I have always counted myself lucky that I plunged into sports journalism at a time when almost all sports disciplines were flourishing to such an extent I never got used to negative reporting of failings and the resultant blame games.
From non-violent sports disciplines like cricket to boxing (amateur and pro) through, athletics, tennis, table tennis, hockey, horse racing to football, the nation’s favourite pastime football, it was success all over the place. Suffice to say that organisation was superb and patronage was encouraging.
Our political leaders fresh from Ghana’s Independence made competitive sports and Games a national pastime Ghana participated in many international sports festivals like the Commonwealth Games and the Olympic Games. Sporting activities were almost compulsory in educational institutions culminating in National Intercollegiate competitions. In 1958, that is a year after Independence, the new nation made a mark at the Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, Wales where high jumper Robert Kotei won bronze. Two years later Ghana won Olympic boxing silver at the Rome Olympics through Lightwelterweight Ike Quartey Snr.
Retired national boxing legend, Roy Ankrah had been put in charge of the national amateur boxing team and the Ghana team shone brilliantly at both the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth Australia and the 1966 Commonwealth Games in Kingston
Jamaica plus an Olympic bronze at the 1968 Mexico Games through light middleweight Eddie Blay.
Meanwhile, in football Ghana had won Afcon 1963 in Accra and stoutly defended it in 1965 beating host nation Tunisia.
Even though it took Ghana 13 more years to win her third Afcon in Accra in 1978, this it was enough to give Ghana the honour of taking the cup for keeps as per the regulations at the time. You win the cup thrice and keep it for good. The regulations have now changed. Ghana has won the new cup only once in Libya 1982. It’s more than 40 years ago and this is a national concern. What kind of system are we pursuing that can’t provide good players to win the Africa Cup?
This is a million cedi question that should be answered by the current generation of football authorities. Recent events show clearly that the standard of the national league is quite below expectation The general impression is that many of our current crop of league players don’t appear serious about their chosen profession. There appears to be lack of motivation to play with any determination and sense of purpose. The crave for money is taking precedence over serious training. People want to reap where they have not sowed. The road to fame and money is hard work and sacrifice. There is that lack of skilful players to attract fans to pay and watch them in action
Your solution to this problem is as good as mine and as the saying goes “all hands should be on deck”. Going through the archives, as is my hobby I realise the nation has provided some real talented players before oo. Not too long ago just in the 80s. As a freelance journalist then having resigned from the Graphic, I used to profile many of the exciting players at the time, especially from Asante Kotoko and Hearts of Oak for commercial reasons of course.
For the next few weeks, I will sample a few of them two or three players each from the two clubs that have the distinguished honour of remaining in the top division league since its inception in 1958. I begin this week with Opoku Afriyie and Joseph Carr from Kotoko (1982) and Owusu Mensah and Ofei Ansah from Hearts of Oak (1985)
Here we go.
Fans call him “Businessman a tag he earned in his early appearances for Asante Kotoko in 1974. Business man indeed he is for he is really a terror when he gets into the opponents’ vital area.
Deceptively fragile Opoku Afriyie is best remembered for the two brilliant goals he scored in the Black Stars 2-0 win over Uganda at Accra Stadium on March 8 1978 which won Ghana the Africa Nations Cup for keeps.
He has recently earned a new tag “Bayie” (wizard) from his admirers for his goal scoring wizardry. The hat-trick he got in Kotoko’s 6-0 triumph over Kampala City Council in Kumasi will remain the talking point for a long time to come. The Daily Graphic aptly described him as the Paolo Rossi of
Ghana soccer in reference to the Italian soccer star’s exploits in the recent World Cup.
Opoku Afriyie was born On Feb 2 1955 in Kumasi to Nana Kofi Poku Oyokohene of Kumasi and Madam Abiba Mansah both farmers.
He started playing football at the age of 10 and was a prominent player for Kumasi Hearts Babies Colts team where he earned the nickname Nana Aggrey.
He joined Kotoko in 1974 and was made captain in 1980. Married to Georgina Korsah a Kumasi trader,
Opoku has two children.
