by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 27th 2010)
When Charles Kumi Gyamfi took his young team to Tunisia expectations were high in Ghana, but not elsewhere in Africa. The young coach had won the tournament on home soil in 1963. So what? Now he had to take his rebuilt team to North Africa and deliver again. Gyamfi proved himself an exceptionally good coach – an African legend – during that tournament.
The Black Stars retained the trophy, but the African team of the decade never got to keep an African Cup of Nations trophy. They threw away the best chance they had through petty political interference that involved the disgraceful treatment of a football icon, but that was in the near future. Ghana’s Football Revolution was ready to be exported to the rest of Africa after the Black Stars success in 1965.
“We win the cup in Tunisia and we wanted to stay here and celebrate, but Dr Kwame [Nkrumah] tells us that we had to go to Kenya”, Gyamfi told us. “He wanted us to play there – show the Kenyans – what went on in Tunisia, so we went to play there. We played against the Kenyan national team. In fact, before we left we were not happy about it, but once Kwame Nkrumah had said it, we went there”.
Exporting the Revolution and African Unity
The trip showed the importance of the revolution. Celebration could come later, but first the revolution had to be exported. “Really we are going there to enjoy ourselves”, said Gyamfi. “We had to go there to court opinion and play against Kenya, so that we get their friendship”. It was far more than just a match, although the Black Stars put on an exhibition of football, which was not what Nkrumah had intended.
“When we got to Kenya we played in front of the Kenyan people”, Gyamfi said. “Jomo Kenyatta himself was waving to us and totally happy. We beat them 13-0 – 13-0”.
There can’t be many times when such a result earned the winners displeasure, but Nkrumah was not happy. In fact, he was very displeased and demanded that the Black Stars understand the importance of their mission to Kenya – to help build African unity.
“Dr Kwame Nkrumah told us that he didn’t tell us to go and dismantle Kenyan football and therefore we knew that Kenya was not finished for us”, said Gyamfi. “We played a second match against Kenya and give them a chance to play, so we drew with them in the second match. He didn’t ask us to go and destroy Kenya. It was a friendly, just to bring all of us together. All of these things were important”.
Ghana would soon be robbed of the fruits of the Football Revolution. A CIA inspired coup d’état in February 1966 overthrew Nkrumah, outlawed his Convention People’s Party, and set about reversing his policies.
A statue of Nkrumah was dismembered in the violence that accompanied his overthrow and ushered in a cycle of coups, counter-coups, weak governments and yet more coups. It now stands to the left of his mausoleum – a permanent reminder of the violence and cost to Ghana of the coup.
Nkrumah dreamed of returning to power, but that never happened. His health began to fail rapidly after a kidnap attempt in the Guinean capital Conakry failed to capture him, Guinean President Ahmed Sékou Touré and the gifted liberation struggle leader of Guinea-Bissau and the Cape Verde Islands, Amílcar Cabral. It had been organised by the Portuguese dictatorship of Marcelo Caetano.
Knowing that he was dying Nkrumah asked military dictator General Ignatius Kutu Acheampong to be allowed to return to die. His request was refused and Nkrumah died in exile in April 1972, just months after Acheampong seized power in a coup.
Following assurances given by Acheampong, Nkrumah’s remains were returned to Nkroful – the village of his birth and buried there – until the Nkrumah Mausoleum was completed in Accra.
Nkrumah’s Football Legacy
Nkrumah’s legacy is a complex one, especially in Ghana, but it is acknowledged and celebrated throughout Africa and even in his country now. The Football Revolution that Nkrumah helped to initiate is also appreciated now. As Gyamfi acknowledges it played a very important role in developing and fostering African unity.
“It played a very, very big part in Ghana at this time, because football is something that you have to keep enjoying when playing”, said Gyamfi. “In Kenya we enjoyed every minute. I enjoyed it; my colleagues enjoy it too. Those who are spectators also enjoyed it”. But it couldn’t last. “A lot of things went wrong after he [Nkrumah] was overthrown”, said Gyamfi. “I went away. They wanted to play for money and things went wrong”.
Ghana – the sole African survivor in the 2010 World Cup – has been adopted by all of Africa. The vuvuselas now hail the Black Stars as Africa’s team. This World Cup is seen by Africans as their tournament. The support Ghana receives in South Africa is a legacy of the Football Revolution. “It brings us all together”, said Gyamfi, “and it was by getting all these things that we bring Africa together. We put a lot of effort and strength and devotion into it”.
Nevertheless, coaches including Gyamfi would soon feel the brunt of the counter-revolution. Nkrumah’s blueprint was shamefully thrown away and African achievements were denigrated once more. Coaches and administrators were not trained abroad or within the country and gradually their skills were lost as they were not passed on to the next generation.
Dependency on foreign coaches crept back into Ghanaian football and the strong national team and league that Ohene Djan built was frittered away. The Ghanaian FA was held to ransom by foreign coaches, who did not understand Ghana or its football culture. Ghanaian coaching and administrative skills would have to be learned again from scratch. It was a recipe for failure and the counter-revolution delivered that with gusto, but first the revolution had to be destroyed.
The roots of the revolution were so strong that it took years to totally dismantle. A chronic lack of investment in football, coaches and human resources sent Ghanaian football to a decade-long slumber. But despite the lack of investment and disastrous short-sightedness, the Black Stars were too good to bring instant failure – that took time.
Ghana reached an unprecedented four consecutive finals of the African Cup of Nations between 1963 and 1970. It is no coincidence that shorn of the full influence of the greatest coach the country ever produced they lost the two finals they contested after the revolution was betrayed.