By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (May 13th 2020)
Godfrey Chitalu’s 1972 was without one of the greatest years a footballer has ever played. He set two world records that year, along with two African Cup of Champions Clubs records. The world records still stand and at least one of the African champions clubs records remains a continental record almost half century after he set them.
However, despite this incredible year, Chitalu’s achievements are not given the respect they are due by football or even in Africa even now. He is conspicuous by his absence from the African Player of the Year (APotY) Awards for 1972.
Despite winning all five domestic trophies Kabwe Warriors contested and setting records for fun, his achievements are still strangely neglected. Why?
But Chitalu is not alone in having a fantastic 1972 that has not been recognised in the manner they deserved. At least two of the Republic of Congo’s Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) winners are a very strange omission too. But the rise of both the Congolese and Chitalu’s miracle year coincided with the decline and fall of an African football empire.
Failure to Domination
1972 was a strange year for Ghana’s Black Stars as well. It marked the end of an era. Up to that point Ghana had never failed to reach the final of AFCON Tournaments from their debut in the Finals in 1963.
Ghana’s first attempt to qualify for AFCON Finals ended in failure in the expansion year, 1962. Ghana went out in the first qualification round to Nigeria after drawing 2-2 on aggregate. Nigeria advanced to the Second Round after lots were drawn between the emerging West-African giants.
They faced Tunisia. After winning the first leg 2-1, Nigeria walked off the pitch after Tunisia equalised in the second leg. The match was awarded to Tunisia 2-0, meaning they went to the 1962 AFCON Finals.
The Legendary Black Stars
After the disappointment of 1962, Ghana prepared to ‘Host and Win.’ Osagyefo’s Football Revolution required success on the pitch to encourage it off the pitch and not just in Ghana. They delivered twice (1963 and 1965) under the legendary coach, the legendary Charles Kumi Gyamafi.
The February 1966 coup d’état in Ghana destroyed many things, including Ghana’s Football Revolution. Gyamfi was demoted to serve as an assistant to Carlos Parreira, then a recently qualified coach – he had been a fitness trainer. The Black Stars was his first major job as a coach in football.
There was no credible football reason to demote Gyamfi, especially in favour of a coach who should have been learning from an African giant, rather than giving him instructions. Parreira went on to become a great coach – he won the World Cup – but that was over a quarter of a century after he was given the top job in Africa, having done nothing to deserve it.
Parreira lost the final in 1968 1-0 to Congo-Kinshasa – their first title. We can only wonder what the result would have been if Gyamfi had been allowed to lead the Black Stars for the third time.
Two years later the Black Stars controversially lost 1-0 to hosts Sudan. They refused to collect their loser’s medals and were ordered to leave Sudan.
Bad to Worse
Ghana had set a still unequalled AFCON record. They remain the only nation to reach four consecutive AFCON finals. But 1972 broke the mould for them. For the first time in a decade the Black Stars not only failed to reach the final, they failed to qualify for the AFCON Finals. After a walk over in the first round of qualification caused by the withdrawal of Upper Volta, the second round of AFCON qualifiers produced a huge shock. After drawing 0-0 in Lomé, a week later, Togo inflicted one of the biggest surprises in AFCON history.
The African Team of the 1960s, Ghana’s Black Stars were dumped them out of the competition 1-0 at the Accra Sports Stadium on June 20th 1971. The football doldrums awaited the African Team of the 1960s.
In the absence of the Black Stars, an even bigger surprise would distinguish the eighth AFCON. Cameroon hosted their first, and to date, only, AFCON Finals in 1972. But it would be deemed a failure. The Indomitable Lions remain by far the most successful team never to have won AFCON at home.
The Black Star
Despite their absence from AFCON and failure of their representative to win the African Cup of Champion Clubs, Ghana was represented in the APotY vote, but the choice of player was odd – very odd.
Malik Jabir was undoubtedly a great player – his record speaks for itself, but what had he done in 1972, especially compared to Chitalu? Jabir won Ghana’s league with Asante Kotoko.
He was part of the Africa team that competed in Brasil’s Independence Cup. Jabir started in three of the four matches, coming on from the bench in the other. But, so what?
He was in Ghana’s squad for the Olympic Games too, but the Black Stars’ performance was utterly dismal – played three, lost three, one goal scored and 11 conceded. It was the worst performance of any of the sixteen teams that played in the first round.
And Africa’s performance in Brasil’s Independence Cup was nothing to boast of either. So, what made Jabir the seventh best African player in 1972?
 Dr Kwame Nkrumah, the Father of Ghana’s Football Revolution was known as Osagyefo.