About Automous League the role of clubs and a few blasts from the past
From the research desk of Soccertime Africa
Efforts to make the Ghana Premier league autonomous represent a bold step to restructure the way professional football is managed in Ghana. Among its stated aims are an enhanced appeal for the product that will translate into sponsorship. It is the expectation that this initiative will give recognition to the industry for delivering value to the economy of Ghana in terms of employment, taxes, foreign exchange among others albeit the challengers it has grappled with.
An autonomous league however is not a magic pill that cures all ills. It does not bring a sudden profitability. That happens with restructuring, reorientation of mentality and running as modern-day professional businesses with clearly defined target goals as necessary conditions.
Key players such as midfield dynamo Adjety Lee had departed to big spenders Goldfields and the likes of Abu Manaf had moved on to Okwawu United. The mantle fell on a group of new recruits who would leave their footprints in Ghanaian football folklore by the end of the 1993 season.
For instance, individual clubs must make deliberate efforts to reach out to their communities and get the fans to the stadiums. It is the sole duty of club managers to package their players as products worth patronizing on match days. The fans who filled the Accra sports Stadium to watch Amoa Tawiah, Lukman Dauda, Ayitey Dormon, Abu Imoro and co are still alive. What has changed is the failure of club owners to understand the dynamics of the modern game and the competition for eyeballs as a result of the proliferation of mass media and foreign football content. The absence of a focused attempt to engage the fan base which served as the pivot of support for these clubs for years and the dearth of marketing and PR people in club set ups has been the bane of Ghanaian football in recent years.
It must be all realized that globally, Football Associations, primarily develop and regulate the framework within which the game is played but club officials have a sole responsibility towards their balance sheets. The responsibility to hire the best personnel to ensure that all club departments are running efficiently to guarantee the pursuit of the various income streams is one that our clubs cannot ignore.
Ghanaian Football teams must begin to understand the mindset of their fans and to deliver to their expectation. In Abukari Damba, Mohammed Choo, Ishmael Kwame danger and the rest, the Kaladan Park was bursting at its seams to contain passionate fans who trooped and paid money to catch a glimpse of their heroes on match days. This was an era when there was no mobile phone company in Ghana. The banks in Ghana were not more than 5. FMCG companies could be counted on fingers.
Fast forward to over 25 years down the lane. The country is now categorized as a middle-income country with multinationals and home-grown businesses littered all over the place. What is the strategy of Real Tamale United?
Folks, associations do not make the members. They facilitate opportunities for the members and the problem with our football is mainly captured in the quality of personnel managing some of the clubs.
Jack Walker’s years in Blackburn Rovers is a revealing illustration of the fact that it takes planning backed by ambition and resources to succeed. When Jack wanted to return Blackburn Rovers to the limelight in English football, he had a plan and at the core of that plan was the quality of personnel both on and off the field. Two signings readily come to mind. The signing of Chris Sutton and Alan Shearer. This guaranteed the league title in the early 90s. Compare and contrast that with the takeover of Hearts of Oak and the signing of Ezekiel Tetteh and Gilbert Fiamenyo. Sadly, a case of two expensive flops.
Another example is Okwawu Unted.
Leadership underwrote the glory years of this once mighty club. Those were the days Asase Aban boys with their Sikkens branded kits were a delight to watch.
This is not to belittle the need for transparency and accountability at the top of the football fraternity but to simply highlight the importance of vision and competence as key ingredients in ensuring that our clubs emerge as viable businesses. This will ensure clubs with solid structures compete in our league which will in turn produce quality local players for the national teams as was the case in the 80s and 90s when he likes of Emmanuel Armah, Kwesi Appiah, Emmanuel Ampiah and Nii Darko Ankrah were key players in the senior national team.
Lest we forget. One can recall memories of Nii Darko Ankrah. He was the chap who was denied a 90th minute penalty winner against Accra Hearts of Oak by a young Ali Jaraah after Emmanuel Armah brought down Osumanu Amadu in the dying minutes of that grudge local derby that was heading for a barren draw in the 1991/92 football season. The passion of the era was captured in how Darko Ankrah had to wait late after the game to be whisked away by security after upset Olympics fans bayed for his blood. That was passion and emotion.
Some will argue that times have changed and the keen interest on the part of local talents to move abroad means clubs can no longer have star studded teams as it was in the past. The evidence shows the contrary. Even though some players will go, others will stay. After all, the exodus has always been with us. Between 1989 and 1991 the league lost the likes of Sarfo Gyamfi, Henry Acquah, Ali Ibrahim, Robert Eshun to foreign clubs but the national team still boasted a miserly defense built from the domestic game. When cometh another?
It does seem however that the glimmer of hope for a reemergence lies in the move to shift to an autonomous league management. If clubs can embrace best practice by running professionally on and off the field then there are surely better times ahead.
Soccertime Africa is a football research, advocacy and marketing firm.