The Blues might have failed to qualify to the semi-final stage of the Caf Champions League even with nine points, but the debutants did a lot to receive all the plaudits
By Benjamin Agyei-Boateng
On Sunday, September 16, 2012, 11 gallant men filed onto the Accra Sports Stadium turf to loud cheer and applause not for being winners of any competition, but doing themselves some good in Africa after representing Ghana to the best of their capabilities.
Though they wished they had at least qualified to the semi-final of the Caf Champions League competition, these men were satisfied at least with their level of play in Africa.
Emulating their name sake, Chelsea of London, was something they had been spurned on with. Their European counterparts against all odds had triumphed in the European version of the same competition and therefore Berekum Chelsea of Ghana took some strength from them to do same, albeit against the strongest sides in Africa.
They filed onto the pitch to loud cheers and applause from the few fans who had visited the Accra Sports Stadium to give them the last respect in the African club competition in the year. Their match against TP Mazembe was to be their last in the competition after failing to get the needed points to get further.
In the preliminary stage, the Berekum lads had been more impressive with scintillating performance from Liberia, through Morocco to Cameroon. They had beaten LICSR of Liberia on a 5-0 aggregate score line before deflating the ego of Raja Casablanca in Ghana.
HITMAN | Emmanuel Clottey was pivotal in the Blues' impressive performance
They beat the former Africa Champions by a 5-0 score line in the first leg of their tie to send a message across the continent that the representatives from Ghana in the 2012 African Champions League campaign had something monumental to offer. They lost 0-3 in the return leg but before the Moroccans could overturn the result, the Ghanaians had received the ticket to the next stage of the competition.
Then Coton Sport of Cameroon was the next hurdle after the Cameroonians had eliminated Dolphins of Nigeria in the 1/16th stage.
For the doubting majority, the 2010-11 Glo Premier League winners had seen enough of the competition and so had to concentrate on the local league after being paired with Coton Sport. This assertion became more apparent, especially when the Cameroonians had come to Ghana to pull a 0-0 result at Berekum.
Chelsea did not give up. The seven-year-old club had other ideas. They did not get into the competition on a silver platter; they had struggled to fend off challenge from predecessors, Aduana Stars and perennial heavy weights, Asante Kotoko and Hearts of Oak in the local league before being crowned champions in the 2010-11 competition. They therefore deemed it an obligation to replicate the form they had in Ghana on the African terrain.
Boosted by their intent to at least get to the semi-final of the elite inter-club competition of the continent, Chelsea of Berekum arrived in Cameroon and eliminated their west African opponents in their own backyard. On that day, two goals from a certain consistent goal poacher, Emmanuel Clottey and captain Abdul Basit were enough to outdo a goal scored by the Cameroonians.
Then eyebrows were raised. The steady performance of CEO, Emmanuel Kyeremeh’s side brought football fans in Ghana thinking deeper and giving the representatives the attention they needed. They might have been ignored; support-wise, but after gaining qualification into the group stage of the competition, they gained lot of admirers in the country.
For the first time in six years, a Ghanaian side was representing the country in the group stage of the biggest club competition in Africa. Both the Porcupine Warriors and the Phobians were in the group stage in the 2006 edition, but ended abysmally. Ghanaians hoped for the best and wished Chelsea would give a better account of Ghanaian clubs in Africa. Caf had taken the privilege of representing two clubs in the competition from Ghana. The nation could only submit the name of a single club in the competition.
Ghana’s national television had advertised the telecast of the competition on TV, while the much fancied European leagues were on break, so local fans had the opportunity to watch Chelsea of Berekum show what they were indeed made up of.
They did not get the consent to play their home games at their home grounds in the Brong Ahafo region and so Chelsea had to settle on either the Baba Yara Sports Stadium in Kumasi, which is closer to their home grounds or move further to the Accra Sports Stadium which is miles away from their loyal fans. Though not their home ground, the local Blues had never lost in Accra. Coupled with other reasons including finance, the team settled on the Accra turf for their home games.
