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A legend gone: homage to "CK" Gyamfi.

One of the most gratifying privileges of being an editor of a popular magazine is the access the position gives to all sorts of important personalities. What a privilege I had knowing footballing legend Charles Kumi Gyamfi, who sadly died last month at the age of 86.

As Editor of Drum (West Africa) my access to high profile personalities was not limited to political and business figures, but extended to sports personalities. This was because I doubled as the main sports writer under the pen name Kookooase Adowa--a name I adopted in self-mockery, for it meant the "duiker that dwells under the cocoa trees". Now, the duiker is a very nimble animal which, when frightened by a hunter, could do the 100 metres faster than Usain Bolt. I could hardly do that distance in 20 seconds myself, if truth be told! But hey, as editor, who was to stop me adopting the name of one of the fastest dwellers of the rain forests?

I used my sporting contacts very well and cultivated first name terms with some of the most glamorous names in Ghanaian football at the time: for example, Baba Yara, the handsome, stylish right-winger of the Ghana national team, the Black Stars. To see him play was to see not just poetry in action, but poetry larded with sheer mischief. He didn't just dribble past opponents; he made them fall down on their backsides whilst trying to stop him. His goals were deft and clinical, and always produced a thunderous yelling of his name that reverberated around the Stadium: "YAARAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!"

My second favourite player was the tall, powerfully built centre-forward, Edward Acquah. He had been a goalkeeper before becoming a striker, and so had acquired the habit of hitting the football as hard as possible. When he played in a position that constantly took him to within 15 or 20 metres of the opponents' goal, he would tear massive holes in the net. He at one time scored five goals against the English side Blackpool--then one of the most glamorous teams in the world. And he was instrumental in the 3-3 result that the Black Stars notched up against the (then) most famous club in the world, Real Madrid.

But my all-time hero was a player called Charles Kumi Gyamfi, (popularly known as "CK") a midfielder of great intelligence. It was Gyamfi who guided Ghana to the soccer supremacy that it achieved on the African continent in the 1960s. He won the African Cup of Nations for Ghana when Ghana hosted the tournament for the first time in 1963. Then, he successfully defended it in an away match in Tunisia, in 1965.

I first heard of Gyamfi by word of mouth when I was a little child. A well-travelled guy in our village--who used to bend our ears with long stories about what he had seen "abroad" (by which he usually meant Accra and Kumase)--said he had seen Gyamfi play for the famous Kumase Asante Kotoko, and described his antics to us thus:

"Gyamfi is of medium height--almost short--but very wellbalanced. He's got very nimble feet. He plays in the mid-field, and it is he who cleverly distributes the ball to Kotoko's strikers, Kwaku Dua and James Agyei, to score goals in the beautiful way that has made them national stars. He can, almost instinctively, foretell where Kwaku Dua or Agyei will be in the next minute, and he places the ball just there, to meet them. But sometimes, he takes the ball forward himself, and then dribble by dribble, he goes forward, 'tah-tah; tah; tah-tah; tah-tah-tah-tah', past one, past two, or even three or four defenders, and then--BAM! He shoots! By surprising the opposing goalkeepers, he manages to score many goals."

Having heard so much about Gyamfi, I was delighted when, in 1954, he came to play football at Old Tafo, a few miles from my home town, Asiakwa. I scraped every penny I had together and went to Tafo to watch the match. It was with that match that Gyamfi out-doored a new club he had formed, called Great Ashantis. The club played against Accra Great Olympics, another newly-formed club. The outcome of this match was greatly anticipated throughout Ghana, for Great Ashantis had been born as a result of a split within Kumase Asante Kotoko while Great Olympics had also been spawned as a result of a quarrel between some of the players and the management.

Acres of column inches were expended by the sports pages of the Ghana newspapers analysing and speculating on the outcome of the match which lived up to its billing. Great Ashantis!

Playing in bare feet

After then, I was an eye-witness to Great Ashantis' phenomenal growth. Gyamfi was later picked for a "Gold Coast" (Ghana's former name) XI that toured England and Ireland in 1951. The Gold Coasters, badly served by the colonialist tour operators (who did not adequately prepare them) played in their bare feet whilst their white opponents wore boots! The barefoot players, however, managed to score a total of 25 goals (despite being beaten 8-0 in one of their matches!). Gyamfi alone scored 11 of the 25 goals.

He presciently concluded from the experience that the future of football lay in boots, and he used his meagre earnings from the trip to procure a pair for himself. On his return home, he tried to get boots adopted by the country's teams, but to no avail. He was joined in the campaign by another national team member, an indomitable defender called Bryant. The two tried to play matches for their sides in boots, but were, of course, not allowed to do so. Kotoko, however, took up the boots idea after some time, and eventually every team in the land began to play in boots.

Gyamfi was once asked what his most memorable match was. He recalled the 1953 encounter between the Gold Coast and Nigeria, part of the (then) regular, very partisan competition that took place between the two fierce rivals each year. It was the main event in either country's annual sporting calendar, and passions rose very high when the time came for the competition to take place. In 1960, Gyamfi played for Ghana against a visiting team from the [West] German Bundesliga called Fortuna Dusseldorf. He so impressed the Germans that they offered him a job to play professional football for them in Germany.

But although he was earning a name for himself in Germany, Gyamfi was called back home after one year and sent on a coaching course--in East Germany. He obeyed the national call and took the course. On his return home, he was appointed Assistant Coach of Ghana. In 1962, CK Gyamfi became National Coach.

It was in that position that he won the African Cup of Nations tournament for Ghana in 1963 and successfully retained the Cup in 1965, playing away in Tunisia. He was again in charge of the Black Stars when they beat the hosts, Libya, in Tripoli in 1982, thus becoming the first coach to win the Africa Cup three times. In all, Ghana has won the Cup four times.

Gyamfi left behind a wife and eight sons. My deepest sympathies go to all of them.
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Title Annotation:Under the Neem Tree
Author:Duodu, Cameron
Publication:New African
Geographic Code:6GHAN
Date:Oct 1, 2015
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