By Ken Bediako
Like the way some political stalwarts fought for Ghana’s independence so did Ohene Djan spearhead the crusade to put Ghana sports, especially football on a sound footing.
Historians will tell you that in colonial days, football for example was organised haphazardly with splinter associations scattered all over the place.
Accra however was the dominant territory with Mr Richard A. Akwe calling the shots and apparently running a one man show that agitated a reformist group led by Ohene Djan to stop the rot and build a truly national body to run football in the newly independent Ghana. So come 1958 and Ohene Djan was elected chairman of the national Football Association at a grand ceremony at the Prempeh Assembly Hall in Kumasi.
At 33, the young dynamic Nsawam-based educationist by profession and cocoa merchant by occupation set to work in earnest.
He introduced the National Football League with eight clubs from the four big municipalities at the time ie Accra, Kumasi, Cape Coast and Sekondi. The clubs were Hearts of Oak and Great Olympics from Accra, Asante Kotoko and Cornerstone from Kumasi, Venomous Vipers and Mysterious Dwarfs from Cape Coast, Eleven Wise and Hasaacas from Sekondi. The league enjoyed tremendous national appeal and was the weekend pastime for a lot of people.
Hearts won the maiden edition followed by Kotoko and Eleven Wise in the subsequent seasons.
When Ohene Djan caught the eyes of President Nkrumah and made him Director of Sports in the newly created Central Organisation Sports (COS), the whole equation in sports administration changed in the country. He elected to be executive secretary of the Football Federation in addition to his post as Director of sports.
Either by design or chance, the chairmanship of the Football Federation became Sinecure with Mr Kojo Botsio, Minister of Education occupying that position.
Full of ideas and buttressed by the enormous authority from the President who Ohene Djan openly declared had given him his personal support to make Ghana football the showpiece in Africa, he took several bold and risky decisions.
First, he compulsorily recruited two top players from each of the top clubs to form a model club Real Republikans dubbed Osagyefo’s Own Club.
It was obviously the national team in disguise. He must have realised it won’t be fair for Republikans to compete in the national league so he decreed they should play on non-competitive basis.
The snag however was that Republikans could be beaten for points. This aspect of the league is also a whole story to be told in future.
In any case, since Republikans were entering the league from nowhere, Ohene Djan decided to expand the league from eight clubs to 16, bringing in seven more clubs to double the tally.
Republikans adopted Swedru as home grounds sharing the venue with All Blacks.
Denkyira United, Adansi United, Great Ashanti, B A United, Accra Stamdfast and Kumasi United were the other additions.
Competition was so high and a lot of players were discovered in so large numbers that a novelty competition for the reserve/junior players was arranged and curtain raisers to the top division matches.
Accra Hearts for instance had Auroras as the reserve team; Kotoko had Komfo Anokye.
Republikans had State Envoys, Great Olympics had Oly Dade and Hasaacas called their reserves Malavans.
Meanwhile, star studded Republikans continued to be disliked by the Football public. Even though they played good attractive football, they received minimal support because of the way players were poached from the already established clubs with nationwide support.
The unfortunate motor accident involving Republikans at Kpevebin in the Volta Region when they were returning from a league match against Kpandu on March 24, 1963 did not help matters. It was this accident that cut short the colourful career of Baba Yara, one of the most gifted footballers the nation has produced.
Perhaps it was by providence that in the absence of Baba Yara Ghana was able to win the Africa Cup for the first time later in the year.
So impressive were the Black Stars that those who had criticised Ohene Djan for the formation of Republikans realised the wisdom in the exercise. The players had played together for a long time and team work was superb.
Football historians will tell you that it was Ohene Djan who gave the appellation Black Stars to the Senior National Football team at a ceremony at his official residence at Nsawam in Oct 1960.
Unfortunately, only three of the 20-member foundation team are still alive. They are Owens Oblitey, Dogo Moro and Wilberforce Mfum.
It is my hope that they will add their support to the campaign to give Ohene Djan the recognition he deserves in Ghana’s sporting history by restoring his name for the Accra Sports stadium.