On match day one in the group stage, August 4, sentiments were raised about the willingness of fans to throng the Accra Sports Stadium to support the side that did not command support as Kotoko and Hearts did. Soccer loving Ghanaians had made up their mind to throw their support behind the Ghanaian side even before this feeling. Kotoko and Hearts fans, though seeing Chelsea as a rival on the local terrain, threw rivalry aside and swarmed to the venue for the game.
For this writer, it was amazing to see passionate Hearts of Oak and Kotoko fans singing aloud and chanting for the local side to triumph on the particular day. Sentiments were indeed put aside for patriotism to triumph on the day. The opponents then, were former Champions, Zamalek of Egypt who had arrived in the country full of confidence. The visitors started the game more purposeful upfront and in a matter of minutes, they had taken the lead through their Burkinabe import, Abdoulaye Cisse.
Berekum Chelsea had to come from behind on two occasions in this game to win 3-2. On that day, the leading goal scorer in the competition, Clottey, grabbed his second hat trick in the campaign; his first being against another North African side, Raja Casablanca of Morocco.
Berekum Chelsea had won the first game in the group stage but soccer pundits were concerned about their defence. They had allowed too many goals to sneak into their net even before the group stage but Coach Hans Van Der Pluijm seemed to have had no clue to seal the leaking defence.
Dr. Congo was the next stop. And the case with defenders became evident again. The Ghanaian side allowed two quick goals in the back of their net and so had to rely on the nimble footed Emmanuel Clottey again to bounce back. The game ended 2-2; a result that gave Ghanaian fans the assurance that a semi final berth at least was beckoning.
Subsequent travels to Egypt were not favourable as Chelsea lost 1-4 to Al Ahly and played 1-1 with Zamalek. The return leg against Al Ahly had also ended 1-1 before the Zamalek game.
So after five games in the group stage, Chelsea could not be assured of a semi final place but their strong message had been sent across already. They had the leading scorer in their fold and had scored in every game leading up to the final one against TP Mazembe.
Before playing against the Congolese winners, they had amassed 20 goals throughout the competition. In the group stage, Chelsea had already scored 8 goals though ten goals had been conceded.
Before their final game, the head coach, Dutchman Hans Van Der Pluijm had indicated on some Accra based radio stations that his boys had done enough in the competition thus far. They had only lost twice, against Raja and Al Ahly away from home and drawn four times; three in the group stage.
The final game therefore afforded the local side the chance to play their hearts out for honour. They were of necessity required to bow out with elegance.
The leading scorer, sensational Clottey was not with the side. He had moved to Esperance of Tunisia who were also in the same competition but in a different group.
Clottey could not get the chance to equal or better the record set by Nigerian Stephen Worgu in the competition in terms of goals scored in a single tournament. Stephen scored thirteen with Enyimba in the 2008 edition of the tourney while Clottey had moved on when he had scored twelve with the Ghanaian side.
Even at times he had failed to score, other players such as Jordan Opoku, Abdul Basit, Solomon Asante and Nafiu Awudu had found the back of the net and so TP Mazembe could not relax especially when they sought to top the group B log.
As if their very lives depended on it, the lads from Berekum played their hearts out to restore the pride they had in Africa.
The first half of the game had ended goalless with both sides getting some decent opportunities to take the lead.
The few local fans watching at the Accra Sports Stadium had to wait till the 81st minute to celebrate a goal. So for sixth time in the group stage, Berekum Chelsea had found the back of the net and this time, the game had ended in a win for them; 1-0.
The group stage began with a 3-2 victory over Zamalek and ended with 1-0 victory TP Mazembe at the same venue; Accra.
They might have failed to qualify to the semi-final stage of the competition even with nine points but Chelsea did a lot to receive all the plaudits they deserve. They will not get the chance to replicate or better the form they showed in Africa next year but some time to come they might have the opportunity to better it.