Fifty-four years of league football in Ghana, 10 different champions – Kotoko 21, Hearts 20, Ashantigold three, Great Olympics two; Eleven Wise, Real Republicans, Sekondi Hasaacas, Dwarfs, Berekum Chelsea and Aduana Stars: all have won it once – and yet no one has come close to matching the exploits of the 2002 league conquering Hearts of Oak side.
This was the season Hearts of Oak, on a five consecutive year title winning streak, went on to win their sixth league title in flamboyant fashion. They had won 25 games, drawn three and lost two, translating into 78 points – the highest tally to win the Ghana League in the then 44th year history of the league; and still the highest point ever to win the league title.
Second placed Kumasi Asante Kotoko accumulated 75 points which is the highest point ever gained not to win the league – the mark is enough to win the league 51 times out of the 54-year football league existence in Ghana. The record is only bettered by the 1989-90 Hearts of Oak league winning side who incidentally had 78 points – in 1989, for the first time in the history of the league, the penalty shoot-out was introduced for a bonus point after a drawn game therefore that Hearts team ended up with 27 wins and three defeats; and equaled by the resurgent Kumasi Asante Kotoko team of 2003.
Coach Addo had succeeded Cecil Jones Attuquayefio in March, 2002 – unfazed by the latter’s achievement of winning the Ghana League four times, African Champions League and Super Cup in 2000 and 2001 respectively. Hearts of Oak were on the verge of being knocked out of Africa for the second year running by Stade de Malien. The core of the “64-battalion” had seek pastures anew – Emmanuel Osei Kuffour, Ishmael Addo, Amankwah Mireku, Jacob Nettey, and Emmanuel Adjogu had all left the club.
In their place came the 80-million-price-tagged burly striker Awudu Adama, second top-scorer in the league in three seasons from Dawu Youngsters, Frank Turkson for 60 million cedis from Hasaacas, a young Laryea Kingston from rivals Great Olympics for 50 million cedis – with James Zoglo going in the other direction – and defender Daniel Oppong from Brong Ahafo Stars.
The Phobians and Addo were dumped out of Africa by Abdul “Golden Boy” RaZak and his Stade de Malien side 3-1 in the return league at Bamako after acting coach Offei Ansah had led the Hearts team in a 1-1 drawn game at home prior to the appointment of Addo.
The first real blow had hit the Oak tree but with Hearts of Oak as in the words of Bright Akwettey: “Hearts have a rich tradition where it rises above all daunting task, perhaps, because of the Never Say Die Spirit.”
The Phobians did rise from that debacle in a manner and form unparalleled in local football history.
THE ROAD TO VICTORY
They brushed aside Bofoakwa Tano in the first game of the league season 2-0 with a Charles Taylor free-kick and Kingston goal; beat Power FC 1-0 away in the dying minutes of the game via a Dong Bortey penalty; new signing Frank Turkson’s double was enough to overcome Olympics 2-0; substitute Awudu Adama’s solo goal silenced Okwahu 1-0; Awuley Quaye, Kenneth Sarpong and Wisdom Abbey goals trounced Arsenals 3-0; an Osumanu Amadu and Dong Bortey goal gifted Phobia a 2-1 win over Hasaacas at the Gyandu Park; King Faisal’s Kwabena Boateng was the first player to score against Hearts at home, but his double on either side of the half were sandwiched by a Kenneth Sarpong and Charles Taylor penalty, with substitute Dong Bortey stealing the points for Hearts in a 3-2 win over the “INSHA-ALLAH boys”; a Charles Allotey goal two minutes into the game and substitute Bortey’s 89th minute pile-driver secured a 2-0 away win at Brong Ahafo Stars; a Kenneth Sarpong first half goal, followed by a Taylor hat-trick, and an Adjah Tetteh icing on the cake help humiliate Suhum Maxbees 5-0 at the Accra Sports Stadium; back-to-back 2-1 away victories saw the two Hearts of Oak Charleses – Taylor and Allotey – seal the win against Dawu Youngsters, and a Taylor and Adama goals stole the points from Liberty Professionals; a 4-0 rioting of RTU ensued at home with a Wisdom Abbey and Dong Bortey solo goals and a Taylor double to dent the Pride of the North; super substitute Bortey’s goal dug the win at Obuasi against Ashgold; a second Taylor hat-trick and a Hassan Mohammed goal helped Hearts to another 4-0 trouncing in the second successive home game over Mine Stars.
