By Nii Ayitey Tetteh
Haven’t you ever wondered why Ghana’s biggest club sides, Accra Hearts of Oak and Kumasi Asante Kotoko go by the popular refrains; Phobia and Fabulous respectively? Well, I have.
Indeed, in the build up to Ghana’s own version of the ‘el-classico’ otherwise known as ‘Super Clash’ at the Accra Sports Stadium this Sunday, September 22, my curiosity in those refrains, was sparked even the more.
So, I picked my phone and called up the one man, I knew would give me the ‘apor’ (Information). Football historian, James Oyedeji, picked up on the end. Seconds turned into minutes, and then an hour later, I was knowledge richer.
Apparently, sometime in the sixties, Hearts of Oak beat every club silly, so much so that, teams feared to play Hearts. That fear was aptly termed “Hearts’ Phobia” (Try saying that in a GA accent for optimum effect). So it was, that ‘Phoooobia’ became part and parcel of Hearts’ tradition. Further up north, arch rivals Kumasi Asante Kotoko also coined a refrain of their own.
According to Mr. Oyedeji, back in the glory years of the sixties, the Republicans, a standing local team, made up of the best players from the league, was formed to serve as a supply base for the national team, the Black Stars.
While most selected players from other teams happily joined the Republicans, selected Kotoko players rather preferred to stay with Kotoko for one reason and one reason only.
The reason according to the Kotoko faithful back then, was that kotoko were more ‘Fabulous’ with unsurpassed achievements as compared to the state sponsored Republicans, hence the refrain ‘Faaaabulous’.
That was how the popular refrain of both clubs were born and have since elicited passion and intense banter between the two clubs. As we go into match day 2 of the Ghana Premier League, it is my believe that, this famous fixture, which has of course seen “hyp-ier” days, would still command a fair amount of interest from fans and the media.
The sound of the refrains may not ring as loud as they used to; the stadium may not be filled to capacity as before; cars may not be draped in red and rainbow colours and horns touted as in the past; but there are still good reasons to make way to the stadium.
You will get to find out how this battle is settled on the pitch; find out whose refrain will be loudest in the stands and of course, who gets to keep the bragging rights. Excitement building yet? Well, here is a sneak peek into Sunday’s action.
In the lead up to the game and amid the paucity of material to hype the game, Hearts coach, David Duncan fired a salvo that has been picked up on; a little over the top, yes, but in dire times like this, any material to hype the game will be utilised.
Duncan is reported to have imputed favouritism on the part of the Black Stars technical team in selecting Kotoko players over Hearts players. The veracity of this allegation is far-fetched, but do Hearts, possess the quality that can match Kotoko on Sunday and even go one further to silence the Fabulous boys?
Duncan will like to think so. Last season’s talisman and goal-king, Mahatma Otoo has since moved to Norway, but Hearts have brought in former Amidaus attacking midfielder Emmanuel Hayford who scored both goals as Hearts beat New Edubiase 2-0 on the road in the season opener.
Anther midfielder Sampson Cudjoe and defender Kweku Andoh have been signed to bolster the team’s efforts. A direct replacement for Otoo may be Selasi Adjei formerly of Amidaus, who scored 10 goals last season.
Selasi will be key to unlocking a strong Kotoko defence. Hearts will however be without midfielder Stephen Tetteh and Obed Ansah who are reportedly out with injuries, as well as defensive midfielder, Moro Abuabakar due to suspension.
All the same, the Phobians with other healthy players like Thomas Abbey and Winful Cobbinah, will feel extra confident in stopping the fabulous train that has gathered steam in the past weeks.
In pre-season, Kotoko pitched camp in Tamale where coach Didi Dramani fined tuned the rough edges of the team and won a number of friendly games.
That winning streak continued with a 3-0 win over Medeama, last season’s FA Cup winners, in the Super Cup match and a 2-1 victory over Aduana in the season opener.
The Fabulous family thus have genuine cause to be confident ahead this encounter. The core of team that won the league last year is still in place, with only 2 members, striker Kofi Nti Boakye and Black Stars defender Rashid Sumaila moving abroad.
A mix of experienced and youthful players have been recruited to further strengthen the team. So, don’t be surprised to see ex Dwarfs right back Christopher Bonney rampaging down the wings; former New Edubiase central defender, Abeiku Ainooson partner Kwabena Adusei to bring stability and shut out Hearts’ attack. Expect to see returnee Yahaya Mohammed who scored 11 goals for Amidaus last season, partnering another returnee, Jordan Opoku, to control affairs in the middle of the park.
Yahaya in particular will be key with his bullet shots and dangerous free kicks. If Michael Helegbe is passed fit to play, he will definitely pose a danger to the Hearts defence.
Also, expect to see another returnee, Kotoko’s version of Paul Scholes, Stephen Oduro to make a cameo appearance late on.
Clearly, both sides are well equipped, personnel wise, and what will separate these two, may after all, have nothing to do with what may transpire on the field.
Over the years, it has always been a fruitless exercise, trying to predict how this encounter will shape up.
In the lead up, players and officials may refuse to speak to the media; the teams may go into hiding and may even emerge form an obscure part of the stadium on match day.
Superstition has always been a factor and so have the mind games too and for an encounter that has never really followed form guide, it is usually the team that is best tuned up psychologically and tactically on the day that wins. So, I will not attempt a prediction, maybe you can help me.
Will it be Phoooobia or Faaaabulous?
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(Culled from 90 Minutes)