Ghana has won the Africa Cup of Nations four times. Gyamfi, himself a very successful player, was coach of the national side in three of those wins. He is a legend.
Some footballers are good at the game but not too intelligent as persons.
Others are intelligent human beings but not too good at the game itself.
To be an intelligent footballer is thus a very rare combination.
Except in one case – that of C K Gyamfi, whose super-intellect won the African Nations Cup for Ghana three good times.
Sadly, Gyamfi was gathered unto his fathers on 2 September 2015, aged 86.
I first heard of him by word of mouth when I was a 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 Asante Kotoko in Kumase and described him to us.
“Gyamfi is of medium height – almost short – but very well-balanced. 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 famous. He can, almost instinctively, foretell where Kwaku Dua or Agyei will run to, and he astutely places the ball just there, to meet them. But sometimes, Gyamfi takes the ball forward himself, and is able to dribble tah-tah-tah; tah-tah; tah-tah-tahtah, past one, two, or even three players and then, shoot! By surprising the opposing goalkeepers, he manages to score many goals himself.”
Having heard so much about Gyamfi, I thought heaven itself had come to earth when, in 1954, Gyamfi came to play at Old Tafo, a few miles from Asiakwa, my home town. I scraped together every penny I had and went to Tafo to watch the match.
Gyamfi was outdooring a new club he had formed, Great Ashantis. They played against Accra Great Olympics, another newly-formed club. The outcome of the match was greatly anticipated throughout Ghana, for Great Ashantis (Gyamfi’s team) had been born as a result of a split within Kumase Asante Kotoko (Gyamfi’s old team) while Great Olympics had similarly been spawned by malcontents from an old team called Accra Standfast. Would the new ‘babies’ be as good as their mothers, everyone wondered?
Acres of column inches were expended, not only in the hugely-selling Daily Graphic but also in the Ashanti Pioneer and the Ashanti Times, analysing the strengths and weaknesses of the individual members of the new teams, and speculating on the outcome of the match.
Well, the match lived up to its billing, and although Great Ashantis won (through a goal scored by the then unknown outside left, Mohammed Salisu), Olympics gave a very good account of themselves.
Despite the odds, both clubs survived and grew to participate in the Ghana leagues for many years after that initial outing.
CK Gyamfi was born in Accra in 1929 to Nana Kumi Bredu I, chief of Okorase in the Akwapim Traditional Area. His mother was called Diana Dodoowa Dodoo of Accra.
Gyamfi began playing football at an early age, and soon became part of the School Eleven of Okorase Junior School, playing regularly among boys who were much bigger and taller than he was.
In 1944, Gyamfi’s family moved to Accra and his parents tried to find a school for him there. The school they chose was Accra Royal, but admissions had closed.
However, Gyamfi, using the intelligence I have said he possessed, took the initiative and secretly sought out the school’s football coach.
Gyamfi told the coach that he could “play better” than most of the school’s players!
Intrigued by the self-confidence of the “little boy” who stood before him making such a massive ‘boast’, the coach took up the challenge and asked Gyamfi to participate in a match. Gyamfi exceeded all the coach’s expectations and the coach thereupon took Gyamfi by the hand to the headmaster and got him admitted to the school with immediate effect.
After completing his elementary school education, Gyamfi played for clubs such as Koforidua Sailors (from whom he was pinched after a year by Cape Coast Mysterious Dwarfs, against whom Sailors had played — with Gyamfi in a starring role!). Then he was stolen from Dwarfs — again after about a year — by Kumase Asante Kotoko (after Dwarfs had thrashed Kotoko with Gyamfi once again masterminding the rout!) It seemed as if each team he played against wanted him to join it, you see!
Kotoko, however, had “resources” and was thus able to retain Gyamfi to play for the club for five solid years — from 1949 until 1954. Then, dissatisfied with the fact that the club was being run in what he considered an unprofessional manner, CK recruited some players from Kotoko and elsewhere, to form a new team called “Great Ashantis”. The split earned him a lot of hostility in Ashanti, including serious threats. For Kotoko is regarded as a “national” Ashanti team, with Otumfuor The Asantehene himself as its patrol. But Gyamfi resisted all pressure, and stayed in Kumase (though advised by many well-wishes to leave). He inaugurated Great Ashantis in the Ashanti capital, well aware that many people thought it would become a nine-day wonder. Under his personal management, the club prospered. He was helped to win recognition for the club through the name he’d ingeniously chosen for the club, which contained a tacit promise to do “great” things for “Ashanti”!
Gyamfi was only 29 when he formed Great Ashantis. Now, managing a football club and playing in it at the same time poses serious problems to the best of players (ask the immensely talented Ruud Gullitt, an excellent footballer who was worshipped in Holland, Italy and Spain, but who came a cropper when he was placed in such a dual position at Chelsea, in England.)
But Great Ashantis, under Gyamfi, rose higher and higher: I was witness to its phenomenal growth when, in the first major match ever played at Asiakwa, Great Ashantis thrashed its “mother club”, Kotoko, before my own eyes.
Gyamfi was picked for the Gold Coast 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! Clearly, the Gold Coasters should have been made to practise playing in boots for some time at home, to get used to them, before being sent to Europe!
The barefoot players, however, managed to score a total of 25 goals (despite being beaten 8-0 in one of their matches!) Gyamfi alone accounted for 11 of the 25 goals scored.
Gyamfi’s intelligence came to the fore once again on the tour, when he presciently strategised that the future of football lay in boots, and used his meagre earnings on the tour to procure a pair for himself, instead of spending the money on fripperies like shirts and trousers — as others did.
