

This was the match which saw the Ghana Football Association sponsor almost all of its members to witness history made in the north-west London suburb, with the idea that the historic encounter was a great opportunity for the GFA and its members to enrich their experience and knowledge of football.

But unfortunately, England didn’t see it the way their Ghana counterparts did. For them it was one of those friendly games to help access and see the progress of the England team. Thus, they made the last-minute decision to withdraw some of their top players – such as Chelsea’s John Terry Frank, Lampard and Ashley Cole and Man United’s Wayne Rooney – from the squad to face Ghana, to save them some rest as Chelsea and Man United would clash in weeks’ time in the first leg of the all-English UEFA Champions League quarter-final.

For Ghana, Asante Kotoko striker Nathaniel Asamoah, who was replaced by fellow home-based star Emmanuel Clottey of Berekum Chelsea, Opoku Agyemang (Al Ahly Doha) and AC Milan’s Kevin-Prince Boateng pulled out of the original squad. But missing out entirely through injury was one of the country’s best players in Chelsea’s Michael Essien.

He and Boateng were in their prime at the time, with Essien as one of the best midfielders in the Premier League and European football, and Boateng as one of the best attacking midfielders and forwards in Italy. Both top Ghana stars missing the game was disappointing for Ghana fans but more was the infamous England star-withdrawal decision which greatly demoralised them (fans), as they wanted to see their idol supported-clubs’ players in flesh and action and saw the move by England as taking off some edge from the game.

England take control but Ghana end up on high

But for the Ghana FA, Black Stars and then new coach Serbian Goran Stevanovic – who was making his debut with the Black Stars as successor to his departed compatriot Milovan Rajevac who guided Ghana to the 2010 World Cup quarter-final nine months earlier – the match was a big opportunity for Ghana to beat England in the two countries’ first ever clash at senior level, after the Ghana U-20 side beat their England counterparts at the FIFA World Youth Championships in 1993 and U-20 World Cup in 2009.

Andy Caroll celebrates his goal, which turned out to be his debut one for England
However, England – playing in their first kit of white shirt, blue short and white socks in the absence through injury of substantive team and Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard and all the stars who pulled out for one reason or the other, and with Aston Villa winger Ashley Young in great form on the night – controlled the first half and deservedly ended it 1-0 up with a headed goal from Andy Carroll just before half-time. It was his first international goal after becoming British’s most expensive signing ever at the time following his 35m pounds move from Newcastle to Liverpool two months earlier.

But very determined not to lose, Ghana – with an all-foreign-based starting eleven, including five England-based Premier League players in Kingston (Blackpool), John Paintsil (Fulham) and the Sunderland trio of John Mensah, Sulley Muntari and Asamoah Gyan,in an all-red and yellow away kit – returned from the half-time break a much improved side and got a deserved added time equaliser from Gyan, who scored one of the great individual goals seen at Wembley, to send Ghana into wild jubilation and round up a satisfactory and memorable night for the Back Stars and its legion of fans.

When Gyan got the ball in the box, no one knew what he wanted to do and no one expected him to do what he did. After bringing the ball under his firm control, he went past a host of defenders and finally embarrassed Man City’s Joleon Lescott, a second half substitute for Liverpool’s Glenn Johnson, before coolly and clinically slotting home past Joe Hart, also of Man City, in the England post to ensure Ghana became the first and still only African country to hold England at Wembley or at home.

“In the first half, England was the better team, then in the second half my team gave a very good performance. I think after the way played in the second half we merited this result.” That was the verdict of Ghana coach Stevanovic’s on the game.

After a satisfactory night, Gyan savoured the historic moment. “I dedicate this goal to the fans because they have been waiting for this game for so long and finally it happens and I scored an important goal for the country – some thing historic.”

Asamoah Gyan celebrating his goal against England at Wembley as Black Stars and the Three Lions friendly game ends 1-1
“I’m the happiest guy because it’s my first time playing at Wembley. It’s been my dream to play at Wembley. We’ve been playing so many friendly games and they’ve been asking themselves, ‘Why are we not playing against England?’ We had a chance against England and we scored an important goal”, he added.

