Sixty years of independence has brought with it some remarkable Ghanaian sporting moments – many great, some not so good, but generally a lot of unforgettable ones.
Ghana is by no means a two-sport country, but there is also no denying the fact that football and boxing has dominated literally everything from Olympic medals, to individual triumphs, to moments that left us stunned, happy and sometimes sad.
Our six unforgettable Ghanaian sporting moments reflects them all …
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UNDER-17 TITLE WIN 1991 Ghana’s credentials at youth level are well documented, as are the flaws, especially with age-cheating. Yet it will be foolhardy to deny that some of the most unforgettable moments in the 60 years of Ghana sports has been provided at that level.
There was the first tournament in 1989, the 1995 title win under Sam Arday in Ecuador and, recently, the 2009 world title at Under-20 level in Egypt.
But nothing beats the 1991 world title just for impact. It changed everything in Ghana football. The brand of football, the pace and the quality of goals left us in awe. Later we were left shocked by how very few of the players went from Under-17 stars to national icons.
Odartey Lamptey became the symbol of that, but he and his generation sparked something that is rarely spoken about – they revolutionarised the transfer market. Lamptey’s move to Anderlecht, and the fact that he thrived there, opened doors for a lot of others.
Then after the 1991 title win the likes of Samuel Osei Kuffuor, Emmanuel Duah and Mohammed Gargo followed. It was at that point that players, agents and clubs became convinced transfers were serious business.
It all flowed from a group of young men who shone brightly on the world stage, directed by a German, Otto Pfister, who later inspired a fashion trend. It summed up the impact. It went beyond football. It changed many lives in that generation and continues to inspire many others.
AZUMAH NELSON’S FIRST WORLD TITLE WIN IN 1984 There can be no great or unforgettable Ghanaian moments without an Azumah Nelson moment. In fact, he could fill a whole top 10 Ghanaian sporting moments from his first world title fight (defeat to Salvador Sanchez) through to his mauling of Jeff Fenech in his own backyard.
Boxing generally could lay claim to many great Ghanaian moments too. David Kotei Posion’s world title win; the first by a Ghanaian in 1975 after victory over Ruben Olivares.
But nothing beats Azumah’s world title win over Wilfredo Gomez in December 1984 in Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico. With the whole country glued to mostly black and white TV sets, Nelson took out Gomez in the 11th round as he trailed on the judges’ scorecards with two-and-a-half minutes of relentless punching in the Puerto Rican’s backyard.
It earned him a world title, but it won him much more than that. It won him life-long acclaim in Ghana and. for a long time, among a certain generation, every boxing bout was referred to as Azumah versus Gomez.
He would go on to serve one victory after the other, sometimes paying for the country to watch live telecast of it from his fight purse, but it was that moment against Gomez that set it all up nicely.
1978 NATIONS CUP WIN ON HOME SOIL Ghana’s four Nations Cup title wins have become a distant memory in the wake of the repeated difficulty the country has had with winning the competition.
1963 and 1965 are remembered with fondness with Osei Kofi, a member of both squads, describing them as the ‘golden era’. There is a lot of truth in that, but it is also hard to contest the fact that there was something special, almost magical, about the 1978 title win.
To start, it happened before a packed crowd at the Accra Sports Stadium in that final against Uganda. Crucially, it also ended a run of more than a decade without a Nations Cup title after the Black Stars’ form dipped in the 70s following their dominance in the 60s.
It helped too that the country’s president at the time, Kutu Acheampong, was mad about football, using the tournament to provide an escape from the biting hardships of that time.
Acheampong was in charge of sports himself and pulled out all the stops for the team. There was a long training tour of Brazil, some cracking games, including the semifinal, that was decided by Abdul Razak’s solitary goal, and the final against Uganda which was settled by Opoku Afriyie’s brace.
Veteran football journalist Kwabena Yeboah calls the atmosphere during the final ‘electric’ and says everything from a helicopter dropping the match-ball to Ghana winning left indelible memories.
QUARTEY WINS GHANA’S FIRST OLYMPIC MEDAL IN 1960 You can count Ghana’s Olympic medal haul on one hand: FOUR. Three of those have been from boxing and one from football. Even grimmer is the fact that there has been no gold medal. The highest medal has been silver, and it was the FIRST.
Clement Ike Quartey was responsible for that in the 1960 Olympics in Rome after losing the final in the men’s light welterweight contest to Czechoslovakia’s Bohumil Nemecek.
His achievement inspired further success in 1964 when Eddie Blay took bronze in Tokyo before he went on to play a big role in inspiring his brother Ike Quartey to world title success later on.
BLACK STARS VERSUS URUGUAY This is unforgettable for painful reasons; the moment we let history slip, let down a continent, but still left no doubt that when it comes to football, Ghana could ball.
There are many Ghanaians who have sworn not to watch that game again. The pain from that evening in Johannesburg in 2010 still remains raw for way too many people. Ghana were one kick away from reaching the last four of the World Cup and blew it.
As Asamoah Gyan’s penalty struck the bar, many people sunk to their knees in Ghana, left the living-rooms or simply cursed in the many public places where scores of people had gathered to witness history. They just didn’t want that kind of history.
The 2010 World Cup has a good claim as the best tournament Ghana has played for the sheer scale of impact it made. That moment against Uruguay would forever be the defining moment. Sadly.
ACCRA HEARTS OF OAK TRIUMPH It is impossible to talk of Ghana’s greatest sporting moments without a reference to club football. Long before Ghanaian clubs became mere participants in pan-African club competitions, there were moments of triumph and glory, moments that gave significant meaning to the belief that Ghana is a major football powerhouse.
Asante Kotoko were a renowned name on the African club scene in the 70s and 80s, and their two titles in that period speaks for itself. Then there was the Hearts of Oak side of 2000, nicknamed the ‘64 Infantry Battalion’ after one of the most feared military units at the time based purely on just how ruthless they were in disposing of opponents.
Ishmael Addo was assassin in chief. Emmanuel Osei Kuffour was the chief strategist on the field, pulling the strings from midfield like the General as they nicknamed him. Charles Taylor terrorised defenders on both wings and at the back the likes of Amankwah Mireku and Agyemang Duah were just unplayable.
Their victory against Esperance in the Champions League final of 2000 before a packed Ohene Djan Stadium finally gave meaning to this idea of ‘Continental Club Masters’. It also saved face for a nation that had been struggling for club success since Kotoko’s last in 1983.
And it elevated the status of Jones Attuquayefio even further after he crossed carpets from Hearts’ great rivals Great Olympics and gave the Phobians what they desperately wanted … continental recognition.