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Ghana Life: Sport in Kumasi in the 1970s
A four-time Africa Cup of Nations winner, Ghana is seen worldwide as one of Africa’s leading sporting nations. Within Ghana, Asante Kotoka is one of the most popular football teams and multiple national champions. However, in Kumasi in the 1970s it is worth noting that apart from football, there was very little evidence of public interest in sports. It can be said that of all the world games that have been brought to Africa, only football has captured the imagination of the Ghanaian public.
While little boys could be seen in every stretch of open ground kicking a battered ball or a bundle of rags, their sisters were playing a traditional children’s game called ‘ampe’. This pastime involves two players facing each other and dancing in place, moving their feet in sync with the opponent to score points. Thus, it was left to the fairer sex to preserve something of the pre-colonial sports scene. The only apparently native boys’ game that could be observed was that of tying a cockroach to a length of sewing thread and watching its circular flight. Whether this is a competition based on the number of fatigue circuits has not been investigated.
In addition to the famous football ground, Kumasi also had a horse race track. Occasional events were well attended and betting was popular, but the “sport of kings” was not far from universal popularity. Another relic of the colonial era was the Kumasi Golf Course, which the locals call “Golf Park”. It was visited by an elite group of foreign and local businessmen, gathered by a core of banks and breweries. For other relics of colonial sports, the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology had to be visited.
In 1971, the third battalion of the paratrooper regiment of the British Army conducted forest exercises with the Ghanaian army in Ashanti for several weeks. After the exercise, the soldiers came to Kumasi for a two-day rest. They invited the university to a rugby match. A Welsh expatriate lecturer quickly organized a group of other British expatriates and a sergeant major from the Ghanaian army who asked to join. The little Welsh scrum-half looked at the tall soldier and said, “Yes, please. Unfortunately, the giant had never played rugby before and it soon became clear that the passive academics were no match for the jungle warriors.
The University Senior Staff Club has several sports facilities such as badminton and tennis courts and a pool/snooker table. Tennis and badminton flourished from time to time due to the attraction of foreign enthusiasts who were active during their service. Unfortunately, the departure of foreign participants often led to the abandonment of facilities, and this fate even befell the university’s Olympic-sized swimming pool and the stables of its Equestrian Society. Only snooker seemed immune to its dependence on foreign involvement, with one British expert suggesting that Ghana’s next champion could challenge European and Asian dominance.
At the end of the decade, local interest in football peaked when Ghana hosted the finals of the 1978 Africa Cup of Nations. Some of the matches were played in Kumasi, where the stadium was extensively rebuilt and upgraded in time for the event. The citizens were proud to be in the center of continental and global attention and the whole city was infected with football fever. Unfortunately, several citizens lost their lives when the new iron gates were crushed when the crowd pressed to leave the stadium after one of the matches. Had they survived, the victims would have rejoiced with their compatriots as Ghana won the final in Accra, where they beat Uganda by two balls to nil.
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