The term “ladies first” may be very common, but not in African football, where the men’s game is traditionally considered far ahead in popularity and participation.
Interest has soared over recent years, but it is yet to hit the level where it competes in the continent’s sports pages or in stadium attendance.
This general trend is true in Ghana as well, although the Black Queens, as the national team is known, were the first senior side from the west African country to reach the finals of a major international event.
They played at the FIFA Women’s World Cup USA 1999 a full seven years before their male counterparts followed suit seven years later at Germany 2006, and the Black Queens went on to qualify for three consecutive Women’s World Cups.
However, that previous success could not prepare lovers of the women’s game in Ghana for the treat that arrived this past weekend as the National Women’s League debuted.
It is a dream that has come true following a huge commitment by the Ghana Football Association (GFA), coupled with the backing of FIFA and CAF.
The league will feature 12 clubs serving the best of women’s football in the country and beyond, and Leanier Addy, Chairperson of the Women’s League Board tells FIFA.com that moment for such a league has finally arrived.
“The introduction of the league will have a huge impact on the development of the game. It will also serve as a breeding ground for players on various national teams,” said Addy, a former footballer who doubles as the only female on the Executive Committee of the GFA.
Coaching courses and equipment
There were major challenges, both organisational and logistical, that had to be overcome before the ambitious project could come to light.
As a first step, FIFA organised three Women’s Coaching Courses to help enlighten the participants on the essentials of the game as well as hone their interest.
“There were courses at the Basic, Intermediate and Advanced levels, which drew the participation of about 18 female coaches from across the country. The response has been very positive and most of them are working at the grassroots level,” noted Francis Oti Akenteng, Technical Director of the GFA.
Products of the FIFA courses include Dora Zutah (assistant trainer of Black Queens), Adjoa Agyeiwaa (Ashtown Ladies), Comfort Akapko (Sekondi Navy team) and Gladys Akakpo (Map Baya FC, a third-tier male team).
Agyeiwaa, an assistant trainer with the Kumasi-based Ashtown Ladies, one of the 12-clubs in the league, believes her involvement in the courses should reflect positively on the performance of her team.
“The courses have been very influential and exposed me to many technicalities in the game. It has made me better, and I’m banking on the knowledge gained to help power my team to the title,” she said.
In the not too distant future, Oti Akenteng has predicted a takeover of the female national teams by women’s coaches who have worked on the courses during the last three years.
Just before the league rolled out on 16 December, FIFA came to the rescue of the GFA by donating sporting equipment including footballs, training kits, shin guards, goalkeepers gloves and boots, which were distributed to the participating clubs.
“(The materials) will go a long way to help the teams playing in the league. It will cut down on their costs, and they can now channel the money they would have used to acquire these items to another important use,” said Addy.
A good start for lucky dozen
The 12 clubs have been grouped into two zones – the Southern and Northern with the former made up of Cape Coast Ghatel Ladies, Soccer Intellectuals, Hasaacas Ladies, Ayoola Ladies, Immigration Ladies and Volta Amalga Ladies, and Bolga Ghatel, Reformers, Lepo Ladies, Ampem Darkoa Ladies, Fabulous Ladies and Ashtown Ladies in the Northern Zone.
After the round-robin league format, the top placed clubs from each zone will slug it out in a one-off match to decide the national champion, with the bottom-placed clubs relegated to the second-tier division.
The league will feature current and ex-national team stars including Black Queens captain Adjoa Bayor, Leticia Zipki, Rosemary Ampem, Patricia Mantey (Immigration Ladies), Memunatu Sulemana, Portia Boakye (Fabulous Ladies), Priscilla Saahene (Ashtown Ladies) and Jane Ayieyam (Bolga Ghatel Ladies) and sees Ghana joins the likes of South Africa, Nigeria and Cameroon with a competitive women’s league.
The first weekend of action proved that the women could play some entertaining football as 19 goals were scored in the opening six matches and only one match ended scoreless.
Hasaacas Ladies were the first round’s big winners with a 7-0 beating of Ayola Ladies to begin their campaign on a high.
There will surely be more highs to come for women’s football in Ghana with the help of the new league.