The Dark Side of Kumasi
By Satish Sekar in Kumasi © Satish Sekar (September 28th 2017)
The African Team of the 1960s
I arrived in Kumasi later than intended, but it proved to be a very important trip. It was clear that there was a sad side to Ghanaian football now. Former players had delivered success, but they had done so before there were riches in the port, even in African terms.
Ghana was once the pride of African football. They were the African team of the 1960s, no doubt about it. They helped change the face of football. Prior to 1966 – including it – World Cup Qualification was grossly unfair. The so-called World Group consisted of most of the world vying for one spot. Africa boycotted the 1966 World Cup in protest and won the change. Africa got a direct place at the top table and North Korea – yes North Korea – impressed in England’s World Cup too.
But there was a price. One of the best African teams ever never played in the World Cup. So what became of those players? The Rev. Osei Kofi remains a larger than life character. He runs an organisation for former players from before the professional era, but even the latter fared badly in Ghana, and nowhere illustrated that better than Kumasi.
The Golden Stool of the Asante, allegedly taken by the British to ‘protect’ it is still missing, but Kumasi has much to recommend it. Young players, some barefooted play on what is euphemistically called a pitch. Even on such surfaces the skills are evident. They dream of discovery unaware that among those watching and observing is one of Ghana’s greatest ever players – actually one of Africa’s top 30, the Golden Boy, Abdul Razak.
Golden Boy is more than just a great player, a Ghanaian football icon, he is talented coach and decent person. I interviewed him (those interviews will be highlighted in the magazine later), and afterwards he took me to meet some former players who had horror stories to tell.
In his prime Abukari Gariba was a lethal finisher. You can forget tracking back – all he cared about was scoring – and that he did with aplomb. He set records, but did not play as much as talent deserved for the Black Stars. He played in two Olympic Games, 1968 and 1972. In between he served a year ban for attacking a referee at the 1968 Games. But Ghana’s sparing use of Gariba – he only won three caps and never scored for Ghana – was Asante Kotoko’s gain.
Just 4 years before his birth Kotoko was founded. Gariba recently turned 78. He has a large family. His sight is failing. He lives in modest accommodation in Kumasi, very modest. He struggles to make himself understood in English. The living room is a testament to a glittering career for Kotoko, but also an indictment. How is it tolerated that a club legend lives like this?
Kotoko’s Gain and Shame
Kotoko thrived with the goal-poacher striking fear into defences throughout Ghana and Africa. They won the CAF Champions Cup in 1970 – the final actually took place in January 1971, but it is still referred to as the 1970 tournament. The late goalkeeping icon, Robert Mensah, was Kotoko’s hero in the 2-0 win, but Gariba was among the scorers – he held the record for that year’s tournament too.
It’s sad to see Gariba now, struggling to provide for his family when he should be the one being looked after – his sight failing too. Despite his situation Gariba cares about others. Unable to express himself as he wanted to other than in his own language, he was assisted by his friend Razak to record a message to Zambian icon Emmy Musonda. Gariba’s crime, if offence it is, was playing in the wrong era, but bad as Gariba’s tale is Salifu Fuseini’s is simply heart-rending.
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