I remember eagerly anticipating Accra Hearts of Oak vs Kumasi Asante Kotoko matches on Ghana Television in the 90s. Those were the days of Joe Debrah, Sarfo Gyamfi, Shamo ‘leather’ Quaye, Ablade ‘Sabato’ Kumah and Emmanuel Armah ‘Senegal’ to name a few. One league match in particular sticks out. 

Kotoko were leading in the match, the ‘rees’ and ‘ofuns’ were ringing out in the stadium when the party tricks came out. Sarfo Gyamfi had the ball around the center circle and after a couple of dribbles decided to sit on the ball in a showboating gesture. It worked. The crowd went wild!!!

The football was beautiful and the passion for local teams fervent. The local game was built around stars. Their stardom was not contrived. You didn’t need radio or television to hype their skills. Their play on the field spoke for them and we felt like we knew them all personally. We could vouch for them. There were not multimillionaires but behind their modesty was a star’s game. All witnesses to matches were filled with joy. Or pain. One way or the other, fans were always filled with emotion. Many of the top players made up the core of Black Stars teams and so to see them on a weekly basis was a thrill and a privilege.

Joseph Boakye, an Accra taxi driver recently shared some of his laments on the local game with me. “Now no one goes to stadium,” he said. “We used to go to Tema, Takoradi, Akosombo, Juapong” just to watch football. He said in his day they used to come back home with hoarse voices. He shared tales of a time gone. Kofi Abbrey, Mama Acquah, Mohammed Polo, Addae Kyenkyenhene, Opoku Afriyie and Abukari Gariba were all names that rolled off his tongue as he looked back with fond memories. 

But no one writes anymore. It is now the age of cell phones and the internet. And just as the internet has made letter writing scarce, so has the availability of English Premier League and the European Champions League made matches at stadia all over the country unattractive. Groups of friends hardly suggest to each other meeting times and locations around the Ohene Gyan Sports stadium in Accra to watch the latest playing sensation. Then again, few players can be called ‘playing sensations’ and even fewer last long enough in the league to be identified in folk tales.

Perhaps the upcoming season will signal a change? Quick and skillful, Hearts of Oak’s Edwin Osei Pele lit up the top four by scoring five goals in three matches. He was involved in a goals race with Hearts of Lions Gilbert Fiamenyo who scored four. Will the their play in the preseason tournament translate to the regular season where it really counts? Will their form force us to pay attention to the local game and fall in love with it in much the same way we did with our darlings, the Black Stars? Sekondi Hasaacas, Eleven Wise and Accra Great Olympics have been relegated but one should look no further than Ebusua Dwarfs as a club that represents their tradition. Other old guard teams like Kotoko and Hearts have retooled with new players and coaches all with the aim of dethroning new kids on the block Aduana Stars who won last year’s league. Will one of them reclaim what they’ll feel is rightfully theirs? Will the so called ‘smaller’ clubs like Liberty Professionals or Kpando Hearts of Lions show that there are no longer walkovers in football?

The league starts this Sunday. According to the fixture list released by the GFA, here are a few matches that may give some answers. The first week’s games include Kotoko versus Kessben, Hearts versus King Faisal, Ebusua Dwarfs versus Tudu Mighty Jets in a battle of newly-promoted clubs. The grounds at Baba Yara stadium will suffer on October 31 when giants Kotoko and Hearts face each other for the first time.

This article was first published in a print newspaper “The Bugle” which I contribute to bi weekly.

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