Great news, the Africa Cup of Nations has started. Or, if you are a Premier League manager, terrible news, the Africa Cup of Nations has started. I predict two things:
1. Everyone will call the tournament the African Nations Cup, which is much snappier and surely the name everyone used in the past?
2. Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire will both self-destruct, and someone else will win it. Holders Egypt are still available at 8/1 at Betfair, even after whacking Cameroon 4-2 in fine style. I’d say that’s good value, whereas Ghana (4/1) and especially Cote d’Ivoire (3/1!) are bad value. The tournament seems to be suffering from the credit crunch, so there isn’t much liquidity, but it might pick up in the later stages.
So, as the point of this blog is history, here is my take on the history of Ghanaian football. It’s not very representative as it’s based on a single file from the Ashanti regional archive. The documents were mainly produced during the WWII. But they are quite interesting, and it’s a good excuse to show some cool pictures. The main question is: is football just a game? Probably not.
Firstly, football may have reflected growing ethnic rivalries within multi-ethnic states. For example, in 1942 the New Britons, a team from Tarkwa in SW Ghana, resolved at their AGM “to crush down in this year all the Kotoko Teams”.1 Kotoko, a common team name, meant porcupine and was also symbol of Asante nationhood. The club motto of Asante Kotoko was “Thousand Killed, Thousand Comes”. This referred to the military strength of the defeated Asante empire, now a constituent part of Britain’s Gold Coast colony. But the motto was also a measure of Asante’s political tenacity. The slogan was later associated with the National Liberation Movement – a specifically Asante alternative to the nationalist party that would lead multi-ethnic Ghana to independence, Nkrumah’s CPP.2 By September 1942, the Mighty Britons had defeated four Kotokos, scoring 14 goals and conceding just four.
Football may also have added more formality and structure to divisions based on region, race and religion. The appeal of the game cut across such boundaries – matches were announced on the radio in Twi, Hausa and English – but teams were more divisive. Muslims in Obuasi, probably northern migrants or members of the Hausa diaspora, played in the Mahommedans team. There is evidence that elsewhere in Africa different ethnicities voluntarily kept their distance during leisure activities. But football had some unique structural features. Teams (and perhaps fans) were visually differentiated through uniforms. The continuity of team and player registration made these divisions more formal and persistent. And matches and tournaments made fans and teams antagonistic, rather than indifferent, to their sporting/ethnic/religious rivals. This interpretation is firmly embedded in the conspiracy theory school of history: it shouldn’t be taken too seriously without a lot more direct evidence.
Football was also inherently political. Its popularity made it a source of prestige. This could be the prestige of personal skill, as for Ekow Glenland, who told the FA he was “commonly known as Kimpo the Devil Boy”. Football also bestowed prestige by association. The patron of Asante Kotoko was none other than Agyeman Prempeh II – Prempeh was the Asantehene (the Asante king), an office abolished then later reinstated by the British. And football was inevitably subjected to the concerns of imperial power. Matches during WWII, for example, were frequently held to support war charities.
Anyway, that’s more than enough history. Here are some more football club letterheads, plus sarcastic comments about their mottos.
Bonos Mores = good manners in Latin. Unnecessary showing off.
From the days when it was OK to have Scottish football role models.
A common defense in war crimes tribunals.
Definitely my favourite, despite its rubbishness. We can safely assume that biros were not rationed during the war.
1. This, and everything else here, is taken from the Ashanti Regional Archive, ARG 7/10/4 Obuasi Football Association.
2. Jean Allman, The Quills of the Porcupine: Asante Nationalism in an Emergent Ghana (Madison, 1993), p.16.