THE GOOD OLD DAYS: WHEN KOTOKO-HEARTS GAMES MATTERED

Not too long ago everyone paid more than the usual attention when Ghana’s two biggest clubs clashed, but not anymore

By: Joshua Ansah

On this breezy evening, I watch kids in my neighbourhood play a game of after-school football outside the house, smiling as they argue over who gets to write Ishmael Addo or Charles Taylor behind their shirts; with replica jerseys rare, any shirt that features the famous red, yellow and blue of Hearts of Oak will do. Hailing from a pro-Hearts family, they allow the other team to claim the names of the finest Asante Kotoko players of an era almost forgotten — the likes of Nana Arhin Duah, Godwin Ablordey, et al — and the game begins.

This, lest you’re mistaken, is no mere play to these fanatic youth; this, in more ways than is visibly apparent on this pebbly space, is war. If that much isn’t obvious from observing these little ones strut their stuff, it certainly would when Ghana’s grandest clubs, Kotoko and Hearts, clash in Kumasi come Sunday.

wpid-heart-vs-kotoko

The biggest game on the Ghanaian football calendar looms on the horizon and the euphoria is everywhere, not just among these young ones’ amateurish attempt at replicating or even predicting the game.

Years ago, the affair would have been quite the big deal, with the overall picture not being very different from the description below:

Flags have long been flying above houses since the teams last played a league match (only two months ago, actually) and public transport vehicles are draped in the colours of one club or the other. Drivers stick their heads out in traffic to scream ‘Phobia!‘ and ‘Fabulous!‘ — with the vowels in those chants considerably extended for maximum effect — into the ears of opposing fans before going on to deride each other over past humiliation their respective teams have suffered in the derby.

The streets don’t soak all the heat, though. Drinking bars all around also turn into platforms for debate as the whole country turns feverish, with the host city, usually Kumasi or Accra, particularly overwhelmed by the intense sense of occasion. Especially in such places is it difficult to make it over a distance of 50 meters without getting some reminder that the big game is not too far off; from the couple of stoned guys arguing beside the nearest Blue Kiosk to the Obroni Waawu traders hotly contesting whether the mercurial Ishmael Addo will score again or if tough-tackling Joe Hendricks would get the better of him this time, no subject but the game makes for such excited chatter.

Finally, matchday arrives.

Players of both teams take centre-stage in household discussions and avid fans of the star names come out in full force. Hordes throng the stadium to watch Charles Taylor deliver another master-class in soccer wizardry, while just as many are present as admirers of the ever-dependable Godwin Ablordey (the latter a former Hearts player who was a favourite of my family’s till he defected to the ‘other side’); potent Kotoko forward Isaac Boakye draws his own faithful, as do Hearts’ trio Jacob Nettey, Emmanuel Osei Kuffour and Bernard Dong Bortey.

And you have to drink it all in with glee because these are the two best teams in our small corner of the world and are usually only seen on the same pitch twice in a year. The contest has rarely ever been dull: from last-gasp winners to wonderful comebacks and crushing defeats, the occasion always seems to bring the best out of someone and you seldom leave the stadium without receiving your money’s worth of delight — if you are lucky enough to get a ticket, that is.

The less fortunate could follow the action live on Ghana Television (GTV) or on one of numerous radio stations covering the spectacle. Heck, even if all else fails, just wait [im]patiently by a road, watch the cars passing, and you’d hardly miss the highlights which matter — a vehicle’s prolonged horn-blaring almost always signifies a goal, and you only need check the flag on the bumper to know which team is being celebrated.

Even when it’s all over, the tension boils a little longer, with lively post-match banter adding to the spice of the affair, ensuring there are quite a few who’d miss school, work or some other necessary gathering/meeting on Monday just to escape the brunt of mockery being reserved by fans of the winning side.

wpid-Hearts-and-Kotoko2

But much of that seems so distant now. Not many editions of the ‘Super Clash’ are memorable for the right reasons these days, with the classic’s popularity and characteristic fervour ebbing since the late noughties.

The good old days — when every kid wanted to be the next Taylor, Addo or Hendricks, when you were either Hearts or Kotoko with no grey areas, when Fabulous and Phobia were all you needed to yell to start a football argument — are long gone, unlikely to ever come back with the sudden rush with which they perished. No-one seems to know exactly when — and why — it all went downhill, and while the football is still quite good at times, the fun is nearly gone. Put simply, Kotoko-Hearts games don’t tick so many boxes anymore.

All that remains is a pale shadow and traces of nostalgia — and even that could fade away before long.

Damn!

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