By Ken Bediako
Three cheers for Real Madrid, the undisputed football Lords of Europe. This is the club with the tradition of assembling super stars that make football such a glittering spectator sport. Almost all the legends you can think of from Puskas and Di Stefano to Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo have all been actors at the famous Santiago Bernabeau Stadium in Madrid. Perhaps the notable exceptions are Nascimento Pele, Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi.
The younger Ghanaian generation may not believe that this great team once visited Ghana in 1962 and played 3-3 against the Black Stars.
In fact, Real Madrid had inspired Ghana’s legendary sports administrator Ohene Djan to form a model club Republikans in the country in 1961. Ohene Djan invited the Spanish team to Ghana in 1962 a year after the formation of the Republikans to allow Ghanaians see the glitter of the team. He put together the very top players available in a bid to raise the standard of the game and prepare Ghana for international honours.
Even though he might have had the best of intentions, his approach to the scheme was arguably controversial. He used his executive powers to forcibly recruit two top players each from the existing league clubs to form the nucleus of the team, much to the discomfort of the affected clubs.
As expected, the clubs protested strongly but Ohene Djan stood firm. Against all odds, Republikans became a reality. It was a powerful galaxy of stars that became a standing national team in disguise. Ohene Djan however realised most probably in his sober moments, it would not be fair league competition between a national team in disguise and the other intrinsic clubs.
So for a start, Republikans were made to play the league on non-scoring basis. The snag however was that you could beat them for the points at stake.
This was a really tricky arrangement and it was generally suspected Republikans could choose and pick which clubs to favour. And it came to pass that towards the end of the league, Republikans had to beat Accra Hearts in a crucial match to enable Kotoko win the league, failing which Hearts would be champions. As widely expected, Republikans lost to Hearts and the Phobians won the 1961-62 league. Some football historians describe it as the first officially sanctioned ‘fixed’ league match in the country. Popular opinion was that Kotoko were the most vocal against the formation of Republikans and should not expect any favours from their ‘sworn enemies.’
Well, in the long run the situation subsequently changed. Ohene Djan decreed Republikans to now play the 1962-63 league on competitive basis. As expected they were unstoppable and won the league plus the FA Cup. It was a very strong team and they only needed a couple of players from the other clubs to constitute the national team, Black Stars to win the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time in Dec 1963.
Sadly, Republikans and for that matter, the Black Stars had earlier in March that year, lost the services of the nation’s most outstanding player, Baba Yara who had been involved in a motor accident with his Republikans team mates at Kpeve in the Volta Region from Kpando after a league match against Kpando Mulpos. Ofei Dodoo however of Hearts fame stood in gallantly for the reputed king of wingers and the Black Stars 3-0 triumph over Sudan in the final was extremely impressive.
The Baba Yara story is a whole chapter in the annals of the national football history but I may need to refresh the memory of readers about the formation of Republikans. Much so some people still believe there may be the need for the state to revive the Republikans idea. The argument is that every footballer nowadays wants to play for hard cash and a state run team like Republikans can always provide the needed funds to run the show.
At this juncture, let me recall the foundation members of Real Republikans who were Addo Odametey, Ofei Dodoo (Hearts); Dogo Moro, Baba Yara (Kotoko); Edward Acquah, Cromwell (Eleven Wise); Bob Neizer, George Appiah (Hasaacas); Joe Aikins, Kojo Appiah (Cornerstone); Thompson Nunoo (Vipers), Edward Boateng (Standfast), Osei Kwasi (Great Ashanti); Franklin Crentsil (Sekondi Independence); Abel Edusei (Real Ghana); Otto, Odametey (Real Ghana).
Later on emerging Stars like Aggrey Fynn (Hearts), Kofi Pare (Wise) Ben Acheampong (Cornerstone) and few others were recruited into the team.
Real Ghana was the name Ohene Djan gave to the Academicals team formed in 1959.
For record purposes let me recall the Real Ghana squad comprised Atta Konadu and Kwame Awuah (University of Ghana); Abel Edusei and Ansah Aboagye from Achimota. The others were Carl Lokko, Otto Odametey, Paul Lartey (Odorgonno); Gladstone Ofori, Albert Okunnor (Presec Odumasi) and Enoch Nsiah (Labone). The rest were Fred Asabre, Ntim Donkor, David Asante (Opoku Ware School); Albert Yankey, Edward Mingle (Ghana National, Cape Coast) and Emmanuel Nkansah (Tamale Sec).
All this recollection and apparent digression is to show that Ghana has a tradition of excellent football administration and planning and we cannot afford to mess up in this hi-tech era.
It’s heart-warming to see the national popular pastime, the Premier Football League successfully entering the home stretch. It is hoped the best teams will triumph on merit and the FA will give us a well-planned next season bearing in mind Ghana is hosting the Africa Games next year.
Meanwhile the nation is expecting nothing but a good performance by the Black Stars against Madagascar in the Afcon prelims at Cape Coast this week.
The popular saying that we no longer have football minnows should not be any licence for the Black Stars not to shine. Madagascar can’t be a football force to reckon with. The Black Stars should go all out and convince the nation of their steady preparation for Qatar.
Passionate football lovers like me are still celebrating the Black Stars’ World Cup qualification and we can’t accept any sour grapes to spoil our appetite, please, please.
Cheers everybody and keep loving sports.
Genuine oversight.Goalkeeper Dodoo Ankrah and Owens Oblitey ( Gt Olympics) were foundation members of Republikans.
Credit: Ken Bediako