Osei Kofi on the Ball! – Part One
Harry Thompson could very well have made the radio-broadcast commentary, a fragment of which forms the caption of this column; or it could have been somebody else, in the late 1960s, whose voice and identity I was rather much too young to remember writing about the same a half-century later. I would also listen to soccer commentaries by Ken Amoah and Ken Bediako and Eric Berko, if memory serves me accurately, and even Akwasi Donkor, on occasion, mostly on GBC-1, and Oko Dagadu (I actually thought the name was Gyagadu, because on radio, sometimes the way certain names are pronounced is never very clear). And then, there was this “Nyasalao” man, I believe the name sounded like “Atutonu,” whose Ewe language I did not speak or understand, but whom I always looked forward to having the mic handed over to him because I loved the rhythm of his lilt. There must have also been an Nzema and even a Dagbani-language commentator….
Anyway, I had the privilege of meeting the Rev. Osei Kofi – actually Agya Kofi ’Sei – some 40 years ago. I have written about this several times in the past. I was in the company of my elder cousin, then Detective Cpl. Chenard Kwame Sintim-Aboagye, popularly known all over the Kumasi-Bantama, Shockbeton, and the Suntreso, both North and South areas, as Kwame Aboagye, of the Sofoline Police Station of the Ghana Police Service (GPS), with whom I was living at the time, while I was attending the Sixth Form at Prempeh College, across the dusty dual-carriage street that ran eastwards from the Sofoline-Kwadaso Roundabout towards the Neoplan-Abrepo Junction towards Suame Roundabout and the Wesley College vicinity on the Tafo-Mampong Road, if memory serves me accurately. The Suntreso Estates are one of the few legacies bequeathed the nation by the cruelly slain Gen. IK Acheampong.
It was a chance encounter and I was very surprised to realize that the legendary Kumasi Asante-Kotoko winger stood at barely 5-foot-3 or 4. Still, when Osei Kofi eulogizes the recently deceased and equally legendary Soccer Powerhouse, Mr. Kwasi Owusu – or Kwasi ’Wusu – of Tano-Bofoakwa Soccer Club fame, as “a giant of Ghana soccer,” the living legend pretty much sums it up for all of us (See “Rev. Osei Kofi Names the Late Kwasi Owusu as One of Ghana’s Finest Strikers” Modernghana.com 4/2/20). It is tempting to lament the possibility of Mr. Kwasi ’Wusu, aged 72, having been tragically felled by the deadly fast-raging China-originated Coronavirus Pandemic. But the fact remains that this recently deceased giant of world-class Ghanaian soccer lived a professional life that was clearly worthy of emulation.
You see, the first most notable – and some would say, household – name that I grew up knowing was Baba Yara. And to be certain, the first caption that came to mind as I was preparing to compose this column was “Baba Yara on the Ball.” But, of course, Baba Yara has been since long gone and I actually wanted to angle my story towards the news report in which Osei Kofi was quoted eulogizing Tano-Bofoakwa’s Kwasi ’Wusu. Anyway, to this day, regardless of whatever anybody says, as far as I am concerned, Baba Yara is the “It,” as New Yorkers are wont to say, for me, as far as the annals of Ghanaian soccer is concerned. Recently, I read on the web that a quite renowned international soccer player, not of Ghanaian nationality, was claiming that Mr. Abedi Ayew Pele and one other Ghanaian soccer star, were the two greatest soccer stars to have emerged on the global soccer scene from Ghana. Well, we, each and every one of us, make our measurements or judgment calls pretty much based on what we, ourselves, learned or was taught to us by the period and the generation in which we were born and lived.
For me, it will always be The Great Baba Yara of Kumasi Asante-Kotoko Football University. You see, I was born in Asante-Mampong in the early 1960s, so the first soccer team – those days we called it football – that I felt madly and religiously in love with, head-over-heels, as the tired dictum goes, was Mighty Club Kumasi Asante-Kotoko. I thoroughly knew everything about the Porcupine Warriors, long before I knew about Akyem-Abuakwa Susubiribi, the team or club that I was supposed and expected to love with all my heart and soul than any other team in Ghana. But, of course, it didn’t help me the least bit that an economically and existentially wobbly Abuakwa Susubiribi could not be a team that I or any diehard football fan could steadily love for any remarkably long temporal span.
Which was why Abuakwa Susubiribi never captivated my imagination or my heart. It also became increasingly clear that the semi-rural Ghana in which I was growing could only steadily support big-time soccer only in such municipalities as Accra and Kumasi, and then Cape Coast and Sekondi-Takoradi; for professional soccer is, by and large, a municipal and cosmopolitan pastime. Which is why it has taken the urbanization of Ghana to cultivate viable professional soccer teams. You see, soccer is not all about fun and love; it is also significantly about an adequate pool of paying loyal fans and supporters. Today, Ghana’s soccer population has expanded four-fold the magnitude of what it was while I was growing up; so it is not the least surprising that there have come into salutary existence as many number of soccer teams and clubs as the nation’s population has grown and expanded exponentially. And I suppose the depth and the magnitude of the available pool of talents have also greatly expanded.
And, oh, I forgot to add that in March or April 1998, in the wake of my dear mother’s seismic passing at 63 years old, I also had the chance and privilege of meeting Mr. Mfum, the legendary Asante-Kotoko soccer star and an Osei Kofi contemporary. I may be a little bit discombobulated here. But this one was more memorable than my chance meeting with Uncle Osei Kofi, because Mfum had come into my parents’ coop apartment, located smack at the foot of the George Washington Bridge, called the Bridge Apartments, in Upper-Manhattan, to commiserate with my family. He had come in the company of the late Nana Adum Barwuah (Bonsamfo); I am told that it was The Asantehene who had conferred Nana Adum Barwuah with that parenthetical accolade of knighthood. And then just a couple of days ago, another soccer legend from the formidable stables of Kumasi Asante-Kotoko, Barima Opoku-Afriyie, also reportedly dropped the ball. This seasonal and generational passage of the soccer giants appears to be a cyclical phenomenon that should ordinarily not faze or flabbergast us. But, of course, these are not ordinary passages and ordinary times.
What is most memorable about Black Stars’ Skipper Barima Opoku-Afriyie is the fact that the latter made short statured talented players feel significantly tall and proud of themselves. And I have been bragging to my students about the fact that Ghana has the remarkable distinction of sporting a world-class soccer team that is also one of the most formidable and entertaining on the field. After all, did not the Black Stars draw at the World Cup with the Teutonic German national team 2-2? The Aryan Teutons went on to defeat the global soccer superpower and Pele-tutored Brazilian national team 7 goals to 1. I shall be coming back to talk, once more, about the history of Ghanaian soccer, at least the part that I grew up with, in the offing. And yes, Oliver Acquah was also a name that once fascinated me quite a bit, whenever I would hear the golden and vivacious voice of Harry Thompson pronounce the same on the air. On television, that is, the very few times that I got to watch soccer on TV, it was Ben Egan, Jr., with his patrician and mellow voice, that mesmerized me the most.
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By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., PhD
English Department, SUNY-Nassau
Garden City, New York
April 2, 2020
E-mail: [email protected]
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