His hobbies are athletics and boxing His favourite player is Owusu Sekyere.
He recalls his happiest day in his football career as the day Kotoko trounced Kampala City Council 6-0 and the 2-0 loss to Kadiogo is the day he would quickly like to forget. Opoku who is a businessman outside the field wants to be chairman of Kumasi Asante Kotoko in future.
JOSEPH KWEKU CARR
Cape Coast born Joseph Kweku Carr is undoubtedly the nation’s number one goalkeeper. However, a slight misunderstanding between him and the handlers of the Black Stars last March during the African Cup of Nations tournament in Tripoli, Libya has cost him the number one spot in recent times.
A welder by profession, Carr started his football career as a full back with Manchester Colts club in Cape Coast in 1965 while at the Jubilee Middle School. He later on played for Massacres, another
colts club before registering for Cape Coast Dwarfs in 1969. He was the regular goalie till he signed for Sekondi Hasaacas in 1975. He soon rose to fame and was in the posts when Ghana won the Afcon Cup in 1978. He was also in the posts when Ghana unsuccessfully defended the cup in Nigeria 1980.
Carr left Ghana for a brief sojourn in Nigeria and returned to register for Asante Kotoko for the next season.
Married with two children Joseph Jr and Peter, Carr’s ambition is to become a good
football coach. His hobbies are singing and drumming. Carr’s favourite player goalie, the late Robert Mensah and West Germany’s veteran goalie Sepp Maier is his idol abroad.
His happiest moment in his football career was when Dwarfs held Hearts of Oak to a hectic 1-1 draw in a league match at Accra Stadium He was in the posts for Dwarfs.
The five goals Carr conceded in the Black Stars match against Cote d’Ivoire during the special African Zonal competition in Benin is his saddest moment.
MICHAEL OWUSU MENSAH
Undoubtedly, Ghana’s number one goalkeeper
Michael Owusu Mensah has surprised most football fans who, a few years back thought he could not make it to the top.
When Owusu Mensa started big time football with Kumasi Cornerstone. He was not a particularly bright goalie. Hearts however saw the potential in him and recruited the lanky goalie only to dispose of his services after two seasons.
Come Libya 1982 and Owusu Mensah suddenly became the toast of football fans when he inspired the Black Stars to their fourth African Cup triumph in Libya 1982.
An instant hero all the clubs went in for Owusu Mensah but it was Okwawu United who got the upper hand.
Full of confidence Owusu Mensah led Okwawu to several brilliant victories and was soon the number one for the Black Stars.
He returned to Hearts last season and contributed in no small measure to Hearts’ first league triumph since 1979.
Owusu Mensah was born in Kumasi on May 26, 1956 to Mr John K. Owusu, mechanical engineer and Susanne Owusu, a trader.
EMMANUEL OFEI ANSAH
One of the most experienced international defenders around “Baby faced” Emmanuel Ofei Ansah does not look his age at all but he will be 31 in April 1985.
Ofei noted for his close marking and at times bone shaking tackles, is an acknowledged free kick exponent. He has earned a lot of goals for Hearts and the Black Stars from such lovely free kicks. Hearts fans will best remember him for his 49 yarder which beat Asante Kotoko’s Jerry Adjei in the opening match of the 1985 season at Accra Stadium.
A tailor by profession, Ofei Ansah was born in Accra on 12th April, 1954 to David Ansah a driver and Florence Ansah a petty trader. He played Colts football at school and plunged straight to first division football Hearts of Oak in 1973 where he has faithfully remained since then.
It was former National star Charles Addo Odametey who inspired Ofei to play football and Ofei says he has really enjoyed his Association with Hearts.
A father of three Ofei’s favourite player in Ghana is Sampson Lamptey, Junior of Brazil is his idol abroad. Brazilian club Flamingo is his favourite team abroad Sekondi Hasaacas is his other favourite team locally. Azumah Nelson is the other sportsman he admires most.
Cheers everybody and keep loving sports.