A few years ago, I was at the Berekum Golden City Park for a CAF Champions qualification clash between the Blues and CotonSport Garoua from Cameroon.
Chelsea had taken the Ghanaian league scene by storm. The deep pockets of millionaire businessman Emmanuel Kyeremeh transformed the side from also-rans to one filled with the crème de la crème of players on the domestic front, including Emmanuel Clottey (pictured below).
The big guns including Kumasi Asante Kotoko, Hearts of Oak and Ashgold could simply not compete with the newfound wealth and fame of the provincial club. How money makes a difference the globe over.
Incidentally, London side Chelsea who were perennial FA Cup and League Cup winners come to mind. Enter the millions of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich and they simply have not been the same since the turn of the millennium.
Money can't buy class
For Berekum Chelsea, this was a period to make a statement and rub shoulders with some of the very best on the continent. Moise Katumbi had revamped giants TP Mazembe to win back to back African honours in 2009 & 2010 and even make it to the final of the FIFA Club World Cup against Inter in the United Arab Emirates.
Berekum Chelsea couldn’t be that far off as long as Kyeremeh pumped in millions into the administration of the club.
I left Accra with my crew hoping to catch a glimpse of the heroes that had made the side a fearsome one in the previous twenty four months here in Ghana.
Top guns from FA such as President Kwesi Nyantakyi, current Black Stars management committee chair George Afriyie and others were at the Stadium, which looked more like a community park at the time.
Just when we touched down at the match venue, we were instructed by a top official of the club that we could not film the game. I did not necessarily have any qualms with that.
My curiousity got me to further proceed by asking why that was the case. The answer I was given shocked me to the core.
Hear him: “The ref [Ali Lamyagari from Mauritania] has told us that he does not want to see any cameras at the stadium. The cameras would make it impossible for him to help us. Since we need a healthy lead to take to Cameroon for the second leg, we cannot sacrifice our huge investments for you. You would have to stop filming now.”
I'm not too sure if that made sense to me, a journalist who had travelled well over eight hours to get to Berekum. I am not too sure what exactly the referee was going to do in their favour either.
I'd heard and read all kinds of dubious means deployed especially by African clubs to advance in continental club competitions from allegedly bribing match officials to various modes of intimidation but this was new.
At a time where the passion for the game on the continent was literally dying and western football taking over the screens, I thought this was a great time for soccer fanatics beyond Berekum to fully appreciate their effort on screen via our coverage even if it was just going to be highlights the day after.
European football and the lads who are adored all over the globe has hit the zenith due to television. Qualifiers of Europe’s first and second tier continental club football competitions (Champions League and Europa League) are broadcast all over the globe.
Is it an irony that my five-year old nephew can mention the top players of the various European clubs off his head and cannot do same for the First Capital Plus Premier League?
But for season 2014/15 where games are relayed on DSTV, we barely get to see the local lads in action. Not to talk about the financial challenges in acquiring satellite TV!
With thousands cheering the team to victory, Berekum Chelsea squandered all the opportunities that came their way and to add insult to injury, the referee on the day was so fair I wondered what he may have been supposedly been asked to "take care of”.
Fast forward a few years down the line and this sadly was to be repeated.
Hearts of Oak, down from a 4-0 deficit in the first leg against Esperance Sportive de Tunis were scheduled to play the Tunisians in the 2nd leg of a crucial final eliminator into the Group stages of the CAF Confederations Cup.
The sad events of Berekum happened again as pressmen were “whipped into line” if they dared filmed the tie. I found it ludicrous that a club with a century plus history behind it would stoop that low all in an attempt to overturn a 4-0 deficit.
Is it that they did not believe in the capacity of their players to overturn the first leg fiasco? Interestingly, the man in charge of the game – just like in the Berekum case – was one of Africa’s finest in Bakary Papa Gassama (below pictured).
Yes, the same man who was in charge of the opening and final games of CAN 2015. As fate would have it again, the Phobians also drew against the Tunisians. Coincidence?
It is about time clubs in Africa invested in their playing and technical bodies to translate into results on the pitch.
This crude means of achieving results are only short term which would affect the club going forward. The quality of this Hearts of Oak side is nowhere near the standard of Esperance and that was clear from the first leg.
Herbert was right
Coach Herbert Addo in a post match interview was unequivocal in his comments when he said that the North Africans were more professional in their approach. How on earth did the Phobians not know – per their own account – that it was this cold in North Africa and that they also needed certain kinds of football boots on matchdays?
A healthy loss, perhaps 1-0, in the first leg could have put the Phobians in good stead as far as qualification is concerned if they had adequately prepared.
The club is being handled by experienced hands from what I know and this should not be the best way of achieving results by a club as big as Hearts.
Kwame Dwomoh-Agyemang is a Joy Sports producer and has covered Ghana's football scene extensively.