Ghana Life: Sport in Kumasi in the 1970s

Four times winners of the Africa Cup of Nations, Ghana is seen globally as one of the foremost sporting nations of Africa. Within Ghana, Asante Kotoka is one of the most famous football teams and a many-times national champion. Yet in Kumasi in the 1970s it must be recorded that, apart from soccer, there was very little evidence of popular interest in sport. It might be said that of all the world’s games that had been brought to Africa, only soccer had captured the imagination of the Ghanaian public.

While the small boys could be seen on every patch of open ground, kicking a battered ball or a bundle of rags, their sisters played a traditional children’s game called ampe. This pastime involves two players who face each other and dance on the spot, advancing a foot in synchronism with the opponent in order to score a point. Thus it was left to the fair sex to preserve something of the pre-colonial sporting scene. The only apparently indigenous boys’ game that could be observed consisted of tying a cockroach to a length of sewing yarn and observing its circular flight. Whether this involved a contest based on the number of circuits to exhaustion was not investigated.

In addition to a famous football ground, Kumasi also possessed a horse racing track. Occasional events were well attended and betting seemed to be popular, but the ‘sport of kings’ was far from universally popular. Another relic of colonial times was Kumasi golf course, called ‘golf park’ by the locals. This was frequented by an elite group of expatriate and local businessmen, held together by a nucleus from the banks and breweries. For other vestiges of colonial sport one had to visit the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology.

In 1971, the third battalion of the parachute regiment of the British Army was in Ashanti for several weeks’ jungle training with the Ghana Army. At the end of the exercise the troops came into Kumasi for two days’ recreation. They challenged the university to a game of Rugby. A keen Welsh expatriate lecturer quickly composed a team of other British expatriates and one huge sergeant from the Ghana Army who begged to be included. The little Welsh scrum-half took one look at the towering soldier and said ‘yes please.’ Unfortunately, the giant had never played rugby before, and it was soon clear that out-of-shape academics were no match for jungle- hardened warriors.

The Senior Staff Club of the university possessed a few sporting facilities such as badminton and tennis courts and a full-size billiards/snooker table. Tennis and badminton thrived from time to time due to the involvement of expatriate enthusiasts who maintained activity throughout their term of service. Regrettably, the departure of foreign participants usually resulted in the facilities being abandoned and this fate even befell the university’s Olympic-size swimming pool and the stables of its Horse Society. Only snooker seemed immune from dependence on expatriate involvement, and a visiting British professional expressed the view that a future Ghanaian champion could emerge to challenge the dominance of Europe and Asia.

Towards the end of the decade, local interest in soccer came to a climax when in 1978 Ghana hosted the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations. Some of the games were held in Kumasi where the stadium had been extensively rebuilt and modernised in time for the event. The citizens were proud to be the focus of continental and world interest and the whole town was infected with soccer fever. Sadly, a few citizens lost their lives when they were crushed behind the new heavy iron gates as the crowd pressed to exit the stadium after one of the matches. Had they survived, the victims would have rejoiced with their countrymen at Ghana’s victory in the final in Accra, in which they beat Uganda by two goals to nil.

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