Africa’s Undisputed Goal King (Part Eighteen) The Decline and Fall of Africa’s Finest

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By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (May 13th 2020)

The Decline and Fall of the African Team of the 1960s

There was little doubt about it. Ghana’s national team, the dominant force in African football for the best part of a decade, was in serious decline. They had failed to qualify for AFCON for the first time in a decade.

Asante Kotoko players, including Malik Jabir and Ibrahim Sunday, went to the Olympic Games in München (Munich) in 1972. But despite the presence of the legendary Charles Gyamfi on the bench, their performance in West Germany’s last summer Olympic Games was utterly woeful.

Ghana lost all three First Round matches to Poland, East Germany and Colombia, conceding 11 and scoring just one. Sunday netted their solitary goal in the competition against Colombia.

Ghana left the 1972 Olympic Games Football Tournament with a -10 goal difference after a humiliating first round exit, the same as the USA, but the Americans, at least, had earned a point with a 0-0 draw against Morocco but had lost 3-0 to Malaysia and 7-0 to West Germany.

The Atlas Lions also exited the tournament with a similar record to Ghana, but that came in the Second Round after Morocco had proved the best of Africa’s qualifiers – Sudan also exited in the First Round but with a far better goal difference than Ghana.

After trouncing Malaysia 6-0 – Ahmed Faras bagged a hat-trick in that match – Morocco advanced to the Second Round. They were found wanting.

Ghana’s performance was easily the worst of the sixteen teams in the tournament. African teams had a long way to go before any would match, let alone surpass, Egypt’s in the last Unofficial World Cup, almost half a century earlier.

Decline and Fall

So, the Black Stars were in decline. They had failed to qualify for AFCON 1972 on June 20th 1971, losing 1-0 to Togo in Accra after a 0-0 draw a week earlier. Just under seven months later, the bane of Africa struck again.

Kofi Busia had benefited from the coup that toppled ‘Osagyefo’ Dr Kwame Nkrumah, playing a part in General Joseph Ankrah’s ‘National Liberation Council (NLC).’ Busia’s United Party won 104 of the seats in the new government – the opposition secured just one seat – in 1969.

Overwhelming majority or not, Busia didn’t come close to completing his full term. He failed to deliver on promises and rapidly lost the confidence of Ghanaians. The distraction afforded by Ghanaians love of football could only work if success on the pitch was delivered – the fall of Nkrumah being a notable exception.

Osagyefo delivered football success and reaped the benefits for a while, but in February 1966, just a few weeks after the Black Stars retained their title, all that changed and ironically it was a talented former Accra Hearts of Oak footballer, Joseph Ankrah, who plunged the knife deepest of all into the Football Revolution’s back. This was the unkindest cut of all to Ghanaian football.

Football had been starved of the investment that had helped Ghana become the African team of the 1960s. However, Nkrumah’s Football Revolution had such strong foundations that it took half a decade to destroy its capacity to deliver on the pitch.

But Busia twisted the knife into football further. And then he paid the price. Ghana went from the dominant African team – the African Team of the 1960s to a national embarrassment – an international one even.

They were knocked out at home by Togo. Four AFCON finals in a row to this humiliation.

Busia’s policies were unpopular and the worst humiliation in Black Stars’ history occurred on his watch. His days were numbered.

The Fall of Busia

Busia’s right-wing policies soon failed. The currency was devalued, half a million Nigerians were deported. The economy was a mess. Conditions were ripe for change. Just over two years into his term, Busia went abroad for treatment.

While in Britain Ghana’s second Prime Minister met the same fate as the first. Kwame Nkrumah was overthrown in a military coup. Less than six years later, one of that coup’s beneficiaries paid the price.

The Ghanaian military became more than just power-brokers; they became self-appointed power-takers. Colonel Ignatius Kutu Acheampong seized power in a palace coup on January 13th 1972.

Busia, in Britain for medical treatment, died in exile in August 1972. He outlived Nkrumah by a few months. Nkrumah also died in exile – his body was eventually returned to the city of his birth and finally rests in the Nkrumah Mausoleum in Accra.

Football Crazy

Despite Nkrumah’s support of football – acknowledged by the late great Charles Kumi Gyamfi – the damage done by Ankrah and Busia to the national sport would take a long time to undo.

The Black Stars had to watch from home as unfancied Republic of Congo made history by winning Cameroon’s only AFCON to date in 1972.

And making matters worse, their unexpected conquerors Togo finished bottom of Group A on goal difference. Cameroon and Mali qualified for the semi-finals. Kenya – a team the Black Stars in their pomp had beaten 13-2 in 1965 – finished third in that group. It was a bitter pill for football-loving Ghana to swallow.

Football had suffered greatly under Busia and Ankrah, but Busia’s overthrow saw a sea-change in power and commitment to football. The double AFCON-winning Gyamfi was back in charge.

He returned to West Germany to coach Ghana for München’s Olympic Games Football Tournament in the summer of 1972. Gyamfi’s journey had come full circle. He had learned to coach in Köln a decade earlier while playing for Fortuna Düsseldorf. He was the first African to play top-flight football in Germany, but this was a vastly different task.

This was a far cry from the great team that he had led to glory seven years earlier. There was nothing even the great Gyamfi could do to avoid the humiliation Ghana suffered – the worst performance of all sixteen teams in the Olympic Games Football Tournament. Clearly, there was much to do to fix the woes suffered by Ghanaian football at national level.

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