The rise and rise of the Blues from Ghana’s least followed lower leagues to Africa’s elite club competition is a shining example for all clubs to emulateFEATURE
By Kwabena Kyere
It would have taken a great deal of faith three years ago for residents of Berekum to believe their native football team – Berekum Chelsea – will be rubbing shoulders with African giants such as Al Ahly and TP Mazembe in the 2012 Caf Champions League.
Now they are living that beautiful dream.
The Blues qualified to the national middle league after just a season’s attempt in the first division’s Zone 1B as winners. They had a pretty smooth ride in the middle league as they annexed seven points in three games after battling it out with Soccer Warriors, Upper East Stars and BA United.
Berekum Chelsea were one of three teams to be promoted in the 2008-09 league season. Following a short pre-season with then coach Kwabena Amissah, the team made their debut in the Ghana Premier League against Dansoman-based Liberty Professionals of which they were victors in a 3-2 game at the Ohene Djan Sports Stadium on November 24, 2008. This marked the beginning of a magical spell for the club founded on June 10, 2000.
AFRICA'S FUTURE | Berekum Chelsea hope to make Ghana proud in the Caf CL
After an average first two seasons, the club’s owner Emmanuel Kofi Kyeremeh thought it wise to bring on board more experienced hands in all departments of the club. Before the start of the 2010-11 league campaign, Obed Nana Kwame Nketiah, a seasoned football administrator was appointed a chief executive officer of the club. Heads rolled in the technical team as coach Kwabena Amissah was relieved of his duties.
Orlando Wellington was subsequently appointed coach of the side to be assisted by Yusif Abubakar. Now playing at their favourite 10,000 capacity Golden City Park in the Brong Ahafo Region, the club started the season on the high and eventually went on to win the domestic top flight title, thus qualifying automatically for the 2012 Caf Champions League for the first time in their history.
Ahead of the continental club flagship campaign, Berekum Chelsea appointed Dutch coach Hans van der Pluijm to replace outgoing Wellington, who was to take charge of the national Under-20 team on full time basis. Annor Walker became assistant coach as the club mounted a heavy assault on the Orange-sponsored continental elite club competition.
With the best players in their ranks and further signings, they started their African journey with an aggregate win of 5-0 against Liberian side, LISCR over two legs. A double clash with Moroccan side, Raja Club Athletic saw them progress to the next stage after winning 5-3 on aggregate. In the final knockout round, the Berekum Boys scaled over Coton Sport of Cameroon with a 2-1 aggregate victory.
It was the dawn of a new era as the Ghanaians qualified for the group stages (money zone) of the Caf Champions League, a stage the country’s two top clubs – Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko - have failed to reach in the past six years.
Locally, the club had a disappointing campaign as they finished 7th in the 2011-12 Premier League season. Over the continent, Berekum Chelsea did not have the luck of the draw as they were drawn into the supposed 'Group of Death' along with three former champions of the competition - Al Ahly (Egypt), El Zamalek (Egypt) and TP Mazembe (DR Congo) - in Group B.
Without their inspirational captain, Abdul-Basit Mohammed, Berekum Chelsea were still good enough to account for Egyptian giants Zamalek 3-2 in the maiden round of matches as Black Stars striker, Emmanuel Clottey completed a fantastic hat-trick to make him the top goal scorer (11) and double hat-trick hero in the competition.
They surmounted pressure in far away Lubumbashi, DR Congo in a 2-2 draw game against experienced TP Mazembe. Once again, it took the tenacity of 24-year-old Clottey to restore the hopes of the Ghanaians.
The adventure continues as Ghana’s sole representative in the continent’s elite club competition seeks to conquer the rest of Africa on their first attempt. Win or lose, Ghanaians will still be so proud of Kyeremeh’s Berekum Chelsea for having come this far.