You are here: HomeWallOpinionsArticles2010 06 19Article 184430

Opinions of Saturday, 19 June 2010

Columnist: Appiah, Papa

The Black Stars of Ghana - A Hidden Agenda

In 1990, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, following an abrasive and skillful performance at the world cup, won the admiration and respect of Africa and the world at large. That was the year the attention of the world was drawn to the brilliance of players like Roger Milla, Omam Biyik and Emile Mbou-Mbou. The Lions had a team that could have won the world cup. In the end, however, a combination of inexperience and overconfidence saw them outwitted by a rather average English side. Whiles the Lions have struggled since then to make an impact on the world stage, they remain the most feared and respected team in Africa.

Yet, before Cameroon qualified for their first world cup in 1982, while their club sides like Union Douala had been doing well in CAF championships, the Lions were virtually unknown and the most popular team in Africa was the Black Stars of Ghana. Even today, the Black Stars remain the team most Africans hold in the deepest affection, and there is a reason for that.

Ghana was the first black African country to attain independence and when Kwame Nkrumah declared, that “Our independence is meaningless unless it is linked with the total liberation of the African continent”, it was a clarion call to the rest of Africa to rise up and fight for the right to self governance. This statement reverberated round Africa and Ghana indeed became a hub of nationalist activity. President Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Hastings Banda of Malawi were amongst the many that lived in Ghana en-route to subsequently leading their own countries to independence.

Nkrumah was a strong advocate of pan–africanism, a socio-political philosophy that among others, calls for a politically united Africa, having been inspired by the writings of black intellectuals like Marcus Garvey, W. E. B. Du Bois, and George Padmore. For Kwame Nkrumah, therefore, Ghana’s independence was only a first step towards attaining the ideals of pan-africanism. It was essential therefore, that as many countries in Africa as was possible, were helped to become independent. His tireless effort and influence helped fuel independence struggles across Africa and resulted eventually in the founding of The Organisation of African Unity.

When the Black Stars was formed, it constituted as much a political tool as a national football team. The Black Stars epitomised Nkrumah’s view of a new African personality and identity - An African ready to fight his own battle and in his words, to prove to the world, that the black man was fully capable of manning his own affairs. Nkrumah fully understood the importance of sports in winning friends and influencing people. The Black Stars thus became ambassadors of Ghana, spreading not only Nkrumah’s gospel of pan-africanism, but also hope and inspiration to the rest of Africa.

Progress of the Black Stars at the time also reflected Ghana’s economic and political dominance of the continent. In the early sixties therefore, a collection of ball jugglers, including Baba Yara, Edward Acquah, Ofei Dodoo, Osei Kofi, Wilberforce Mfum and Jones Attuquayefio, not only won the African Cup of nations twice, but also toured round Africa, charming people with Ghana’s brand of football and making friends. It was a successful public relation exercise and to this day, many Africans only remember the good old days of the Black Stars. In one of his interviews following the 1990 world cup, Roger Milla told a journalist who was surprised how far African football had come, to wait till he saw Ghana. Interestingly, this was at a time when Ghanaian football was at its lowest ebb.

A succession of coup d’états, political upheavals and economic instability, and perhaps a possible loss of aura meant that the Black Stars went on the decline in the late sixties and early seventies, till the African Cup of nations were held in Ghana in 1978. Then, players like Abdul Razak, Addae Kyenkyenhene and Adolf Armah led Ghana to victory over Uganda in the final in Accra. Four years later, in 1982, the team travelled to Libya and whisked the cup away from under the noses of the Libyans. A seventeen year old Abedi Pele was in a team that also included Opoku Nti, Kofi Badu, John Essien, Albert Asaase and George Alhassan, who, in both physic and goal-scoring ability, was a Didier Drogba of his time.

This was the last Black Stars team that relied entirely on home-based players, for a revolutionary wind was blowing in football across Africa. A good performance by Cameroon and Algeria in the 1982 word cup meant that, European teams, especially in France, had started showing interest in signing African players. Ghana, for one reason or the other, was late in attracting European interest. So in the 1984 African Cup of Nations for instance, while the eventual winners, Cameroon, boasted Europe-based professional players like Nkono (Espanyol), Milla (Bastia) Mbida (Bastia) and Toube (Mistrostwa), Ghana’s only professional was Abdul Razak who played for Arab Contractors of Egypt. Cameroon continued to dominate African football in the eighties while Ghana actually failed to qualify for the African Cup of Nations till 1991, when a certain wily old German coach, Burkhard Ziese gathered Ghanaian Europe-based professionals from far and wide including Opoku Nti, Abedi Pele, Tony Yeboah, Tony Baffoe and Ali Ibrahim and combined them with crack local players like Emmanuel Armah, Frimpong Manso and Chairman Ampiah to form a new exciting Black Stars team that did not concede a single goal en-route to qualifying for the 1992 African Cup of Nations. Burkhard Ziese got the sack!

The year 1991 was a particularly exciting year in Ghana football. For, apart from the “rebirth” of the Black Stars under Ziese, it was in the same year that Ghana won the then Under-16 world cup for the first time, starting the era of wholesale transfer of our youth to Europe. Odartey Lamptey, Mohammed Gargo, Isaac Asare and Yaw Preko who had excelled in that competition were drafted into the senior team formed by Burkhard Ziese. The future looked bright for the Black Stars. We had an embarrassment of talent. Abedi Pele was at the time one of the best players in the world and Tony Yeboah was making headlines in Germany. That we won nothing and did not qualify for the World Cup still continues to baffle Ghanaians. The team was split along tribal lines that stemmed from a reckless decision of the authorities, after the exit of Burkhard, to strip Kwesi Appiah, an Asante and a proud captain of both Asante Kotoko and the Black Stars, of the captainship of the Black Stars and offer it to the then star of the team, Abedi Pele. Amazingly, one of the reasons given for the decision was the fact that Abedi spoke both English and French well. This one stupid decision was at the bottom of all the problems we subsequently encountered in the nineties and early part of this decade.

It was not until the middle of this decade when a new Black Stars, under the charismatic leadership of Stephen Appiah and with players like Michael Essien, Sulley Muntari and John Mensah who had all graduated through the junior national teams, that Ghana finally fulfilled its ambition of qualifying for the world cup. We did not set the competition alight as Roger Milla had predicted, but we were the only African side to get to the second round, beating the USA and the Czech Republic along the way, and then succumbing to a rampaging Brazilian side. The year 2009, like 1991, is an important landmark in Ghana football. For the first time in Ghana, an under-17 side graduated to form a powerful under- 20 team following the inclusion of new players like Dede Ayew, the son of Abedi Pele, who became captain and led the team not only to the African championship but also to become the first African team to win the world under-20 championship. The youngsters who excelled in that tournament, including Inkoom, Adiyah, Ayew and Jonathan Mensah were drafted into the Black Stars team that had been the first African country to qualify for the 2010 South African World Cup. They brought along with them, a good helping of enthusiasm and a winning mentality.

So, as the 2010 World Cup kicks off amidst pomp and pageantry and the deafening sounds of the vuvuzela, this new Black Stars, a combination of exuberant youth and steady experience has come to offer the world, the same old charm, goodwill and warm friendship that their ancestors did so many years ago. Again, like their forebears, there is a hidden agenda. This time, however, it is not pan-africanism. It is to win the World Cup.

Papa Appiah E-mail -