Tariq Lamptey first kicked a ball for Ghana on September 23, when the Black Stars engaged Brazil in a pre-Qatar 2022 friendly match; his memories of the occasion – even if he only came on as a rather late substitute, and despite his new national team being soundly thrashed by the record world champions – would forever remain fond.
Days earlier, though, Lamptey had a maiden taste of what it really means to be a Black Star; the debut, if you like, before the actual debut – away from the football pitch.
The Ghana squad invited for the latest international break had gathered for a socialisation session, at their Deauville base in northern France, that saw some of the new faces (as well as a couple of the relatively older ones), you know, ‘get down’.
There is, of course, no doubt that almost everyone who gets called up to the Black Stars – even before they take to the field for the very first time – possesses the ability to perform to the required standard, and it’s quite fair to make that assumption about the most recent debutants.
What isn’t readily apparent about these fresh additions – thus requiring ample demonstration, needless to say – is what they have to offer in the dance department; because, let’s face it, this is a team that places as much premium on dancing properly as on playing properly.
Scoring a goal with a well-rehearsed build-up, for the Black Stars, has always been as important as celebrating it with well-rehearsed choreography, and the new guys are expected to contribute as much to the latter as to the former.
So, then, have they got it?
Well, that’s the question Lamptey, Ransford-Yeboah Königsdörffer, Mohammed Salisu, Inaki Williams animatedly sought to answer on the aforementioned evening, as revealed in videos that went viral on Twitter and drew excited reactions from the public, including those who have been there and done that.
Much of the discussion has been about which player came up with the best moves – the jury, of which you’re probably part, is still out on that – but could there be some greater significance to what otherwise seems a merely fascinating and amusing rite of passage?
If anyone would know, it’s Andre Ayew, current skipper of the Black Stars.
Ayew, by virtue of having been around longest, has seen more initiation dances than any in the team. At a press conference ahead of the match with Brazil, a day after the ‘event’, Ayew revealed that the tradition actually predates his arrival on the scene.
“It’s been there before I even came to the team,” Ayew said.
“It’s not going to change.”
Certainly not on his watch, given how much he still appears to enjoy it all, 15 years after his first taste. The most recent session was especially memorable, as Ayew, a scion of a family that qualifies as Ghanaian footballing royalty, highlights.
“We had a great last night as a team and hopefully these little things help bring more joy and laughter and more unity.
“It’s a great moment of joy and of bringing each other together; it’s like a tradition and we don’t change those kinds of things – and I think the guys who came in did their part well.”
However well each performed, Lamptey and Co. would certainly appreciate this thumbs-up from an expert judge of – and veteran participant in – these in-camp dance routines.
While Ayew hopes that “time and results” would help forge an even stronger sense of togetherness, the former Swansea City and West Ham United man believes the stress of playing football games – especially for one’s country – entitles the boys to “some time to enjoy”.
One player who definitely enjoyed his initiation is Kwesi Appiah, who retains vivid recollections of that evening, even though almost a decade has passed.
“I wasn’t aware of the initiation until it was almost time for me to step up and dance,” London-born Appiah says.
“It was probably for the better that I had little to no foreknowledge of what was to come, as it helped me not overthink and make a mess of it all. I was ready to go – or so I thought – quietly confident about what I had in my dancing locker.”
Even so, it wasn’t plain-sailing.
“My experience was nerve-racking,” Appiah confesses.
“I wasn’t sure if the boys would enjoy my dancing or make fun of me for it. But, in the end, my performance was met by a great reception, and I’m sure that helped me settle into the group a lot quicker.”
Dancing, of course, isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but… dancing in front of people, most/all of whom you’re barely familiar with?
Well, that’s so much harder, isn’t it?
“That sort of challenge does tend to drag some people miles out of their comfort zone, I know, but I embraced it,” Appiah chuckles, knowing just how well he benefited from it all those years ago.
“It helped me warm up to everyone, thereby easing my integration. It’s a rite they have all been through, after all, so they know the feeling and share that moment with you, appreciating this for just what it is: a team-bonding exercise that also helps with character-building.”
From that day onwards, Appiah – a member of the last Ghana squad to reach a final of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) – became a fully-minted Ghanaian international, very much one of the lads.
And even though he hasn’t had a chance to add to his seven caps for the west African country – more than three years removed from his last appearance, in fact – Appiah still feels part of the fabric, which is why he felt compelled to tweet his own response to the videos of the latest ‘inductees’ into the Black Stars’ dancing band of brothers.
For the culture, right?
Enn Y. Frimpong – Ink & Kicks