The Big Interview: Christopher Opoku – A football journalist par excellence

The latest in a series of high-profile interviews sees Goal explore the world of journalist Christopher Opoku
By Sammie Frimpong

Big man, big voice, big talent, big heart - whichever of these adjectives you prefer to describe ace Ghanaian journalist Christopher Opoku with, it suits him just fine.

Put simply, the man has a big personality, one that Goal sought to dissect when we caught up with him recently.

GENIUS | Chris studied Computer Science, but ended up as a fine journalist

Born in 1974, Opoku had been around some by his eighth birthday, having lived in at least two continents and three countries - Scotland where he was born; Ghana and Nigeria where his family re-located - and studying at university-operated primary schools in the cities of Kumasi and Ibadan.

In 1988, a 14-year-old Opoku returned to his native Ghana, continuing his secondary education at St. Hubert's Seminary and Kumasi High School, both in Ashanti, and successfully gained admission at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology  (KNUST), but only on the second time of asking. After a year spent studying for a diploma in Data Processing, he switched to seek and complete a degree programme in Computer Science, bringing to a climax a somewhat convoluted educational circuit.

Opoku’s early years had not passed without incident, however. A year after his family's return to Ghana (from Nigeria), his mom, Madam Dora Opoku, passed away tragically. Opoku discusses her almost teary-eyed and not without a hint of nostalgia that has hardly faded with time.

“She was a massive influence on my life and it is because of her that my sister and I are Christians today. My mom was a special woman and I guess my one regret is that she is not alive today to see my family and what I have become. She was also a disciplinarian like my dad, and that is one reason why I have stayed principled all my life.”

The conversation soon moves to a subject less grim: his days at Kumasi High School.
While Opoku readily admits he was not so good at the sporting disciplines while in school - the most he did was unsuccessfully try his hands at goalkeeping - his passion for them could hardly be faulted, as he indulged them in what ways he could.

He recalls: “I would always try to go for Inter-Schools athletics competitions and follow the Kumasi High School football team for matches.”

I started out on radio, did TV, and moved into print. I believe that is what makes you a complete journalist and, thankfully, I do a fair job at all three

There was more to young Opoku's sporting adventures than mere spectatoring, though, as he reveals.
“I probably should have realised that I was to become a journalist because I used to write articles and paste them on the notice wall of the Dining Hall at KUHIS about the football games I attended.”

For one whose journalistic instincts had been honed albeit unwittingly while yet so young, Opoku’s choice of study at tertiary level was quite unusual. On face value, the fields of Computer Science and soccer could not have been more distant from each other, yet Opoku, ever so observant, does not fail to spot and highlight the subtle parallels.

“Mathematics (a sine qua non for any computer scientist) was one of my strongest areas and so I always loved working with statistics. Maybe that is why I am able to retain so much information in my head as a football commentator and memory retention is one of my biggest assets in my job. Attention to detail (another forte for people of Opoku's professional field) is also something I do because of that discipline I offered,” he notes.

Observing him going about his work as meticulously and professionally as could be, it isn't hard to see his point. His has, indeed, been a sparkling journalistic career. And yet, as he explains in detail, it all began rather unexpectedly, almost as if by accident. Listen to him tell it as it happened: “After my first year at KNUST, I wanted to travel abroad like my friends to do holiday work before starting my second year of schooling but those plans fell through. So I was teaching part-time at a computer school in Kumasi when LUV FM began operations in Kumasi.

“Before then, during the holidays, Garden City Radio asked for people to audition for possible jobs there. I actually went there and read a script and was asked to come back at a later date which, unfortunately, never materialised because I wasn’t contacted. Later, a friend of mine who was working there at the time asked me to try out for the news department. So one day I went to the radio station and spoke to the then news editor, Peter Ofoe Diogo. When I told him I wanted to join the news team as a reader, he told me that there was no money to pay me.”

“I told him that since I had no prior experience, I was prepared to learn on the job and so I understood if there was no money to pay me. So he asked me to come in the following Monday, since it was on a Friday that I went there. I went there and I was made to read through scripts in the mornings, but not on air, before going to the computer school for my classes in the afternoons. This continued for the whole week until Friday, when Ofoe Diogo suddenly handed me a script and asked me to read the 10 o’clock news on radio,” he remembers. “He accompanied me into the studio and I did so. That brought out some senior members of staff to find out who I was. I also did the 12pm news and went off for my classes. Interestingly enough, I was struck down by malaria and so I had to stay at home the following week. During that time, LUV FM advertised on air for a sports presenter and asked for all those interested to present demos.”

