IT WAS excitement galore when President John Agyekum Kufuor finally arrived at the newly-constructed Essipong Stadium near Sekondi in the Western Region last Sunday to officially inaugurate it as one of the venues for the upcoming Ghana 2008 tournament.
People from all walks of life, both young and old within Western and Central regions came in their numbers to the stadium apparently to have a feel of what the atmosphere at the stadium would be like when the tournament kicks off on January 20.
The large crowd that trooped to the stadium resulted in the formation of long queues which were well controlled by security personnel on duty at the various entry points of the magnificent edifice.
Most of the people present at the stadium that interacted with DAILY GUIDE SPORTS expressed joy for having the unique opportunity to enter the stadium for the first time and be acquainted with its facilities.
One Edward Arhin, a football fan who came all the way from Fante Nyankomase in the Central Region gazed at the stadium for sometime and remarked that President Kufuor and his New Patriotic Party (NPP) government had done marvelously well for “bringing Wembley (England's national stadium) to Essipong.
According to him, he had travelled to a lot of countries in Europe and watched football matches at some of the stadia there and that the Sekondi Stadium located at Essipong could rival any of those in Europe.
When President Kufuor touched down from his vehicle at the forecourt of the stadium at about 6.00pm, he was greeted with loud applause from the enthusiastic spectators who shouted: “Kufuor goes, Nana comes”.
The President then proceeded to unveil the plaque in front of the stadium to mark the official opening of the over 20,000-capacity edifice.
In a brief speech, President Kufuor charged managers of the stadium to ensure its effective and efficient maintenance adding that the four hosting cities of the tournament could exchange ideas as to how best the stadia could be maintained.
He intimated that plans were far advanced to construct similar stadia at all the regional capitals to enhance the potentials of sports men and women in the country.
He urged all Ghanaians to have consistent feeling of goodwill for all the visitors and football fans who would be in the country during the tournament.
President Kufuor commended Shanghai Construction Company, the Chinese firm that undertook the construction works saying it demonstrated the mutual relationship that existed between Ghana and China.
He also paid glowing tributes to former Black Stars players who started their footballing career from the Western Region and mentioned in particular Edward Acquah who scored the highest goals for the Black Stars during his hey days.
On his part, the Minister of Education, Science and Sports, Prof Dominic Fobih made it clear that the construction and refurbishment of the four stadia in the country was a manifestation of the importance the NPP government attached to sports development.
He said the Western Region was endowed with lots of sports men and women who deserved better sports edifice to befit its status.
Prof Fobih noted that all over the world football tournaments were being used as platforms to unite people and called on Africans to follow suit.
The Western Regional Minister, Hon. Anthony Evans Amoah in his welcome address said apart from the ecstasy that would characterize the whole tournament, Ghanaians stood the chance of increasing their income particularly those in the hospitality industry.
Nana Kobina Nketsia V, Paramount chief of Essikado Traditional Area and Chairman of the Sekondi-Takoradi Venue Organizing Committee (STVOC), expressed the hope that at the end of three weeks of Africa's greatest football fiesta, the continent would remain more united than ever before.
Mr. Shi Chen Yu, Deputy Projects Manager of Shanghai Construction disclosed that it took the company 20 months to complete the construction of the facility which was nine months ahead of schedule.
After the inaugural ceremony, spectators watched a thrilling match which forms part of the ninth week premier league encounter between Sekondi Hasaacas popularly called, 'Giants of the West' and Tema Real Sportive.
The match ended with Sekondi Hasaacas beating Real Sportive by two goals to one.
From Mark Essien & Emmanuel Opoku, Essipong