An exhilarating 14 consecutive victories in 14 games with 33 goals scored and five conceded. The great entertainers had filled every single Stadium in the country, had overcome every intimidating ground, and won the hearts of many – amassing 42 points out of a possible 42; a new Ghana Premier League record.
Former Chelsea FC manager Ian Potterfield – who had replaced Ernest Middendorp in the 5th game of the season – and the salient Stephen Oduro, who was the heart and soul of the team, kept Kotoko in the title race and in the fifteenth game of the season, the Porcupine Warriors came from behind to cancel out a Bortey goal in stoppage time via a Godwin Ablordey penalty – the die-hard Phobia fans still cry over that awful Joe Louis dive to this day, though the penitent Louis later won their forgiveness when he donned the Rainbow colours.
Justice prevailed in Accra a month after the broad daylight robbery of the Referee in Kumasi when Hearts mortified Kumasi Asante Kotoko, the Porcupine Warriors, 3-0 at home. Charles Taylor, Don Bortey and –back-to-home – Osei Kuffour goals ended the game as a contest in the first half. The league was secured in the first round of the season, an achievement yet unaccomplished in Ghana football, the gap between the enemy was widen to 14 points; a 5-1 walloping of Obuasi Goldfields proceeded, with an Osei Kuffour goal, and an Osmanu Amadu and Charles Taylor double, and Kouassi Noutsoudje – who scored all 5 goals in a 6-0 pummeling of Suhum Maxbees – got the miners’ consolation goal.
Hearts lost their first game of the season – after 19 games - at the dreaded Kaladan Park where the Pride of the North beat the pace-setters 2-1 with Kuffour scoring in the early minutes only for Hearts to cede the leveler and lose the game in the last five minutes. A first league defeat at home also followed as Liberty pipped the Oak tree 1-0. A Bortey double and a Taylor and Copson goal deflated Dawu Youngsters 4-2 at home; eight more victories followed and Wisdom Abbey got his first career hat-trick for Hearts in the 5-1 drubbing of Brong Ahafo Stars.
Herbert Addo’s side relied on the experience of James Nanor, Eben “Dida” Armah, and Sammy Adjei with the trio sharing the goal keeping duties. The efficient but not exceptional stars lined-up in the defense: Hassan Mohammed, Dan Oppong, Dan Quaye, Stephen Tetteh, Kwabena Boafo, Richard Nii Noi, the injured duo – Agyemang Duah and Sannie Wahab.
The veterans Joe Ansah, Kenneth Sarpong, Adjah Tetteh, Charles Allotey and Edmund Copson were the wise-heads in the middle, embellished by youngsters Awuley Quaye, Laryea Kingston, Dong Bortey, Masawudu Yahya, Abdul RaZak, and Samuel Monnie.
Strikers Emmanuel Donkor, George Eranio, Frank Turkson, Awudu Adama, Osmanu Amadu, Wisdom Abbey and Charles Taylor mollified the incubus of goal-scoring.
THE NAMES BEHIND THE FIGURES
Wisdom Abbey, Bortey, and Taylor all had double figures at the end of the season, and they ably supported each other. Taylor had the ball chicanery, Bortey the sheer pace and Abbey the fox-in-the-box. Many a times that season, Bortey who was played mainly as a super substitute in the first round would switch flanks with the mercurial Taylor when he could not beat a defender for pace; Taylor who was the first player to be sent-off that season for retaliating on an opponent, matured tremendously after the suspension. He was calm on the ball and never complained when defenders butchered him, he had pace but his trump-card was how easily he could beat his marker. He was voted the most exciting player of the year 2001 by the GFA but he bettered that in 2002 by winning the SWAG Sports Personality of the year award.
Bortey and Taylor shared the Ghana Premier League Golden Boot – the first time that two players from the same side had shared the honour. Herbert Addo will go on to lose the league the following year to Kotoko, but he – eight years later – gave an antithesis to his record at Hearts by winning the league with Aduana Stars FC with the lowest scoring tally ever in the world – joint with AIK of Sweden.
The record setters of 10-years ago have been in oblivion for too long, but it is time soccer enthusiasts and plaudits took note – having trumpeted an unbeaten side that recently lost their invincibility after 11 games.
The 2002 HEARTS OF OAK team remain in Ghana History as the best side STATISTICALLY to ever win the GHANA PREMIER LEAGUE.