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Jul
11

FROM ‘SHABO-SHABO’ TO ‘TEARY-TEARY’: THE GREAT HISTORY OF GHANA FOOTBALL, FEATURING ‘MAGICIAN’ EDWARD ACQUAH

  •  FROM ‘SHABO-SHABO’ TO ‘TEARY-TEARY’: THE GREAT HISTORY OF GHANA FOOTBALL, FEATURING ‘MAGICIAN’ EDWARD ACQUAH

  • By CAMERON DUODU

  • May,1960.Ghana Black Stars 5  Blackpool Of England 1

  • How Edward Acquah Nearly Got Me Into Trouble
    By CAMERON DUODU

  • A great footballer died in poverty on 5 October 2011; but during his heyday 50 years ago, Edward Acquah was dynamite!

  • A whole half a century has passed, but I remember it like yesterday. I had just been promoted to the post  of News Editor at the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, and was fully in charge of the news to be broadcast at 6pm that Sunday. Normally, a senior editor or even the head of news would take a look at the bulletin before it went on air, but it being a Sunday, none of them was around and the baby was entirely in my hands. As it happened, Ghana’s national football team, the Black Stars, were playing against Blackpool, a Division One club from Britain and one which had been made famous the world over by the exploits of its star winger, Stanley Matthews, arguably the best dribbler the game has ever seen – bettered only, perhaps, by George Best.  And only Best at Best’s best, at that.

  • Matthews had himself visited Ghana a short time earlier, and had played some matches with his hosts, Accra Hearts of Oak. This venerable Ghanaian team, known to its admirers as “The Phobians”, because they said Hearts’ boys were “so good” that they suffused their rivals with “Heartsphobia”, were, in those days, very glamorous, and enjoyed the patronage of a British expatriate businessman called Ken Harrison. Anyway, Blackpool was a name held in awe by all Ghanaian football lovers, and when they came to play the Black Stars, everyone’s heart was in his mouth.  All the sportswriters were certain that Blackpool,  judging from their record, would beat the Black Stars; the only question was – by how many goals?
  • I was exasperated that the duty roster had put me on duty at Radio Ghana for that afternoon. Why not in the morning so that I could knock off by 2pm and go straight to the Accra Sports Stadium to watch the match — with my Press Crad? Well, you can’t argue with the duty roster, so there I was, reduced to imagining how the match was going, as described by the radio commentators.

  • Most Ghanaians were doing the same, as there was, of course,  no TV at the time, so it wasn’t too bad, but … you know something? I wanted to be physically there. If you love football, you will understand how badly I wished I could be there – joining the crowd to cheer in glee, or to sigh in disappointment; perhaps even to sing with the crowd, if and  when the state of play demanded that!
  • The match got under way. Ghanaians realised something strange was happening when the Black Stars scored the first goal. It was clobbered by centre-forward Edward Acquah. I say “clobbered” because Acquah was so clumsy on his feet that he hardly ever scored without first fighting with the ball – at any rate, his feet did! You see, he stood at six foot two inches tall and was very powerfully-built – I would say 180-200 pounds in weight. I suspected he wore size 13 to 14 boots, but I never dared to ask him. So he didn’t exactly  have  what you’d call ”nimble feet”!
  • He had in fact started his football career as a goalkeeper before becoming a centre-forward. The story was that in a match for his side, Sekondi Eleven Wise, the team manager could not quite make up the numbers: he was one man short because a forward had  secretly ‘absconded’ at the last minute to go and play in a “shabo-shabo” match somewhere else.
  • You see, in those days, football players were not paid well at all, but mostly played for the love of the game. Even the very little they were paid was often paid very late. “Football contractors” knew that footballers were always broke, and so they found it easy to arrange secret, unofficial matches on obscure grounds like Rovers’ Park, at  Old Tafo, or Jackson’s Park, Koforidua — both in the Eastern Region– in which they would feature one or two ”name” or star players from the recognised, first-class clubs. These were put at the head of hastily-recruited players from wherever:  there were always “surplus” players available from the good clubs,  whose ambitions were larger than their skills, and all a contractor needed was to have “contacts” who would give him a hint about  which club had  good players who had been “passed over” because they could not make the first team.

