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Sports Features of Sunday, 30 November 2014


'Shamo Wonder': What killed Shamo Quaye?

Some men are remembered for how they lived (or how they played, per a footballing context), others for how they died.

Among the few memorable for both reasons, there is one name many Ghanaians could easily recollect, albeit not without some teary nostalgia: Shamo Quaye.

It's been nearly two decades since Quaye, nimble-footed and incredibly exciting to watch, met his demise but, ask any fan of Ghanaian football/Hearts of Oak aged 24 and older, and you'd have your ears tickled with stories of Quaye's prowess. It's the stuff legends are made of, really.

(A)rise and (A)rose

Quaye burst onto the scene some 27 years ago, while still in his teens, as part of the fresh set-up that emerged from Hearts' youth team and which would be affectionately identified by the club's rank and file as the 'Musical Youth'.

Together with the likes of Sam Ablade Kumah, Ezekiel Alamu, Joe Addo and Eben Dugbartey, Quaye helped form the nucleus of a side that would repay the confidence of then Hearts capo Nyaho Nyaho-Tamakloe (who had dared taken the gamble of literally effacing the Phobians' ageing and under-performing veterans, raising in their place a bunch of unproven youngsters) several times over. Oh, and they thrilled the fans as well!

Before long, Quaye had been slated for international action by his country, featuring in Ghana's squad for the Mens' Football tournament at the 1992 Summer Olympics. There in Barcelona, Quaye - sporting the iconic No.10 shirt - wowed and, along with his teammates (many of whom, like Bayern Munich great Samuel Osei Kufuor and current interim Black Stars head coach Maxwell Konadu, would go on to bigger things in their respective careers), helped Ghana to bronze and becoming the first African team in the competition's history to claim a place on the podium.

Quaye soon found his way beyond Ghana's shores, joining Saudi outfit Al-Qadisiya Al Khubar. He'd join Hearts again after two seasons in the Gulf, but would once more swap the hallowed rainbow colours for pastures greener abroad. By then a full Ghana international, Quaye joined Swedish side Umea, playing there until, well...

Disaster strikes

The 1996/97 domestic football season in Sweden had just ended and Quaye had returned to Ghana for the holidays. Catching up with old friends for a 'fun' match (largely a norm for Ghana's foreign-based professionals when they do come around), Quaye suffered a freak on-pitch accident that would end his 26-year-old life. As the well-told story goes, the ball struck Quaye's face/head, triggering a series of complications that, somehow, culminated in his death which occurred on November 30, 1997 - seventeen years to this day.

While the above is a logical explanation to Quaye's death, it isn't the only story that made the rounds at the time; the other would have you scratching your head in disbelief.

Bartholomäus Grill, the Africa correspondent for German weekly newspaper Die Zeit, tells it this way: "When Shamo Quaye, who was playing professionally in Sweden, came home to Ghana to collect debts from his old team [Hearts], he was bitten by a poisonous snake while at supper [in his own home]. He died on the way to hospital. The whole country had only one explanation: Juju, black magic."

Weird, yet that seems the more circulated version of how Quaye died. As Grill points out, it is what the majority chose - and still choose - to believe. With his death thus shrouded in unresolved mystery, Quaye's stature has been elevated post-mortem. Either way, the tragic nature of it all ensured the man has become one of Ghanaian football's most enduring myths.

His Legacy

Quaye - nicknamed 'Shamo Wonder' for his sheer artistry, silky passes and graceful footwork in his midfield role; 'Bebeto' for his apparent mesmerizing likeness to a Brazilian World Cup winner of his day; or, even more popularly, 'Shamo Leather' for the smooth manner in which his feet caressed the football's sphere - was as naturally gifted as any among his generation of Ghanaian footballers, and had enough potential to have become much better with time; time he was never afforded by the cruelest of circumstances, needless to say.

There is a YouTube video that focuses on one of Quaye's finest performances for Ghana, presumably at the 1992 Olympics. It's worth viewing, reader, particularly if you never saw the man in his prime; in just four minutes and some 17 seconds, you'd understand why many still cannot forget the player Quaye was.

Stocky and with a low center of gravity, Quaye, along with Kotoko's Joe Debrah, were involved in a battle of wits and footballing ability that would put even the feisty Ronaldo-Messi feud to bed any day. When both united for the national team, it was candy for the eye. On the pitch, Quaye dazzled; off it, he amused, although unwittingly. Mocked for his supposedly low academic intellect (only an ignoramus would fault his incredible soccer IQ, though), Quaye would be recalled as the fellow who reportedly dreamt of playing for 'a big Italian club like Barcelona'; one who 'read' his money rather than counted it.

For a nation whose football fans are notoriously tough to please, sweet and talented Quaye worked his way well and fast into his countrymen's hearts. Little wonder, then, that in the age-old 'Ghana 1-100 India' tale, he is often cited as the brave, daring player who scored Ghana's consolatory goal and suffered the fatal consequences afterwards; clearly the hero of this rather fictitious story, as the kids narrating it would tell you!

Time will pass, players would come and go, but only the very best remain unforgotten.

Truly, there are some who become far bigger in death that they were while alive. In Shamo Quaye's case, he has indeed grown larger-than-life. Strain your ears when next you are taking a stroll through Old Accra and you'd hear talk about him.

By the old men playing a game of draught under the big tree all day. By the fishmongers trading at the 'nshonaa'.

And, perhaps more strikingly, by the kids wallowing playfully in the sand at the seaside.

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