Sixty three 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 have dominated literally everything from Olympic medals, to individual triumphs, to moments that left us stunned, happy and sometimes sad. Here are some of the unforgettable sporting moments in the country’s 63 years of independence from Britain.
U-17 title win, 1991
The country’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 63 years of 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 grounds
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 semi-final which 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 called the atmosphere during the final ‘electric’ and says everything from a helicopter dropping the match-ball to Ghana winning left indelible memories.
Quartey wins country’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 – Gyan’s painful penalty miss
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 was a 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 African triumph
It is impossible to talk of Ghana’s greatest sporting moments without 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 Atuquayefio even further after he crossed carpets from Hearts’ great rivals Great Olympics and gave the Phobians what they desperately wanted … continental recognition. Credit: Kwesesports
Kotoko wins country’s first and second Champions League titles
Kumasi Asante Kotoko’s victory in the Africa Clubs Champions Cup, now CAF Champions League, in 1971 after beating Englebert 2-1 at the Tata Raphael Stadium in Kinshasa, remains one of the greatest moments in the country’s sports history, more especially because it was the first time a Ghanaian club won the coveted trophy.
Kotoko, despite playing at the enormous stadium and in front of the Head of State of Zaire, Mobuto Sese Seko, succeeded in beating their rivals T.P Englebert 2-1 at their own backyard with splendid attack and solid defence.
Striker Abukari Gariba put Kotoko ahead in the 12th minute, before left winger Tshinabu put Englebert on level pegging in the 19th minute. Malik Jabir, who was in his prime, then struck a low shot to beat Kazadi in post for Englebert in the 80th minute.
Just after Kotoko had finished celebrating their goal, the referee gave a penalty to the home team but Tshinabu, whether scared by the antics of Robert Mensah in post for Kotoko or scared by the large crowd, blew it over the bar to give Kotoko a sigh of relieve.
From this point, it was Robert Mensah who stood between Englebert and victory, as he made fantastic saves to keep the team’s dream alive. What made the victory a sweet one was that Englebert had drawn 1-1 with Kotoko in Kumasi two weeks earlier before the memorable second leg in Kinshasa.
Upon arrival, Kotoko sent the cup to Otumfuo Opoku Ware II, the owner of the club at the time, at the Manhyia Palace.
The Porcupine Warrior repeated the feat on December 11, 1983 after defeating Al Ahly of Egypt by a lone goal to lift the trophy for a second time. The first leg ended goalless and thus won 1-0 on aggregate. However since then, the team has struggled to make an impact in Africa.