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Opinion | Sep 22, 2012


By @Heartseleven

Bernard Dong Bortey: Adored by the phobia faithful, loathed by the fabulous fanatics; remembered by a few South Africans and the Santos FC goalkeeper, oblivious to the local soccer fan; hailed at Youth level, neglected by the National team selectors; derided by the media, respected by team mates and opponents.

Dong Bortey born on the 22nd September, 1982 was the son of a former HEARTS OF OAK goalkeeper, and like his father, rose to make his name with the GLORIOUS CLUB in the early and middle decade of the millennia. He was not even born when his father manned the post for the Oak tree, but in the realms of the loins of the old Hearts goalkeeper, this cult hero had lived the ups and downs of the 1970's phobia fan; the sweet memories of the “fearsome famous five.'' The nadir of losing two Africa Club Cup finals in three years. He was born during the ephemeral highs-and-lows of the club in the early eighties.

Bortey first made his name in New Zealand U-17 1999, scoring a hat-trick in the 7-0 mauling of Thailand. He started out with Ghapoha FC and lighted the league in 2000 with his co-partner-in-crime, Billy Suleimana. He left the club a year later to join our darling club Accra Hearts of Oak; but not without flirting with the porcupine warriors - and helping to create a fable that he eloped with a sum of seventy million cedis back in those days from the Chairman of Asante Kotoko.

The transfer of Bernard Dong Bortey was the longest, serpentine, transfer of the Ghanaian soccer calendar. He moved from three clubs in every single day's report on the Radio – one minute, he was staying put with the “porters”; another he was off to Hearts; later he's on the bus to Kumasi; and the story kept swinging according to who was talking: a hearts fan or a fabulous fanatic.

But this was a man on a course to emulate and better his father. He lived the dream of playing for ACCRA HEARTS OF OAK SC as a child and when the possibility of it happening became clear to him, he never vacillated. He chose Hearts over Kotoko, rainbow over red, Accra over Kumasi, and most importantly, the Old Oak tree over the spinning Porcupine – the then conquering of Africa by Hearts of Oak swayed his decision.

Bernard was pushed straight into the team, joining the great “battalion 64 squad” at the peak of their powers – or worst the end of their apogee. The power of greatness was shifting slowly, Ishmael Addo and Osei Kuffour – the two linchpins of that squad had seek pastures anew; Charles Taylor's latent influence on the team was becoming salient. Cecil Jones had taken over the Black Stars job, replaced by a series of acting-coaches, and later Herbert Addo was appointed Head-coach in 2002.

A decade ago, Bernard became the heart and soul of the Hearts of Oak team with his appurtenance “the terrible” Charles Taylor –or vice versa. The question had lingered in the mind and heart of the Hearts faithful as to who was the more important of the two. The debate ended when Charles Taylor was declared the Sports Personality of the Year, and both sharing the goal king having scored 18 goals apiece. But it was not the award –or lack of it-that helped to develop the myth and legend that soon followed.

A hero was born instantly: one who would make us cry, laugh, jump, scowl, shout,smile,love, and love again; who would make us proud as a fan, because he played and acted –which will be a soiling word to his legacy – and lived like a PHOBIA FAN.

Herbert Addo's side went on to win a record 25 matches, accumulating the highest point tally in the history of the Ghana Premier League -78points. Dong Bortey, Wisdom Abbey, and captain Charles Taylor had formed a deadly trident. They switched wings accordingly, if the skills of Taylor could not do the trick on the wings, Bernard will use his pace to open up the opponents' defense and vice-versa.

Bortey left for Al-Wasl after 2002 for a short stint, following in the foot-steps of Mohammed Polo, and paving the way for Diego Maradona to coach the team close to a decade later. He returned a year later to help Hearts - and cement Attuquayefio's legacy as the greatest Club football coach in Ghana- by winning the maiden Confederation Cup against bitter rivals Asante Kotoko in 2005.

He had an on-off problem with the management of Hearts after those glories years. He only trained when Kotoko were coming up on the fixture list. He loved the rivalry, he loved scoring against the enemy, he loved the cynosure that came with it, and he lost time out too. In the history of the Hearts-Kotoko rivalry, I don't think there has ever been a consistently out-of-form player who had always risen to the occasion, like Bortey did.

To sum up his last battle with Kotoko for the Phobians in the league, a lackadaisical Hearts team visited Kumasi to play league leaders and Champions-elect, Asante Kotoko at the Babayara Stadium on the 25th May, 2008. The Kotoko grapevine had a score line of 6-0 in their favour prognosticated way before a ball was kicked. Hearts fell behind in the early minutes of the game, Hearts coach Eyal Lachman, had kept his cool on the bench, the players were questioning each other as to how easily the goal was conceded, the fabulous fans were jubilant and had chanted:” 6-0, 6-0” as the stadium erupted.

Within some few minutes after going behind, Bernard Dong Bortey had pulled a goal back for Hearts. It was not the goal that he scored or the panache with which it was executed that caught my eye and heart; but the enthusiasm and paroxysm he celebrated the goal, the puerile fist clenched thumb-wobbling gesture he waved in the direction of the fabulous fanatics, the pantomimic football is played on the field not in the stands, and the way he loved being the cynosure at that very moment - as if he had never scored a goal against Kotoko. It was his riposte to several years of abuse, it was his swan song as if to say, “I am not dead yet! I still have it in me; I am still B-E-R-N-A-R-D D-O-N-G B-O-R-T-E-Y!”

Hearts lead 3-2 at Half time with Bortey, the heart and carrier of the team – another legend, from the other side, STEPHEN ODURO, had restored parity after the break, and the game ended 3-all. For every single goal that Hearts scored that day, Bernard had a different celebration that will live long in the memory of the score-board-end-of-the-stadium Hearts fans.

If scoring against Kotoko meant that much to him, then what did it mean to the ordinary HEARTS fan on the street? It meant a lot, a lot of braggadocio, a lot of head aloft, a lot of unparalleled joy, and a feeling that we have a fan playing for us, HEARTS, for FUN.

To the critic who said he scored “mammie wata goals” or mermaid assisted goals, this is what I have to say in Bortey's defense. And I ask: Is there a better way to describe things you cannot comprehend; is there a better extol than to vividly understand that not every player-and as such every man- but DONG BORTEY, can score those miraculous goals; and what better praise is there for man than to compare him to things you-cannot-see.” He always rose to the occasion, he knew when to stand up, he knew where to stand up, and he knew who the enemy was. What more can you ask from the boy, the man, and Bernard Dong Bortey?

We are grateful for the ride. We know all your peccadilloes, we understand all your flaws, but you will forever remain in our HEARTS OF HEARTS. HAPPY 30TH BIRTHDAY BERNARD!!!! To the next 70years, and to the next generation of HEARTS supporters!!!!

*Bernard Dong Bortey has been suspended by the GFA disciplinary committee for hitting and abusing a referee, which he denies. But do not forget he had scored 38 goals in 77 games at all age levels for Ghana; he has scored 11 goals in 27 caps for the Black Stars. The man says he is sorry, he has shown enough remorse, and please, he deserves a second chance GFA. A year out is comeuppance for hitting a referee anywhere in the world, but will same happen to any other player if he was not BERNARD DONG BORTEY?

Do enjoy some of BORTEY's best moments.

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