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, the indomitable defender, Chris Bryant. The two tried to play matches for their sides in boots, but were 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. The subsequent progress seen in Ghanaian football (in boots!) therefore owes a lot to Gyamfi and Bryant pioneering efforts.
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.
Now, in those days, the radio played a predominant role in the competition, as one commentator from Ghana (Gilbert Addy) and another from Nigeria (Ishola Folorunsho,) engaged in their own private competition, to see who could describe the match better. In one match, Folorunsho, out of sheer over-excitement, yelled when the Nigerians got the ball near the Ghana goal: “It is a goal!…. NO!” — in the same breath!
Ghanaians mocked Folorunsho’s solecism mercilessly at every opportunity. We schoolboys even adopted the sentence as our own weapon for the purposes of teasing boys in rival gangs. For instance, if members of one gang saw a boy from a different gang walking with a girl on whom they had their own designs, they would shout in unison: “It is a goal!….NO!” The girl would be so embarrassed that she would inevitably turn the “NO!” part of the slogan into reality.
Pardon the interruption, but this is what Gyamfi said about the Gold Coast-Nigeria match of 1953: “The Jalco Cup was at stake and the match was heading for a draw, which would have given Nigeria the Cup. Suddenly, a cross came to me and I controlled the ball and dribbled a defender before shooting – with my unfamiliar left foot! I feared the worst but the ball went straight into the net! There was absolute glee in the whole of the Gold Coast when we won that match with the goal I scored!”
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. Gyamfi accepted. This was the first time a Ghanaian was leaving amateur football to become a pro. In his debut match, Gyamfi scored. The Fortuna Dusseldorf fans nicknamed him “Tunda!” (Thunder) in appreciation of his shooting power.
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, to understudy a Hungarian coach called Joseph Ember. Ember left Ghana in 1962, whereupon C K Gyamfi became National Coach of Ghana.
His first task was to prepare the Black Stars for the African Cup of Nations tournament, which Ghana was to host for the first time in 1963.
Not only did the Black Stars, under Gyamfi, win the African Cup at home but also, Gyamfi successfully retained the Cup in 1965, playing away in Tunisia (in a legendary match that was heading for a draw until a young wizard of a player that Gyamfi had brought into the team – Osei Kofi – netted the winner for Ghana in the last minute.)
Gyamfi was again in charge of the Black Stars when they beat the hosts, Libya, in Tripoli in 1982 (in a match that Ghanaians feared would be “thrown” to Libya for political reasons, because Ghana’s new ruler, Jerry Rawlings, enjoyed very close relations with Libya’s leader, the late Col. Muammar Gaddafi. But if the suggestion to throw the match was ever made to Gyamfi, he would have ignored it. For so fierce was his sense of patriotism that I am sure he would have politely told Rawlings to go to hell if asked to sacrifice the honour of Ghana to placate a dictator from a foreign country! Anyway, Ghana won the thriller of a match by 7 goals to 6 on penalties, following a draw and extra time that had produced no winner. Gyamfi thus became a three-time winner of the African Cup of Nations for Ghana. (In all, Ghana has won the Cup four times.) And yet, he was never paid any of the huge sums that foreign coaches have been earning in Ghana, without anything much to show for it to equal Gyamfi’s achievements.
The wizard dribbler, Osei Kofi, the most effective ‘wunderkid’ of the Black Stars of Gyamfi’s time, told the BBC in an interview, upon hearing of Gyamfi’s death, that Gyamfi was the best coach he had ever played under.
“He instilled discipline into us!”, Osei Kofi said. “When we, the Black Stars, were in camp before a match, he would make us practise and practise and practise. I, as his friend, would go to him and beg him: CK, please give us our freedom! But he would not budge. What we did not know was that he was doing it for our own good. It made us strong. Had we been strong like that always, we would have won more matches. For instance, in our famous match against Real Madrid, we were leading them but ran out of stamina, which enabled them to come from behind to draw 3-3 with us!”
Gyamfi was a royal of Okorase, his birth-place, and when the stool of the town became vacant in 1999, the people, in accordance with their custom, enstooled Gyamfi as their chief. His stool name was Nana Gyamfi Kumi I.
Unfortunately, Gyamfi had a mild stroke a few years ago (while on football duty in Nigeria) and was forced to spend the rest of his life quietly at home with his wife, Madam Valerie Quartey Gyamfi, a former national tennis player. They have been blessed with eight sons, who are all working in Europe and America.
When I said Gyamfi was the most intelligent player Ghana ever had, I was not jesting or exaggerating. One day, as editor of Drum Magazine, I visited the Black Stars while they were in camp at Achimota School. They were preparing for an impending tournament. The gifted right-winger, Baba Yara, darling of Ghana football fans, immediately jumped on me for remarks I had made in an article about a match the Black Stars had recently played.
But Gyamfi was listening when Yara launched his attack and came to my defence. He told Yara: “You should have taken notice of the words he used. He didn’t say you were wrong to rely only on your right foot; he said he wished you had used your left foot a lot more.”
Gyamfi went on: “This man writes in a fair manner. Remember what he wrote about my own mistake in trying to score in one instance, instead of passing the ball to one of you forwards? Someone else would have criticised me and left it at that. But he wrote that he was surprised that ‘Gyamfi of all people’ should have done that. Now, when a guy says ‘you of all people’, there is a lot in that that he hasn’t said. It means he thinks so highly of you that he expected you to have done better than you did. It is praise in a different form!”
I smiled to myself. My appreciation of CK had shot up by 1000 percent! The football coach had suddenly become a literary critic. Respect, man.
Rest In Peace, oh Nana Gyamfi, Magic Feet. You’ve done all that a Man could be expected to do for his Nation! Don’t mind them whether they honour you in death or not. Your people know exactly what you did, and will always remember you.
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