Welbeck makes England debut against his country of origin

For one player, Danny Welbeck – full name Daniel Nii Tackie Mensah Welbeck – it was particularly an emotional and memorable night. Born to Ghanaian parents in Manchester in England, Ghana had long persuaded Gyan’s club strike partner, who was on loan at Sunderland from Man United, to play for the Black Stars. But after opting to rather play for his country of birth, he memorably made his senior England debut in this game as a second-half substitute at aged 20, after having represented England at junior and youth levels (U17, U18, U19 and U21).

Welbeck, now 30 and of Brighton in the English Premier League, has since gone on to establish himself in English football with England – 16 goals in 42 senior caps, including European Championship and World Cup appearances – and at club level with especially top clubs like Man United and Arsenal.

Historic moment brings a perfect setting for England honour for Ghana-born Wharton

Fittingly on the night, the Football Association of England deemed it a fine opportunity to recognise and honour Ghana-born goalkeeper Arthur Wharton for being the first black professional footballer in the UK and world.

Wharton, of a Grenadian father, was born of a Ghanaian woman in James Town in Accra in the then Gold Coast, which since 1957 is famously known as Ghana. He went to England as a teenager in the 1880s and played as a goalkeeper and also a winger for various English clubs. He died in Yorkshire in England in 1930 at the age of 65.

At a half-time ceremony, the FA donated 20,000 pounds to the Arthur Wharton Foundation and present to receive the honour were his relatives and some officials of the foundation.

Match Summary

Result: England 1 (A Caroll, 43’) – 1 Ghana (A Gyan, 90+1’)

England Team: 1.Joe. Hart (Man City) 2. Glenn Johnson (Liverpool, 46’) 5. Gary Cahill (Bolton) 6. Phil Jagielka (Everton) 3.Leighton Baines (Everton) 7.James Milner (Man City) 4. Gareth Barry (Capt., Man City) 8. Jack Wilshere (Arsenal, 69’) 11. Stewart Downing (Aston Villa) 9. Andy Caroll (Liverpool, 59’) 10. Ashley Young (Aston Villa, 81’).

Subs: 12. Robert Green (West Ham) 13. Joleon Lescott (Man City, 46’) 14. Scott Parker (West Ham), 15. Matt Jarvis (Wolves, 69’) 16. Danny Welbeck (Man United, 81’) 17. Jermaine Defoe (Tottenham, 69’) 18. Peter Crouch (Tottenham) 19. Darrent Bent (Aston Villa), 20. Scott Carson (West Brom).

Booked: J Milner (74’)

Manager: Fabio Capello (Italy)

Missing in action(Withdrew from squad) – Ben Forster (Birmingham), Kyle Walker (Aston Villa, loan), Michael Dawson, Aaron Lennon (both Tottenham), Wayne Rooney (Man United), Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard, John Terry (all Chelsea).

Ghana Team: 22. Richard Kingston (Blackpool) 4. John Paintsil (Fulham) 15. Isaac Vorsah (Hoffeinham, 46’) 5. John Mensah (Capt., Sunderland), 17. Lee Addy (Red Star Belgrade, 46’) 6. Anthony Annan (Shalke, 46’) 8.Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu (Udinese) 10. Kwadwo Asamoah (Udinese, 83’) 3. Asamoah Gyan (Sunderland) 18. Dominic Adiyiah (Partizan Belgrade 69’) 11. Sulley Muntari (Sunderland, 59’)

Subs: 1. Sammy Adjei (Hearts of Oak) 2. Daniel Opare (Standard Liege, 46’) 7. Samuel Inkoom (Dnipro, Ukraine, 83’) 9. Derek Boateng (Getafe, 46’) 12. Prince Tagoe (Partizan Belgrade, loan, 69’) 13. Andre Ayew (Marseille, 59’) 14. David Addy (Academica Coimbra, Portugal – loan) 19. Jonathan Mensah (Granada, loan, 46) 20. Bernard Kumordzi (Panionios, Greece) 21. Emmanuel Clottey (Berekum Chelsea, Ghana) 16. Ernest Sowah (Berekum Chelsea)
Missing in Action (Withdrew from squad): Kevin-Prince Boateng (AC Milan), Nathaniel Asamoah (Asante Kotoko).

Booked: D Boateng (61’), A Ayew (63’)

Coach: Goran Stevanovic (Serbia)

Referee: Cuneyt Cakir (Turkey)

Venue: Wembley Stadium (London)

Attendance: 80,102

Kick-off: 20.04 GMT

Credit: Soccernet newspaper