Matchday 1: Kwame Nkrumah

Up next in the African Five-a-side podcast, we name our central defender, and explain how Ghana's first president boycotted the 1966 FIFA World Cup and won two Afcons.

Watching the game from the top of the Jamestown Lighthouse in Acrra, Ghana. Image credit Fiona Graham for WorldRemit via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0 Deed.

Episode 2 of Matchday 1 of the African-five-a side podcast continues to explore the stories of five African heads of state and their influence on football. This week, we’re introducing our central defender: the intellectual, inspiring, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah.

As the first head of state of an independent Ghana, Nkrumah quickly understood the power of football as a unifying tool. He appointed Ohene Djan as the director of sports in 1960, and put in place structures to support the success of the national team, sometimes to the detriment of local clubs. Nkrumah’s interest in soccer was so great that he proposed the formation of a model club to offer leadership and inspiration to other clubs in the country. This club was later named Real Republikans, and was nicknamed OOC—Osagyefo’s Own Club.

The Black Stars, Ghana’s national team, also scored a number of successes during Nkrumah’s time in power. In 1960, Charles Gyamfi was named coach and quickly became the ideal candidate for the job. Under Gyamfi’s leadership, the team produced many great players, including Baba Yara, Edward Aggrey-Fynn, Wilberforce Mfum, and Ben Acheampong.

In 1963, Ghana hosted the Africa Cup of Nations and won, and they repeated the feat in 1965 in Tunisia. In 1964, Nkrumah donated 250 guineas for the creation of the African Clubs Championship, which became known as the Kwame Nkrumah Cup. Later that year, the Black Stars became the first African nation south of the Sahara to play at the Olympics, held in Tokyo.

Nkrumah’s side were considered one of the favorites to qualify for the 1966 FIFA World Cup, but Djan and the Confederation of African Football decided to proceed with a boycott of the tournament instead, as part of the wider African protest against FIFA’s refusal to allocate a guaranteed qualifying place to the continent. Just a few weeks after Ghana won the 1965 Afcon, Nkrumah was deposed by a coup d’etat as he was out of the country.

In retrospect, very few heads of state enjoyed as much success with their national football teams as he did in the short period of time that he did. His significant contributions to the development of the Confederation of African Football also make him a natural choice for our African heads of state five-a-side team.

And, this week on the African Football Roundup, we discussed the first leg of the African Football League final between Wydad Casablanca and Mamelodi Sundowns. The match gives us a perfect opportunity to profile their star young coach and ask: Do the South African champions have what it takes to hurdle that final obstacle and win a continental trophy?

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