Indeed, Ghana’s glory in football history started in the 1960’s. A determined head of state in Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah ensured that Ghana excelled in as many sport disciplines as possible. Athletics and football were among the sports our first president took personal interest in. In fact, Kwame Nkrumah wanted to push the African Personality concept in all endeavours of not only the Ghanaian but also the African. He went to the extent of pushing football administrators like Ohene Djan to occupy high positions at the level of the Confederation of African Football and even the world governing body of football, FIFA. Nkrumah also invested in sports facilities such as getting Ghana its first stadium in Accra.
Kwame Nkruma’s determination
For the footballers, Kwame Nkrumah took a beyond-the-personal interest in their activities. Since becoming a sports journalist, I have had the opportunity to interact with FORMER national stars. Let me state categorically that most of the former players I interacted with played at a time I was NOT born. But the history most of them gave me regarding the football in those days suggested that Ghana’s first president gave his all to ensure the comfort of the players. He consequently established the Real Republicans, an eclectic football club, which challenged the already known and established ones like Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko for laurels. According to Reverend Osei Kofi, the Dribbling Wizard, a call to join the Real Republicans came with some pride as it virtually symbolized a call to national duty. Not surprisingly, the majority of the players to represent the national team was drawn from the Real Republicans. I must state that Kwame Nkrumah’s determination to see the Black Stars excel came into fruition in the team’s maiden participation in the Africa Cup of Nations, when it won the trophy in 1963. Ghana successfully defended her trophy in the tournament’s next edition in 1965 while Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah was still president. In fact, the name of the senior national team – Black Stars – was to represent a team that will symbolize the strength of the African to shine.
As a result of that exceptional treatment they got from the president, the players also showed celestial commitment when they are called to represent the nation. They displayed their utmost for Ghana. Had some of them been seers to know how this same nation would treat them some years after, they would have known how to respond to call-ups then. But had I known is always at large.
Honestly, most of the former players I have talked to have shown regrets for playing for the national team. It is not because they failed to achieve feats but largely due to the fact that the nation is failing to give them their due. I agree with them in entirety! Ghana’s pedigree as four-time African champions stems from the sweat and achievements of these players. Ironically, they received little, or worse still nothing, for this oft-mentioned feat. They were regarded as workers of the state and of the heads-of-state within whose tenures they achieved their feats. It is disgusting to note that two years after the 1964 Olympic Games when Kwame Nkrumah was overthrown, the Kente cloth given to Ghana’s Olympians were confiscated from them. The reasons the perpetrators of that act gave was that those cloths were for the state and not for the players. Disgusting!! But those same people did not go to CAF, FIFA, IOC, IAAF and what have to ask them to delete Ghana’s records since the president, during whose reign they attended their tournaments, had been overthrown. After their efforts in the cold and quite austere weathers, they struggled to make Ghana proud. It is against this background that when we are raking profits today from their toils, we should remember them. Some are going blind, others hardly get three-square meals, some find it difficult accessing adequate healthcare and some pay for their gate fees when visiting the stadium to watch a match. It is high time the Ghana Football Association, under whose jurisdiction these players played, put in measures to bring some sunshine in the lives of these past heroes. I don’t think the current crop of players will disagree if a percentage of their bonuses is dedicated to cater for past footballers. Also, a percentage of gate proceeds at our stadia can be doled out into a fund that can be created for these past national heroes. How many years more do these players have to live that the GFA can’t do something to help them?
Plight of past heroes
I was forced to put this in writing when I met many of them at a function at the Accra Sports Stadium. I had known a couple of them who I constantly communicate with as well. But the many others who turned up for the programme and the popularity they commanded while they were being introduced told me that some ‘people’ are just turning a blind eye on the plight of these past national heroes. I was caught dumbfounded at the citations some commanded! I don’t want to mention names but I hear one of them died under pathetic circumstances because his family was unable to meet his medical bills.
I invariably made the mistake of lambasting them for not being prudent and future-minded during their halcyon days until Rev Osei Kofi explained the circumstances under which they played in those days. He categorized their play as ‘amateurish’ in contrast to the current purely ‘professional’ player disposition. By ‘amateur’, he meant they were not given any contract. You were made to believe you were serving the state by playing for it and you got your bonus and service while with the team. Unlike the ‘amateur’, the current ‘professional’ can, for example, choose the number of jerseys to wear and the kind of football boots to wear. What is more, he gets allowances for a call into the national team without recourse to whether he plays or not. The current professional has masseurs and psychologists at his disposal and can even select some national matches he would like to play with pretext of not incurring the anger of his cub. The plush hotels the current Black Star players lodge in prior to a match for camping may suggest to you they are really enjoying from their sweat. Yes, from their sweat! Football is very difficult and I do not begrudge the current players at all when they earn that much. But there are others who played under very difficult circumstances and, yet, earned little or nothing ironically. These ‘amateurs’ had to settle on monies and gifts their fans gave to them. They were not paid by the clubs then and have to share jerseys. If you are substituted, you remove your jersey to the next person on the substitutes’ bench. Boots, which were hard to access, were for the clubs and you only used them during a match. I remember a funny but real story I was told when the Black Stars went to England in the 1960s. They were playing in a friendly match! After the match, the English fans came to touch the legs of the Ghanaian players to find out whether they had natural boots. They had been taken aback by the dexterity of the team though they played barefooted.
Happily enough, these past players have come together to form an association – Retired National Footballers Association of Ghana – RENFAG. I, consequently, implore the Ghana Football Association to take keen interest in their activities and members. I know the GFA helps them in one way or the other but from the way I see things, it is not enough. I would be very glad to see all of them beam and leave the scene in happiness. Currently, their league –the OLDIES league – is not doing bad and I am yet to see results of the league on the GFA portal for example. We have to do more for our past national heroes. A nation that does not honour its heroes…