On 2nd November, 1971, which is exactly 52 years ago, legendary Ghanaian goalkeeper Robert Mensah was stabbed to death. He passed away at the age of 32 at a time he was rated as the best goalkeeper in Africa.
He was best known for his exploits with Asante Kotoko with whom he won the African Clubs Cup in 1970. He was also a runner-up with the Ghana squad for the 1968 African Cup of Nations and represented Ghana at the Summer Olympics that same year.
Mensah was largely controversial in Ghanaian football and would mock opposition players by reading a newspaper whilst goal-tending. He often wore a cap during football games causing some opposing players to physically remove it from his head believing it was bringing them bad luck through the use of juju. This cap also earned him the nickname “Yashin”, in homage to the Russian keeper named Lev Yashin, who also sported a cap during games.
Tall and athletically built, Mensah boasted superlative reflexes and was unfailingly brave. He had a superb sense of anticipation, great physical fitness and the courage and confidence to go down to the feet of dangerous attackers. And of course, those magic hands that could pick a ball out from the air as simply and effortlessly as the feet of legend Pele could score goals.
In 1970, he was voted as the 9th best African football player by French football publication France-Football. A year later he was runner-up in the African football player of the year award.
Mensah as a goalkeeper, although highly respected, seemed incapable of avoiding controversies. Kotoko had been preparing for an African Club Championship semi-final match against Accra Great Olympics on November 7 and Robert Mensah was expected to be in camp with his teammates in Kumasi when the terrible incident happened.
According to eyewitness accounts, Mensah was stabbed while separating two friends who were fighting at Credo drinking bar at Community 7, Tema, on October 30. Inspector CJ Acquaye of the local police said a quarrel had arisen between Agya Awere and Joseph Ackersou, two local men who were drinking in the bar. A third man, 31-year-old electrician called Melfah, was remanded in custody, accused of having followed Mensah from the bar after the fight and stabbed him with a broken bottle.
As for Mensah, he had been operated on, and the prognosis had initially seemed positive. Unfortunately, by the time the public heard about the incident, 32 year old Mensah’s condition took a turn for the worse and he passed away at the Tema General Hospital, at 2:30am on Tuesday, November 2, 1971.
His funeral became a procession of tragedy, as his body was taken from Tema to Kumasi, home of Kotoko. It was for them he had played his greatest games. The Graphic reported, “Thousands of mourners, young and old, even school children refused to attend classes and rushed to the airport and the sports stadium to pay their last respects … there was wailing and weeping at the nooks and corners of the city. Traffic stood still as taxi cabs, private cars and commercial vehicles wrapped in the red traditional colours of Kumasi, lined up in the streets tooting their horn signifying their last past to Robert Mensah.”
Mensah’s cortege went on to Cape Coast, where he had begun his career with Dwarfs. His coffin was presented at the Town Hall and taken, via Victoria Park, to St Francis’s Cathedral where he was buried.
That day, the Graphic printed on its back page a photograph of a concrete slab near a kiosk selling cigarettes and soft drinks 150 yards from the Credo Bar in Tema. The slab was spattered with Mensah’s blood. His assailant, Melfah was jailed for five years for his murder (if this guy is still alive I would love to interview him)
A sports stadium in Cape Coast – home of Mysterious Dwarfs – was named in his honour. Robert Mensah is also the subject of the very popular folk song.
Robert (clap 3x)
Robert (clap 3x)
Robert Mensah, goalkeeper number one..aka nansa, na wakɔ aburokyire. Kwasia bi te hɔ, ɛyɛ ne ya, wakɔfa pintoa, ode awɔ nenfe…
He may be gone but his legend lives on… the greatest goalkeeper Africa has ever seen.