Veteran Sports Journalist Ken Bediako-The Writer

By Ken Bediako

The current football season has been a rather crazy one for the Fabulous Asante Kotoko family. Whereas football historians are preparing to celebrate the Porcupines 40th anniversary of their second Africa Cup won in December 1983, the current generation of players are not giving much cause for merriment. It is sad to report that, as if heartbroken some of the past Kotoko heroes are unceremoniously joining their ancestors in quick succession.

Barely two months ago it was adroit left winger Robert Eshun who passed away to be quickly followed by midfield sensation Joe Debrah. Both were brilliant youngsters in the late 80s who had taken over from Bob Marley Papa Arko’s trenchant Africa champs squad of 1983.

And what do we hear now?  Papa Arko, the young, brilliant and determined midfielder, who captained Asante Kotoko to their second Africa Cup triumph on that fateful Sunday, Dec 11 1983 at the Baba Yara Stadium is gone. He was a good

On top of Africa. Skipper Papa Arko displaying the Africa Cup on that historic occasion at the Baba Yara Stadium on Dec 11 1983

footballer by all standards. My close association with Asante Kotoko when Papa Arko was captain showed to me that he was an influential skipper. A true legend he was easily the youngest player to lead Kotoko. The 23-year-old young man took over as acting skipper in early 1983 following Opoku Afriyie’s forced retirement by the Yaw Bawuah administration. To his utmost credit in the midst of controversy and furore, the midfield dynamo rallied the playing body around himself and management thus braving several storms.

It was in appreciation of this that later in the year he was confirmed captain of the side.

Retaining the league trophy in his first year as captain was no mean achievement but winning the continental honours at the same time put him among Ghana’s football immortals.

The easy going midfielder who played with amazing confidence is on record as the youngest player to captain Asante Kotoko at age 23.

Popularly called Bob Marlley for his great love for reggae music, handsome Papa Arko played with amazing ease and confidence. His ability to score from outside the box earned Kotoko and Ghana many sweet victories. Born in Kumasi on June 2 1960 Papa Arko took to active football in Secondary school at Konongo Odumase and was soon a hero.

He joined Kotoko after completing his GCE O Level in 1978.

The way Papa Arko led Asante Kotoko to that Africa Cup triumph was so spectacular and historic I would like to relive memories of that event as reported by

Kotoko Weekly, the club’s official newspaper I edited at the time. Here we go:


This was the soccer invasion of the Garden City by the “we no go sit down” buses of all shapes and sizes, rickety contraptions with four wheels by air and foot that all converged on the Garden City in their hundreds of thousands.

By Saturday night, the City of Kumasi was choking with people from every nook and cranny of the country. With even the most nondescript hotel in town fully booked, some decided to keep wake around the precincts of the stadium where the PNDC curfew had been unofficially lifted. Others dozed off leaning against walls of the stadium or in trucks and buses. No discomfort was too much if only they could watch the match of the decade.

Meanwhile one pub was doing brisk business as usual. The match fever was already at its peak as Guinness and Beer- powered fans sang their hearts out.

But it was on the morning of the match Sunday Dec 11 that the real action started. By 4am the queues had started forming as more and more people poured into the city from far and near.

Long, meandering queues, some as long as two miles, were still forming. As one man put it “it doesn’t matter how long we stay here so long as we get in there to get Kotoko win the cup no sacrifice was too great.”

And nowhere was any fan heard grumbling at the instant increase in the gate fees. Said one Ali Bukari, “I paid through my nose to get here from Bawku. I am not going to be stopped from getting into the stadium by an increase in gate fees.”

Such was the spirit. But when by 10am by a combination of circumstances the gates had still not been opened for the sale of tickets to begin, some people became restive.

Reports that a couple of gates had been broken down by angry, frustrated crowd anxious to get in started filtering through. So were unconfirmed reports that a couple of people had been trampled to death in the stands. Others had received injuries from gun shots and some with gushing wounds after trying to scale the walls and falling backwards

On the whole however the atmosphere was one of the great expectations and supreme tolerance.

And so by 1pm the stadium was almost full to capacity with more people still waiting outside. In the end some of them couldn’t get in and either decided to hang around or leave for their homes in disappointment.

But for the lucky ones inside the stadium they made sure every available space was taken. The really daring ones did make the tall pylon at the stadium their sanctuary. Nothing was too risky as long as they caught a glimpse of the players and their action. All too soon the excitement reached fever pitch as the two sides arrived for the normal formalities: inspection of teams, playing of national anthems of Egypt and Ghana, the toss of the coin and soon the match was on the way at 3pm.

In the next 90 minutes a few hearts had stopped beating momentarily. Cheers went up to meet spectacular moments.

Kotoko’s goal came quite early in the 21st minute but the euphoria it created didn’t last long enough.

The Egyptians were in no mood to leave the

trophy behind and they made sure that the last 20 minutes was one of a hell for the teeming fans who were made to sit on thorns.

In fact, until the Algerian referee’s whistle went there were a lot in the stadium who literally had their hearts in their mouths. But when the whistle finally went everything changed. Initially a few were just stunned. Among them was Assad Mallah, a special adviser for executive chairman Yaw Bawuah. Momentarily he was lost in thoughts but he was soon swept off his feet by hundreds of fans who poured down the stands towards their heroes.

Within a twinkle of an eye the entire arena of the stadium was transformed into a sea of sweating, jubilating human beings. And hoisted above everybody were the gallant heroic players of Asante Kotoko. Coach Sunday Ibrahim and team manager Malik Jabir all of them in tears of joy streaming on their faces, dancing and waving their white handkerchiefs.

Some of the fans had not forgotten to bring pieces of white calico signifying purity in victory and these were tied around the heads and wrists of the players.

The carnival was in town.

The carnival could not be stopped. Men,

women and children, led by brass band, poured onto the streets blocking traffic but everybody accepting the situation with a lot of humour and even pride. They have all been waiting for 12 years for just this. Kotoko are Africa champions again and

as far as they were concerned nothing else mattered.

Cheers everybody and keep loving sports.