From Pele to Penalties; The Life of Football in Ghana
Football is, for many, a universal language. Whether on a cold morning in Liverpool for a sunday league game, through to kick about on the streets in Brazil, you’ll no doubt see a football being kicked about. Regardless of gender, race or religion, when you’re having a kickabout, you’re all speaking from the same page.
Because of this appeal, football is widely loved in every area of the globe, no more so than in Ghana. For several decades now, football has been the most popular national sport in Ghana, and has regularly produced players who have played in the Premier League, the Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A and other top leagues. These icons have only further increased the passion for the game, and in turn has created some talented teams.
Ghana’s National Team
Nicknamed the Black Stars, Ghana, for the most part, have been ever present on football's biggest stage in recent times. Although they didn’t qualify for the 2018 World Cup, they had qualified consecutively for the 2006, 2010 and the 2014 tournaments. They also became only the third African team to reach the World Cup quarter finals, where they were only stopped by a certain Luis Suarez’s handball in the last minute. On top of their achievements on the world stage, they have also won the African Cup of Nations four times, and have finished runners up 5 times.
Ghana’s Top Divisions
With such a rich footballing history, it’s no surprise that Ghana has a thriving domestic hierarchy. The Ghana Premier League is organised by the Ghana Football Association and is due to return on August 2019. There are two dominant teams in the leagues history, with Asante Kotoko with 23 titles, and Hearts of Oak (who are Accra based) with 20 titles, although neither has won the league since 2013/14. The ambition for all local grassroots and semi pro sides is to reach this top division, which then puts them firmly in a continental view as a serious club.
Ghana has produced numerous huge names in football, and most have gone on to play at the highest level. Many, if not all, consider Abedi Pele as the greatest ever player to have come from Ghana. He played at the highest level of football with Lille and Marseille in the French league, and went on to win the Champions League. He’s widely considered to have shone a spotlight on African football, and captained his country. His sons, Jordan and Andre Ayew, are also great footballers in their own rights, and currently still play in the English Premier League and Turkish Superleague. Other names to note include Asamoah Gyan, who surpassed Pele as Ghana’s top ever goalscorer. Gyan infamously hit his 119th minute, Luis Suarez gifted penalty, against the bar in the World Cup quarter final, taking the team to penalties and subsequently losing. Throw in Chelsea’s Michael Essien, Barcelona’s Kevin-Prince Boateng and Inter Milan’s Kwadwo Asamoah, and you see how many big names the country has produced.
Yet, for all it’s success at the highest level, grassroots football still needs work. It’s such a popular sport, yet below the the major clubs, funding, support and participation can fall short. Big names, such as Asamoah Gyan, have planned tournaments in the capital Accra, to help boost the sport locally. But this under-development at a local level is why projects and programmes have sprung up. Volunteers from footballing countries, especially in Europe, have contributed their time in helping these projects, in the hope of not only making an importance difference in the community, but to hopefully inspire the next generation of Ghanaian footballers through their own passion.
Ghanaians have been long blessed with high quality footballers coming from their nation, and it has dragged the national team to unprecedented heights, in comparison to the funds invested. This lack of funding locally could cut off the supply chain of quality young footballers, and as such, the passion of volunteers and local projects are one of the most important aspects of inspiring the next generation to not only engage with a sport they love, but to thrive and progress in it.