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Opinions of Monday, 3 October 2016

Columnist: Graphic.com.gh

From ‘landguards’ to landlords - The championship story of Wa All Stars

It started as a joke at the initial stages and even continued to Match Day 29, when Wa All Stars were nicknamed as landguards. Nobody took them seriously when they were at the top of the Ghana Premier League but apparently they took themselves seriously.

At the end of the last season, they were reported to have traded away six of their top players. Unlike the so-called top league clubs, they didn’t go for known and leading players as replacements. They recruited young and energetic second division players, some of them students, whom they transferred to continue with their education in the north while they continued to play football.

And as part of their preparations for the just ended season, the team travelled to Saudi Arabia. There, they engaged tough teams and improved upon their performance and when the league started, they made progress, one match after another. Even when they disgraced Accra Hearts of Oak with a 1-3 scoreline at the Accra Sports Stadium, nobody still took them seriously.

It never happened and it would not happen in the 2015/2016 season, some commented. The belief of some followers of the game was that they were favoured by the match officials. After the video footages surfaced and were scrutinised, the referees were rather highly commended for exhibiting courage, fairness and professionalism.

Indeed, the Match Review Panel recommended that they should be officially commended through writing. And so, gradually and as if unnoticed, the only existing Premier League Club from the northern part of our country rightly conquered the remaining 15 teams of the prestigious top national league.

What even makes their achievement notable is their unassuming nature. They have the unenviable record as being the only team that have travelled the most long distances to honour their matches, most of which were in the southern part of the country.

A typical example was their last two matches, on Match Day 28 and 29. The team had to travel to Accra to play against Liberty Professionals on Sunday, September 11, and return to base almost immediately to play that decisive match against Aduana within three days interval. That was quite a journey and exercise.

Admittedly, the team deserves to win and keep the magnificent brand new trophy which has just been procured by the Ghana Football Association (GFA). The outgoing season, unfortunately, had no sponsorship, but a new trophy had to be made available. It is not always easy to accept change, but the real fact is that the Champion Club for the 2015/2016 Premier League are Wa All Stars, otherwise known as “The blues” in Ghana football.

The 2015/2016 League competition has been adjudged by most objective analysts to be very competitive, well organised and well attended by fans and spectators. The team that emerged as winners should, therefore, receive the praises and support of all.

We should, however, not gloss over the few reported violent incidents, including the one after the Wa All Stars / Aduana match. That team have won prizes on about four occasions in their eight-year participation in the Premier League. That is not a mean achievement and so should be maintained and improved upon.

The organisers may wish to take a look at the reports from the appointed match officials and take the necessary punitive actions, if any.

A critical analyses of the performance of our referees clearly show that as a group many of them did their best. Referees are not particularly popular with a lot of fans and club owners, especially those who want to win at all cost. Refereeing involves a lot of hard work, honesty, courage and commitment. That is not to reason that all was well. The fact that some referees, during the period, had to suffer disciplinary sanctions shows that some of them did not perform well.

Someone sent me a message saying that although the league as a whole had not been compromised, some “referees are in the pocket of some club owners”. The message revealed further that some club owners succeed in appointing their own referees for matches. And these appointments are just endorsed by the appointing authorities. The message concluded among other allegations that club owners have complained bitterly about the situation in private but were unwilling to go on record with concrete proofs despite the widely held belief.

Perhaps, this is one of the most serious problems affecting our league and football. Almost on daily basis, one hears these allegations and comments about refereeing in the country. And they sometimes come from highly placed people deeply involved in the game.

When one shows interest and wants evidence and support, they chicken away. And so how do we solve the problem? He who alleges must show proof and evidence. It appears to me that it is a problem of “when a thief thiefs a thief”. It is a case that, most of the people complaining also indulge in the same practices that they complain about, but turn round when they are on the receiving or rewarding end.

My view is that the surest way of ending these allegations lies with our referees and their managers. The fact of the matter is that what does not exist has no name. There should be some truth, no matter how little in the accusations. Having refereed before and having been approached, at least on two clear occasions, I can say that approaches for favours to our match officials occur.

What is important is that such approaches should be rebuffed. If all our referees would resist such attempts to corrupt them, we shall earn the good name, but if, and as some referees do, no matter how small the number, they sometimes compromise their integrity and professionalism, the hurt and name calling will persist.

As for the club owners and their agents, they wrongly feel that, that is part of their strategy and plan to win their matches. The buck must just stop with the referees.

The situation is such that even when a referee makes mistakes or gets a bad day, the conclusion is that he has been influenced. Football matches are characterised by disputes, controversies and disagreements. That is one of the crucial reasons why the game needs referees, who must be arbiters.

It, therefore, does not help the game when they decide to add up to these controversies by being biased and controversial themselves. Referees are judges and, therefore, they should not appear to have taken sides in matches that they handle. The same thing could be said for those referee managers who have the duty to appoint referees to handle matches.

There were some unnecessary wrangling over the quality of appointment made for the Wa All Stars and Aduana match. That match was more than a cup final. And one would have expected that the Referees Committee to appoint one of its best performing referees to be in the middle of that match. That was a match that engaged the time and attention of all football lovers and followers.

My understanding is that all the elite referees were not available for appointment since they were attending a refresher course at Prampram. But I am still of the view that we could have still found a better tried and tested middle referee than the one who was initially rejected and the subsequent one.

The organisation of football matches require many components. This season’s competition had been superbly organised, standards generally been high and, therefore, no component should undermine its growth and beauty, referees included.