Accra Stadium on May 9 2001

By Ken Bediako

This week Thursday May 9, marks exactly 23 years ago when Ghana suffered her biggest sports related disaster as 126 football fans were killed in a stampede at Accra Stadium.

The sad incident happened immediately after a midweek national league match between traditional rivals Accra, Hearts of Oak and Kumasi Asante Kotoko. It was a tension packed game and the stadium had been filled to capacity.

After a thrilling goalless first half, Kotoko had taken the lead in the 60th minute through Lawrence Adjei but Hearts prolific striker Ishmael Addo scored two rapid goals in the 77th and 81st minutes to win the day for the Phobians.

Tension was high at the closing stages and as soon as the final whistle sounded opposing fans in the stands near the former Race Course began to misbehave by throwing broken chairs at each other.

Veteran Sports Journalist Ken Bediako-The Writer

Soon the crowd became uncontrollable and the heavy police presence had to deploy teargas in a frantic effort to disperse the fans and stop the rot. Unfortunately, things got out of hand and in the melee, under a rather weak floodlights system, and everybody running for life, it became a chaotic scenario. When the dust settled and volunteers had sped off helpless victims of teargas to nearby Police and Military hospitals, 126 football fans were counted dead.

This disaster was a heavy challenge to the five-month old new government of President Agyekum Kufuor’s New Patriotic Party.

It is worth recalling that the Kufuor government faced the crisis boldly and quickly. Mr Jake Obetsebi Lamptey then chief of staff and Attorney General Nana Akufo-Addo (now President) got to work around the clock. A five-member Presidential Commission comprising four highly respected intellectuals and one ordinary Ghanaian, was appointed to probe the disaster and among other things, make recommendations to prevent future occurrence.

Mr Sam Okudzeto, the legendary lawyer and veteran politician was chairman of the Commission. The other intellectuals were Prof Akua Kuenyehia, Prof Kofi Ofosu Amaah, Prof Agyeman Badu Akosah. Yours truly was the ordinary Ghanaian- sports journalist. I must admit it was a learning curve for me.

The Commission worked assiduously with lengthy public sittings taking evidence from wide spectrum of football fans and officials. There was a brief visit to the UK to study how they coped with a similar disaster in Anfield Liverpool decades earlier. The Commission was in good position to make many useful recommendations that were accepted by the government. Too numerous to mention here but mainly dealing with facilities and security at sports Stadia, and the establishment of a national ambulance service.

The Accra Stadium on that day exceeded its capacity and that may sound strange to those not born at the time.

Yes, matches between Hearts and Kotoko attracted such maximum patronage that the Commission recommended such matches should not be played in mid-week to avoid using floodlights. Things fall apart these days.

Can you imagine that recently a Hearts-Kotoko match at the same Accra Stadium was advertised gate free but you could count attendance on your fingertips.

Until our current generation of football administrators return to basics and develop the game from the bottom to the top, the so called premier league will continue to lose its attraction.

If Harry Zakkour of Hearts and Kotoko’s Herbert Mensah could fill the stadium to capacity even though they were not the club’s bankrollers, as is fashionable now, then there is something more in football management than high sounding appellations and hysterical blusterings.

May I make this special appeal to all those who seem determined to contribute to the abysmal organisation of the Premier league to put a stop to their behaviour.

The other day a seasoned coach made himself a laughing stock by sitting on a chair in the middle of the pitch as a protest against the referee’s alleged unfavourable decision against his club.

Then last Sunday Legon Cities decided to wear jerseys similar in colour to those of Kotoko in their match at the Baba Yara Stadium much against the rules of the competition.

If I may ask what has happened to pre-match conferences where all this is supposed to be sorted out.

And as if this is not enough, filth splashed on the league, certain clubs in comfortable positions seem to be playing matches of convenience at the closing stages of the league.

This archaic practice is not good for the game and must stop.

Let me end my piece today with the hope that proper arrangements are being made for the hosting of the big Under 17 football tournament to be played at the Legon Stadium.

It may be a good idea to declare the public stands free to ensure maximum patronage. Gradually when fans get used to the Legon venue, appropriate fees may be charged in future international tournaments of this nature.

Cheers everybody and keep loving sports.