Ghana's late President, Professor John Evans Atta Mills, will be remembered on many fronts and chiefly among them is sports, where his love for hockey and football remains unparalleled.
Even if that had not been noticed by Ghanaians, his personal effort in ensuring that the country got her first ever and only hockey stadium would remain one of the conspicuous legacies that the law professor left for Ghana hockey.
His sudden demise on Tuesday, July 24, at exactly 2:15 p.m. at the 37 Military Hospital, just four days after celebrating his 68th birthday, has no doubt dealt a big blow to the hockey fraternity, as Ghana prepares to host the FIH World Series in September and participate in the African Youth Championship in South Africa in October.
His desire to see hockey rise to the top did not come by chance. From Achimota Secondary School (then Achimota College), the late president developed his love for the game.
He was a key member of the school team which played against Mfantsipim and Kings College of Nigeria in annual competitions.
The late tax lawyer’s multi talent earned him the president of the amalgamated sports clubs while at the Legon Hall of the University of Ghana Legon in the 1960s.
Indeed, at a point he became a member of both the football and hockey teams of the university, together with Kenneth Johnfia, but after counselling by the university’s sports department, the two settled on the one on which they had a competitive advantage.
So the professor focused on hockey from then on while Johnfia stayed with football, but once a while they crossed each other’s path in inter-hall friendlies.
Even at the university, Professor Mills was one of the much sought-after players, and occasionally left campus to feature for the British Council hockey team as well as the old Achimotans on weekends.
In 1972, Professor Mills left for further studies in the UK but came back years later to be a founder member of the Veterans Hockey team in Accra.
He rose to become the vice president of the club in 1991 and moved up to occupy the presidency following the death of K. N. Owusu in 1994.
However, on rising to become the Vice President of the Republic of Ghana in 1996, and subsequently the presidential candidate for the NDC Party in 2000, Professor Mills was forced to retire from active play.
A testimonial match, as is the tradition of the club, was played in his honour to formally hang his sticks. Professor Mills is fondly remembered for sticking to the “old system” such that even years after the sport had been transformed, the ex-president stuck to old hockey sticks and never tried the modern sticks.
Even with that, his play mates, including the late K. N. Owusu, ambassador and former Ashanti regional minister, Daniel Ohene Agyekum, and Awonyo Akaba, now president of the Volta Regional Hockey Association, wondered how the player managed to excel.
Noted for his power and scoring ability, Professor Mills was greatly feared, especially by goalkeepers, each time he got the ball in the ‘D.’
A key member of the national hockey team in the 1970s, Professor Mills was considered one of the best strikers the country has ever produced, yet he hardly trumpeted his achievements.
Johnfia, a resource person for this article, told the Graphic Sports that the professor will be remembered for six things, among them as one who believes in fairness, honesty and humility.
Indeed, the late president earned the respect of everybody such that in times of conflict in the Veterans team, his pronouncements were considered a perfect solution and everyone respected it.
It is said that as a way of promoting oneness among players, he insisted that players were called by their first names and all titles dropped.
He was billed to attend a testimonial match for his former colleagues last Saturday at the National Hockey Stadium, the same day he celebrated his birth, but asked to be excused.
Mr Johnfia recounted that “on that day, I called his Excellency Mr President to wish him a happy birthday and to remind him of the match.”
“Surprisingly, the President said, oooo Kenneth why do you still address me as your Excellency? Quickly, Johnfia said he was reminded of the rules with the Veteran club, and I said, “ok sir, will Fiifi be ok for you,” and president is said to have responded in the affirmative.
“He did not show any sign that he was unwell. The President told me he was very ok; that was the last time I spoke with him,” Johnfia said.
Beyond hockey, the late president was once the head of the then National Sports Council, the Vice President of the Ghana Olympic Committee and a board member of Accra Hearts of Oak.