It is early days yet, but it seems Accra Hearts of Oak will never feel at home playing at the Cape Coast Sports Stadium, if their 3:1 defeat to AshGold on Saturday is anything to go by.
Moving from their long-cherished Accra Sports Stadium, which is currently undergoing renovation ahead of the 2018 Women’s AFCON , was always going to come at a cost. The price, depending on which angle it is viewed, might just turn out to be too expensive for the 21 time league champions if they fail to adapt quickly.
For a start, football supporters are generally a conservative, who are fiercely attached to the history of their club, so when changing grounds, their main concern is over the loss of heritage and tradition that has been established over so many decades.
These are eradicated in a moment, as they have to say farewell to a ground they have known and adored their entire lives. It can be quite emotional.
In the case of the Hearts of Oak, most supporters in Accra might not even see the need to make the journey to Cape Coast Stadium to watch their team play because of the terribly road network in the country.
This means that the huge support base – the ‘eleventh man’, will always be missing whenever they play in Cape Coast. This can play well into the psychology of visiting teams.
While the Ohene Djan Stadium maybe deteriorating and showing signs of wear and tear, there is generally a deep-rooted yearning for the ground.
While the players have to adapt to new surroundings, striving to ensure that they feel at home as quickly as possible, such acclimatisation takes time. Opposing teams are often lifted by the thought of playing at a neutral venue, and can be more inspired than the home team.
Evidence from the football world strongly suggests that moving stadiums can negatively impact a team. Potentially, it adds that extra pressure to perform, and maybe teams feel more obliged to entertain the fans with more exciting and flamboyant football.
More importantly, it says a lot about the team on how it deals with this extra pressure. In Europe for example, teams buckle initially under this pressure, and their form suffers because of this – notably Arsenal, West Ham and Lille.
There are a couple of familiar traits in the form of teams prior to their move and in the seasons immediately following. Arsenal and Southampton are two clubs who have made moves while in the Premier League, and one of the most significant aspects of their performances during this transitional period was the uplift in their form in their last few seasons at Highbury and The Dell respectively before moving venues to the Emirates and Dell St. Mary’s, which eventually dipped after.
In the case of the ‘Phobians’, sharing a ground with a rival – Ebusua Dwarfs, could also prove to be a very unhappy and worrying period for the ‘Rainbow boys’.
A disappointing loss against Ashgold in their game at their adopted home is obviously too early to make firm judgements on how they will be affected this season, but the warning signs are already there.