Black Queens need attention to make most of AWCON opportunity

Ghana coach Bashir Hayford speaks to the media. Christian Thompson/BackpagePix

For a team preparing for a big continental football competition as hosts, the atmosphere at the Black Queens training grounds is unusually muted.

At the El-Wak Stadium at the heart of a military base in Accra, Ghana's women's team go through their paces under scorching temperatures.

The session is competitive, and coach Bashir Hayford is in top voice, encouraging the ladies, admonishing them when he has to.

Apart from bus branded with logos of the Africa Women's Championship, which Ghana is hosting for the next two weeks, there is very little indication that this is building up to a major tournament.

There is no big media pack watching, no cameras in sight, no big official contingent or the usual pack of fans who scream adulation and insults when, for instance, the Black Stars are in training.

"You people really need to make some noise so that people will know that there is a major tournament about to take place," Ghana's assistant coach Mercy Tagoe tells KweséESPN.

"We need the entire nation behind us because this is such an important period for women's football in Ghana."

Tagoe's complaints reflects a certain apathy towards the women's game in Ghana.

In 2008, when Ghana hosted the Africa Cup of Nations, the whole nation was engrossed in the tournament.

The training grounds were packed, the hotel where the Black Stars stayed required extra security to control fans while television studios and banking halls were adorned with the red, gold and green colours of Ghana.

There have been consistent complaints from the team that they get nothing close to the attention that the male team gets, but coach Hayford has a different complaint.

"I have always said to people that they watch women's football with the standard of the men's game in my mind too much," Hayford laments.

"They expect the same toughness that they will see from a [Michael] Essien, or the intensity they get when they watch a Black Stars game. It doesn't work that way.

"Women's football is beautiful on it's own, and doesn't need the constant comparison."

Hayford has straddled both worlds; he has coached top Ghanaian sides Asante Kotoko and Ashanti Gold, with whom he won the Ghana Premier League title in 2015.

He has also managed the Ghana women's team at U-17 and U-20 level, and reckons holding the Africa Women's Championship on home soil is a major boost.

"The chance to host this here is very important, but it won't mean much if people don't come out to watch," he concluded.

"If it doesn't dominate the media discussions, so that other young girls will see that playing football is a viable option for them too, [then it won't mean much]."