COMMENT By Prince Narkotu Teye Follow on Twitter
You may have heard this one too many – the story of how it all began. But with the 2015-16 Ghana Premier League all but ready to kick off tomorrow, there may probably be no better time to retell one of the greatest stories in the domestic game.
It may have captivated an entire nation. It may have propelled football as Ghana’s No.1 sport. It's fair to say that it has provided the basis for the development of talents for the national teams and the best clubs abroad. But how did it come into being?
The first truly reorganized national league was held in 1958, even if some other historians have quoted 1956. Now here is why: For the ‘first’ competition in 1956, the Ghana Football League - as it was called - was hit with a massive boycott by the Ashanti-based teams, and by the concluding stages, all other remaining clubs had followed suit. Hearts of Oak had strolled to the summit of the league table by the time of the unceremonious end, and were thus declared winners of the competition. This one controversial title explains why the club is quoted by some to have won 20 league trophies (1996 inclusive) while others prefer to go by 19.
There’d be a two-year hiatus upon the 1956 polemic, and the league would not return until 1958. It had just eight teams, a far cry from the 16 total that are set to compete for honours in the coming campaign. In 1993, the top flight became known as the Ghana Premier League. But that wasn’t the first major football competition in the nation.
The Accra Football League and the Gold Coast Club Competition, among others, had theretofore largely kept the sport alive.
The game had been growing, its popularity had taken a surge and there’d been the need for reevaluation.
To make room for the growing number of clubs in the country, the Division One League was introduced - a competition which runs second fiddle to the elite Premier League. At the moment, two further classes are in existence, the Division Two League (third tier) and the Division Three League (fourth tier), a testament of how fast the sport has evolved in the West African nation.
Speaking of growth, the top flight has seen some days of glory too, not least because it was adjudged the third strongest national league in Africa and 38th in the world by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS) for 2011.
Hearts had earlier ruled the continent in winning the 2000 Caf Super Cup title in addition to the Caf Champions League crown. It wasn’t to end there. Four years on, the Phobians added the 2004 Caf Confederations Cup trophy, beating country rivals Asante Kotoko in a historic final in the competition’s maiden edition.
The two clubs currently boast five continental titles between them.
Although the Phobians look more impressive on the continental stage, the contrast is the case on the local scene, even if the Accra-based side hold the highest number of title streaks of six between 1997 and 2002. With 23 trophies to their name, the Porcupine Warriors wield a better record than their nemesis.
The two most successful clubs in Ghana’s football history have been the top flight’s fiercest rivals, their clash reaching an unfortunate peak in a league encounter at the Accra Sports Stadium when 127 fans lost their lives in unarguably the division’s darkest moment in 2001. Similar emulations between Sekondi Eleven Wise and Sekondi Hasaacas, Mysterious [Ebusua] Dwarfs and Venomous Vipers, Hearts and Great Olympics, as well as Kotoko and Cornerstones cannot go unmentioned.
Not forgetting the fact that Ghana had earlier won four Africa Cup of Nations titles with an almost locally-based contingent. That brings into focus the main players.
From Mohammed Polo, Peter Lamptey, Dan Owusu, Opoku Afriyie, Tony Yeboah, George Alhassan, Emmanuel Quashie and Mohammed Choo, the top flight has seen some great names light up its stage. Then then there have been the likes of Ishmael Addo, Charles Taylor, Bernard Don-Bortey, Joe Hendrichs, and Kwadwo Poku, et al. who dazzled in the early 2000s.
Nonetheless, we can expect to be thrilled by the likes of Latif Blessing of Liberty Professionals, Eric Donkor of Kotoko, 2014-15 Best Player Eric Opoku of Ashanti Gold and Hearts of Oak new boy Samudeen Ibrahim in the coming season.
So there you have it – a piece of beautiful history ahead of Saturday’s kick-off. And it’ll be only a matter of seven months until we find out who continues the sweet line of historical winners.