When the whole story of African football comes to be written, one name that will surely stand tall among all others is Ghana's Abedi Ayew Pele.
It is the story of a little boy, born in a small village called Oko on the outskirts of Accra but who, through hard work, dedication and discipline, rose to international limelight, played football all over Africa, Europe, Asia, Oceania and South America. Indeed, his name became a household one all over the world.
At the peak of his career, he made history as the only footballer to be voted 'African Footballer of the Year' for three consecutive years in addition to playing for the senior national football team of Ghana, the Black Stars, from 1981 to 1998, a total of 17 years.
He was the captain of the team from 1992 till he retired from international football.
But it has not been all rosy.
From his humble beginning to his present glory, the case of Abedi Pele is a classic example of a 'grass-to-grace' story.
When this reporter met him at his F/C Nania office at Pig Farm, Accra, to share his childhood story with Ghanaian children, the great footballer showed the same qualities of respect, calmness and humility he displayed on the field throughout the interview.
For those children who thought the soccer maestro had a rosy childhood, this was what he said: "It was never rosy at all. It was really tough. Getting three square meals a day was a difficult battle for my parents and for us, the children."
Abedi Ayew Pele was born and bred in a small village called Oko near Dome on November 5, 1964. There was no water or electricity at Oko. For that reason, he woke up early in the morning and walked for about five to 10 kilometres to fetch water for the household before preparing for school.
Despite the fact that he had to walk all the way from Oko to the Dome Anglican Primary where he was attending school, he was not bothered when he saw his friends from richer homes riding in their parents' cars to school.
Realising that the money his mother was making was not enough, Young Abedi helped her to crack stones for sale during weekends when he was between 13 and 14 years at the Achimota Stone Quarry. His job then was that while his mother split the stones, he carried them from the valley to the gathering point.
On days when he was unable to do that, Young Abedi went to the farm to fetch firewood to sell at Achimota. Sometimes he also burned the firewood into charcoal to sell. But he said all those jobs strengthened him and also helped him to know what he wanted in life.
On how he became a footballer, the soccer maestro said while he was at Oko, he used to play in school matches. It was during one of those school matches that two brothers, called Johnny and Oko, who had gone to the village to set up a rice factory, saw his skills and sent him to the city.
While in the city, he played for Great Falcons at Accra New Town. That was in the mid 1970s. In 1978, he won the SWAG Best Colts Player award. By that time the young soccer gem had begun to earn some money from football which, by his village standard, was good.
He, therefore, gave the little money he made from the game and the provisions people gave him to his family on his return to the village.
By dint of hard work, he passed his middle school leaving examination and entered Ghana Secondary School, Tamale. It was also at Ghana Secondary School that Abedi was confronted with the real dilemma of combining education with football.
This was because at that time he was playing for Real Tamale United (RTU), a Premier Division football club in Tamale and sometimes they had to travel to Accra to play matches.
Story By Augustina Tawiah