‘Burden of travelling away and poor pitches still a big headache’
Imagine traveling on a bus from Accra to Wa! That is about 685.91 km, and that is the distance an Accra-based club in the Ghana Premier League has to cover on land to play Wa All Stars at their home grounds in Wa, in the Upper West Region.
Apart from the distance, the bumpy nature of roads in the country, especially outside the capital, wear down the players, making them virtually not match-fit for a competitive game of football.
Head Coach of Inter Allies FC, Prince Owusu, who spoke to B&FT last week at the team’s home grounds at the El Wak Sports Stadium, corroborated that the situation is affecting the quality of football in the league.
“Is not easy traveling to a place like Wa,” he said, when asked about the major challenges his team faces competing in the Premier League.
On the average, it costs about GH¢80 in transport fare to get to the Upper West Region with an Accra-Wa bus. Calculating that for an 18-member squad, and five technical staff puts the figure at GH¢3680 for the Accra to Wa and back trip.
That aside, there is also accommodation and feeding expenses to be footed by the travelling team. Thereby, increasing the financial burden on teams in the league.
“It puts a lot of financial burden on the owners of the club. With no headline sponsor, it’s not easy, going to WA, in and out is a lot of money --- you have to get a hotel, a bus, and two meals on the road, before you get to your destination. It’s a huge financial burden on club owners,” said Coach Owusu, who has also coached Medeama SC in the past.
Added to the aforementioned factors, comes the poor nature of pitches that players have to play on. Even the playing surfaces at four of the national stadia --- the Accra, Kumasi, Tamale and Takoradi are in deplorable state. And these are supposed to be the best stadia in the country!
Most often, when issues about the quality of football in the premiership comes up, many are inclined to indicate that the league lacks top class players.
Whether this view holds water on not, remains a topic in itself, but what is absolute here is the fact that the quality of football is dependent on the quality of the playing surface.
Many of the pitches are simply not up to standard, including that of the Tamale Utrecht Park used by Bolga All Stars, the Dansoman Park, among many others.
“Football has to be played on the turf, but if the turf is bumpy how can you control the ball?” Mr. Owusu who has travelled with his team to all the Premier League match venues, added.
According to the experienced coach, who has so far led his Inter Allies team to 10th place after 14 games, and going into the last round of games of the first round this weekend, the substandard state of pitches undermine good football.
“It is the cause of poor play, and the supporters not seeing good football,” he noted. “If the player can’t control the ball, he will definitely kick it in the air, and that is a cause of poor play.”
Globally, poor pitches does not only affect the quality of play but also are a major cause of injuries. Earlier this year, a dozen of African stars got injured while playing at the African Cup of Nations in Gabon due to bad pitches.
Jose Mourinho, the Manager of Manchester United refused to field his best players in a Europa League game against Zorya FC, a Ukrainian club, for fear of them getting injured. Few days after the match, Zorya was banned from hosting matches at the venue.
Similarly, Wilfred Kwaku Osei, an Executive Committee member of the Ghana Football Association and owner of Tema-based club Tema Youth, at beginning of the season, noted that though the country’s top flight league is highly competitive, it is not attractive because of bad pitches.
"It is a fact that our league can't be compared to others. Even the pitches that clubs train and play their matches on alone does not make our games attractive. When the clubs play on the astro turf at Tema Sports Stadium and Wafa's home grounds at Sogakokpe, you can witness good and quality display of football. Such games are the ones that make our league a little attractive unlike the remaining ones,” he said.
Among other things, Coach Prince Owusu, appealed to organizers of the league to do more in terms of attracting supporters to the various stadia in the country. He noted that getting musicians to perform during half time of games will help attract music lovers to the stadium; in his view this will help improve spectatorship at the various league centers.