Ian does not want to give his surname. The attention the West Ham United fan in Ghana has received has been enough. The Athletic is happy to stick with Ian.
“The whole thing was really innocent. I arrived in Ghana last Monday. On the Thursday, I travelled to the stadium with a football coach that I work with. We arrived at the ground, I wore a West Ham jersey and a guy said, ‘Can I talk to you?’ — the coach I was with advised me not to talk to anyone because I was the only white person there.”
Ian, a season-ticket holder in the Billy Bonds Stand, is recalling the moment on his trip when he met the club’s £38million ($48m) summer signing Mohammed Kudus.
The 62-year-old lives in St Albans, a commuter town on the northern outskirts of London, and travelled more than 3,000 miles (5,000km) to Accra, the capital of Ghana. He then hired a driver to take him to Kumasi, roughly a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Accra, to watch Kudus score in Ghana’s 2-1 win over Central African Republic last week in their most recent Africa Cup of Nations qualifier.
But before Ian took his place in the stands at the 40,000-capacity Baba Yara Stadium, he was filmed by GhanaWebTV and his interview went viral.
“I spoke to the guy, we got to our seats and the people around me kept saying, ‘West Ham, West Ham’,” says Ian. “They knew I was there to see Kudus and when he scored they started hugging me. After about an hour, my phone kept pinging and people said I’m trending. I said, ‘What does “trending” mean?’. I’m not on social media but it went from there. I was then supposed to see Kudus after the match but the players had to get back to Accra.
“I got to meet him on the Saturday and he said, ‘I want to give you my matchday shirt’. Then my phone started pinging again after. But before that, I went to shake his hand, he gave me a big hug and said, ‘I really appreciate your support’. I told Kudus what we expect of him as fans and how he can be a hero. We spoke for about 30 minutes and he’s a lovely guy. I could tell he was shy so I mostly did the talking.
“I’ve been a season ticket holder for a long time and watching West Ham since I was a kid. I told Kudus we’re not Manchester City or Chelsea with lots of money to spend, but we have a strong team spirit. West Ham fans don’t ever expect to win a lot, we just want to see players try their hardest on the pitch and we love players like (Jarrod) Bowen, (Michail) Antonio and (Lucas) Paqueta. My last point to Kudus was: if you work hard for the team, the fans will love you.”
Ian hopes he can remain in contact with Kudus.
The versatile forward, signed from leading Dutch side Ajax, made his debut in the 2-1 victory over Luton Town in the final match before this international break and could make his first start against Manchester City this weekend. Ian is still in Accra and watched Kudus play again there last night (Tuesday) as he scored Ghana’s second goal in a 3-1 friendly win over Liberia. He will travel back to St Albans tomorrow in time for the visit of last season’s treble winners on Saturday afternoon.
Ian is a football coach who also works as a refrigeration consultant but this trip to Ghana was not out of the ordinary — he is a regular visitor to the west African nation.
“When you love football so much, you don’t think about how much all the travel cost, you’re just grateful you get to experience beautiful moments,” he says. “I’ve done some work in Ghana as a consultant, so I know a few people over here. I thought to myself, ‘Let me go there so I can watch Mohammed Kudus’. The whole thing was surreal. When I watched Kudus the other day, he was the best player on the pitch.
“But me being in Ghana isn’t a one-off. I used to do football coaching in England, I have all my badges and I taught girls and disabled children to play at a local club called Harvesters FC. Then it became very successful and we received lottery funding. When I came to Ghana, a team called Blue Skies Pelican based in Nsawam (just outside Accra) were in need of a coach. They asked me to put on a session but I’d never coached adults.
“They loved it and made me a patron of the club. I helped them get sponsorship money and I bought boots and kits for the players. Now they all want West Ham kits because of me and Kudus. Before a game I said, ‘Whoever wins man of the match gets this West Ham jersey’.”
Ian was in Ghana when West Ham won the Europa Conference League final in June. His two daughters travelled to that match against Fiorentina of Italy in the Czech capital Prague and, as a lifelong supporter, Ian would have loved to have witnessed his club win their first major silverware since 1980. But he had valid reasons for missing that trip.
“The company I work for had their 25th anniversary,” he says. “I was invited as a VIP guest and I had to book flights and a hotel, so I had to decide whether I wanted to go to Ghana or hope West Ham win the semi-final and get to the final. But knowing West Ham, I had a feeling something would go wrong, so I chose Ghana.
“I watched the final at a bar with some West Ham fans. When the final whistle went, I started crying. The people I was with asked, ‘Why are you crying?, I thought you’d be happy’. I said, ‘This never happens to us’. I just couldn’t believe it.
“Now we look even better. I love Declan Rice and I wished he could’ve stayed, but the money was spent wisely and we have a much better team without him. Hopefully, we’ll go on another European run with Kudus and others impressing.”