  • “Shabo-shabo” was a corruption of “sharpo-sharpo” – which describes the sharpish manner in which the secret negotiations were conducted. Mum was the word, for if a player was discovered to be about to steal off because he had been put on the reserves bench,   he would be warned, and if he disobeyed, he would be completely out on his ear. However, if he was clever enough to present his club bosses with a fait accompli, then he could always argue that he went to play “shabo-shabo”  in order not to become  “rusty” on the sidelines. So he was in fact acting in the interests of the club! Well, if the feedback from the smuggled match showed the bosses that he had “regained his form”, they might even speed up his return to the first eleven. In order to survive in those days, a footballer needed brains — there was never such a thing as as “contract” — the club officials pretended that they had never heard of the word, though they themselves sometimes insisted on signing  contracts with the club owners. Such is life.
  • So then,  everything about “shabo-shabo” needed to be smart: the players were paid in cash, sharpish; half the amount upfront, and the rest immediately after the match. Sometimes the payment was made on the pitch of play itself, for a nifty-footed football contractor could easily jump into his car and take off — sharpish —  as soon as the final whistle had been blown!  Stories abounded of the unsavoury events associated with  many matches arranged this way; stories of fisticuffs occurring when the promised cash was not forthcoming, on the excuse that “low attendance” had affected the takings at the gate; or that the gatekeeper(s)  had run off with the cash; or that the rather “partial” [i.e. biased] referee had taken the bottom off the betting pot from which payments were to have been  made to the players; or that the odds had gone against the football contractor because a  jujuman who had been paid an exorbitant fee to ensure a victory for one side or the other,  had turned out to be a massive quack! The story might be that the quack  jujuman had devoured a gigantic white ram as well as  three huge cocks provided by the football contractor, in addition to  a gallon of akpeteshie — plus a huge sum in “out-of-pocket expenses”! And yet —  and yet — the quack  had forecast the match result wrong!

  • Because of these —  er — vicissitudes,  “shabo-shabo” often acquired a new synonym: teary-teary!  The tears reflected the disappointment and exasperation felt by those who had risked limb and career to perform at a match, and yet had had to go home with nothing in their pockets to show for it — unable, sometimes, even to recoup their lorry fares back home!  Those, dear reader, are only a few of the secrets that lie in the soft underbelly of  the history of Ghanaian football, but which are unknown except to a few insiders. Even those in the know don’t care to disclose  everything they know, for it reminds them of the deep hurt and humiliation that they used to suffer at the hands of  unscrupulous football contractors. So, you ask, how do I know? I know because Edward Acquah was my friend! He used to come up to my office at Drum Magazine, which was  then sited behind Osu Market,  just half a mile or so from the Accra Sports Stadium. Acquah was very humorous, and over a beer, we would chat and laugh and laugh. It was from him that I learnt that Ohene-Djan kept a special account, which bore the name “MKK”, which was researved for emergency use only. When he became desperate, during a match, because Ghana was either losing or drawing, he would make his way  to the touchline, and yell a code-word:  “MKK! ….MKK!” This meant that whoever scored a goal, or contributed enormously to a goal being scored, would be given a huge cheque drawn on the “MKK” account!

 

  • Well, as I was saying, Acquah was told on the day his fate in football was to change forever, that he wasn’t going to be the  goalkeeper for that match, but the centre-forward! He was puzzled, but  he acquitted himself well, scoring two goals. Now, because he was used to standing in a stationary position for long periods between the goalposts, his feet were not used to the nimble steps with which a centre-forward acquired the ball, slipped it past the defenders of the opposing team, and then shot at goal. But once he steadied himself, he would shoot, and because, as a goalkeeper, he was used to kicking the ball straight to a targeted player, and also, with all his strength, his shots at goal were absolutely unstoppable.

  • So, the Eleven Wise manager stuck to his word and turned Acquah from a Number One into a Number Nine player. Acquah acquired so much fame  in his new position that when the national Director of Sports of the time, the genius of a football strategist called  Ohene-Djan, began raiding the clubs and picking the best of their players for his newly-formed “Real Republikans” (otherwise known by the grand name, “Osagyefo’s Own Club”,  meaning the President,  Dr Kwame Nkrumah, was the Patron of the ‘Republikans’), he persuaded  Acquah to join. 

