AA roar goes up in the stadium, Philip* jumps in the air. “Goal!” he shouts. And a moment later: “Tor?” He looks confused. He can’t find out if his beloved Ghana scored against Portugal and nobody around seems sure.
Because Philip is not in the stadium, but one of hundreds of Ghanaian fans outside. They have rushed to the ground from construction sites, security guards and cleaning shifts across Qatar to support their team. But with no screen showing the game, they have to gauge progress based on the noise in the stadium and the few who can stream it on their phones.
With the exception of the hosts, Ghana have perhaps the largest population in Qatar with a team in the tournament and on Thursday night they performed in force regardless of whether they had tickets or not.
“You need a card to buy a ticket, but I don’t have one, so how could I get a ticket?” says Philip, describing the dilemma faced by many low-wage workers. “I’m still happy. I don’t often get the opportunity to be in a place like this,” he adds.
A few hours earlier, when he had arrived from the run-down workshop in the north of the country where he lives and works, his mood was different. Full of anger, he described the daily humiliation he endures in Qatar.
“It’s very awful, very awful here. They treat us like slaves,” he says. Philip is a “helper,” a catch-all job, meaning he can be used for anything. “I only get 1,000 rials (£225) a month. Even if they let us work overtime, it’s still 1,000 rials.” When asked about the recent labor market reforms in Qatar, he replies: “No, no, no, no! These are all lies!”
He claims he’s trapped in a work culture where bosses take advantage of their poverty because they know they have few other options. “They are taking advantage of our financial situation. You know, if you were born in Africa, you’re already 1-0 down,” he says.
But when Philip gets on the subway to the stadium, his anger dissipates and football takes over. Within seconds he was cheering on the Ghanaian fans, shouting, “Ghana! Ghana! Ghana!” The Portuguese fans reply, “Ronaldo! Ronaldo! Ronaldo!” Soon the whole packed carriage is screaming at each other. It’s loud and light-hearted.
As Philip arrives before the game, he looks up at the stadium as the last of the fans with tickets pass him by.
“We’ve suffered here, so we should be able to enjoy ourselves,” he says quietly.
Mustapha* is standing outside too. He doesn’t have a ticket either, but simply wants to be close to his football idols. “I enjoy football,” he says.
He came to Qatar because his family “has nothing”. He’s hoping to get a chance to join a team in the country, get discovered and then make a name for himself in Europe. When he arrived in Qatar in July, he called his employer from the airport. “Who asked you to come?” The employer replied, “I told your agent not to come.”
Mustapha was stranded. He had already paid a recruiter in Ghana over £700 to come to Qatar and now he had nothing.
“I was shocked. I didn’t know what to do because I was new in the country. I had no money and no place to live,” says Mustapha.
He asked the agent for help but was told to “go home or hide somewhere”.
Mustapha chose to hide. He’s been living in the shadows ever since, doing odd jobs in construction whenever he can. Without an ID – which his employer should have issued – he fears he could be picked up by the police at any time. The heavily guarded subway that he takes to get to the stadium makes him nervous.
As the game begins, some of the Ghanaians gather in small groups and scramble to catch a glimpse of the game on someone’s cell phone. Others tune into the stadium and try to judge what each roar means. But mostly they just party.
A group climbs onto the plinth of a giant replica World Cup trophy to perform boisterous, intense chanting. Everywhere is yellow, red and green. Horns are honked, flags are waved and selfies are snapped. Some fall to their knees in prayer.
But it doesn’t work. After a goalless first half, Ronaldo shoots home a penalty. And then a miracle, Ghana level; the first goal by an African nation at this World Cup. No one knows who scored or what the goal looks like, but it doesn’t matter. They race across the asphalt, jump, hug, dance and sing. This is pure football joy. For a brief moment, the daily drudgery is forgotten.
It doesn’t last. Portugal hit back twice and although Ghana scored a consolation goal, the fans went home empty-handed but not defeated.
“I’m just happy to be here with my brothers,” says Mustapha with a smile. “Our team is here at the World Cup. That makes me happy.”
*Names changed to protect individuals’ identities.
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