“I was broke so I did not, but told myself that when I recovered and went back to LUV FM, I would continue to work in the news department even though I was very interested in doing sports presentation. When I recovered, I went back and again did two news bulletins. After the second one, the then Controller of Programs, Cox Tamakloe, called me into his office and asked me whether I was interested in applying to be a sports presenter. I said yes and so he asked me to understudy the sports presenter on the morning show at the time, Henry Amankwaa. I did so the following day and prepared to do the presentation the following day with Henry on the morning show. It was the morning show host at the time, Seth Opoku Opare who nicknamed me Christopher Columbus just before I went on air. So that was how I started. After my debut presentation, the then programmes manager, Dusty Wayne (of blessed memory) offered me a part-time job as a sports presenter, and that was it.”

Well, since that day in August 1998, Opoku has barely looked back or relaxed, bar a three-month hiatus in
"My mom was a special woman and I guess my one regret is that she is not alive today to see my family and what I have become"
2001 as well as a two-year period (2004-2006) when he was away from the country.

Opoku has risen to become one of Ghana's most recognizable media faces and voices. Listen to him run commentary, watch him engage in punditry on TV, or read any of his write-ups, and it is almost impossible to determine which art he handles most proficiently. No need to, though, in Opoku's opinion.

"I think I have adapted to all three very well," he proffers with a wide smile. "I started out on radio, did TV, and moved into print. I believe that is what makes you a complete journalist and, thankfully, I do a fair job at all three."

Nevertheless, it has not been all rosy for Opoku in his career. As he readily admits, there have been a few rough incidents, especially during his early days on radio while he learnt the ropes of the job. Two readily come to mind.

"I remember running commentary in Koforidua at a league game between Asante Kotoko and Suhum Maxbees. At the time, Hearts of Oak were playing away to Dawu Youngsters. I was misinformed by someone that Dawu had taken the lead against the Phobians and I recall saying loudly on air that unconfirmed reports had it so. As was later related to me, the joy that report sparked among Kotoko fans back in Kumasi was simply rapturous, only to realise not long thereafter that Hearts were in the advantage. Unfortunately, I cannot share the obvious repercussions I suffered for that gross error, but I certainly learnt lessons from that."

As if that episode was not embarrassing enough, there also occurred an occasion when Opoku, in delivering a dose of foreign sports news on radio, mentioned Italian legend Roberto Baggio as being involved in a serious car accident and his vehicle "sustaining serious injuries."

Opoku laughs, even as he recalls these absolutely amusing incidents, yet he is quick to point out that they have indeed helped him pay a lot more attention to what he does.
And while he might have lost count of just how many games he has seen in the course of his work, having been at it for so long, a couple of distinguished individual performances he has witnessed clearly stands out. He recounts two of the most memorable, incidentally involving two former Asante Kotoko stars.

"The first was Baba ‘Armando’ Adamu’s first game for Kotoko in Kumasi, against GHAPOHA. Kotoko won 3-0 and Adamu was simply brilliant on the day. The other was Charles Taylor’s first league game for Kotoko against Tano Bofoakwa in Sunyani. He scored a brilliant individual goal and linked up so well with Isaac Boakye that I remember saying he made the then GH¢125,000 record transfer fee paid for him by Kotoko seem ridiculously cheap."

As a journalist, Opoku has covered a host of major international tournaments, including the African Youth Championships hosted (and won) by Ghana in 1999, the Nations Cup organized a year later, and that of 2008. He laments, though, never having covered a Fifa World Cup, missing the 2006 and 2010 editions due to his absence from the country and his wife's scheduled delivery respectively.

Surely, he would love to make an appearance at Brazil 2014 should Ghana qualify, no?
"Yes, I would love to," Opoku replies, "but in the end, it is all about opportunities. I just hope God makes a way for me. I can only dream, pray and hope."

There's more to Christopher Opoku's story, though. Watch out for part two on Friday.

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