 

  • Money was no object to Ohene-Djan, of course; in fact, he  managed to place many of the ‘Republikan’ players with para-statal organisations like the Workers Brigade and the State Farms Corporation, in sinecures for which they got good pay and sometimes free housing, which left them free time to practise and practise at  the art of football. This system, which Ohene-Djan copied from the socialist countries of Eastern Europe, was condemned in the West as “sham-amateurism”, though the situation in the West was basically the same, with football players being paid, but being called “professionals” in a system financed through capitalist enterprise. 
  • All the national teams in the West were drawn from professional sides, yet they expected Eastern European and non-European teams to be made up of amateurs. The Eastern Europeans tore through  that hypocrisy, and Ohene-Djan imitated them without batting an eyelid.
  • “Ghana Amateur Football Association”?  Big joke! ‘Real Republicans’ were, in reality, a stand-in Black Stars [national team], which took part in the amateur football league but was cleverly sprinkled with a few stars from the other amateur clubs, when it came to international matches. (For instance, Kotoko’s great forward, Wilberforce Mfum, and its incredible dribbler, Osei Kofi, were both  members of the Black Stars, but they were cleverly left out of  the  ”Republikans”, though Baba Yara was pinched from Kotoko into “Republikans”). Anyway, it was through  being  in the  “Republicans” (but playing for the Black Stars) that Acquah got the opportunity to excel  against Blackpool that Sunday afternoon. After he had scored the first goal, he scored a second. Then a third! And – a fourth! And believe it or not, a fifth! Blackpool were only able to respond with a single goal! They were blown away! And largely by — ONE MAN!

  • It was INCREDIBLE! The whole of Ghana went crazy that day. Inside the newsroom, the radio box turned my brain into a jelly of sheer euphoria. We normally tucked football stories at the end of the bulletin. But I made it the lead story! Not only that – I headlined it: “Ghana Black Stars beat Blackpool of England by five goals to one at the Accra Sports Stadium this afternoon.” And for good measure, I put in  a secondary headline: “Centre-forward Edward Acquah scored all of Ghana’s  five 5  goals.”

 

  • Now, the six o’clock news was  massive: usually, it was only  really  big world and local news stories that made it into that bulletin. And we hardly ever led the bulletin with local news. So I had broken all precedents twice over, by leading it with a local story, which was also  a  football news  item.

 

  • When the bulletin went on the air, I stood by a window, nervously biting my finger-nails, in   dread  that the newsroom telephone would ring and that my irate bosses would shout at me: “Duodu! What have you done to the Six O’çlock News”? 
  • But I waited and waited and — the telephone did not ring! With relief, I realised that what what had happened at the Accra Sports Stadium constituted truly great and exciting  news! And my bosses must have  felt that I had recognised it as such and given it the treatment that someone with a good nose for news should give it. No one could argue with that. Precedent could go and jump! They were made to be broken.  Every single tongue in Ghana was basking in the wonderful Black Stars’ victory, and  sharing in my enthusiasm. And the whole country was,   at that moment, glorifying chanting the glorified name of  “Edward Acquah!” (See Photos at:)

  • https://www.facebook.com/265912330240303/photos/pcb.479091865589014/479091395589061/?type=1
  • Acquah was also instrumental in the ‘Real Republicans’ drawing 3-3 against Real Madrid at the Accra Sports Stadium, scoring two of the goals inn that match. That draw with Real Madrid — a team that had won the European championship several times —  put Ghana on the international map of football in a very big way. It was at that match that Ghanaians were able to see displays by two of the greatest players that Real Madrid have ever produced – Alfredo Di Stefano and Ferenc Puskás. Playing a drawn game against such world-renowned players gave the Black Stars a great deal of self-confidence, and when Ohene-Djan sent them a on a world tour, they acquitted themselves very well. 

  • Ah — and, of course, Acquah was  in the Black Stars team that won the African Cup of Nations  twice — back-to-back —  (in Accra in 1963 and in Tunis in 1965).

  • Acquah’s nicknames were many: “Sputnik” (after the first  satellite to go into orbit around the world, put into space by the Soviet Union) and “Acquah a otete net!” (Acquah whose shots are so powerful that they tear holes in  goal-nets!), were just two of them.

  • Edward Acquah died on 5 October 2011. He was 76. I believe he was somewhat impoverished when he died. Which didn’t surprise me, knowing how Ghana rarely affords adequate  recognition to  its national treasures, let alone look after them properly. Had he lived elsewhere, Acquah would most probably have had a statue of himself  erected at the national sports stadium, and he would also  have enjoyed a huge pension, which would continue to be paid after  his death, to look after his family.  But Edward Acquah wouldn’t care too much  what the myopic football  authorities did,  or didn’t do.  He loved football; he knew his countrymen and women – the common folk – appreciated his prowess in football and that they loved him.  Deeply. No one – but no one – can take that away from him, as he makes his lonely way to join his ancestors. But wouldn’t it be extremely nice if the authorities, for once, listened to the true voice of the Nation, and properly honoured one of the Nation’s Greatest Heroes?


  • Photos credit:Fiifi Anaman
  • Ghana Premiership News's photo.
  • Ghana Premiership News's photo.
  • Ghana Premiership News's photo.
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