How politics nearly buried Ghana’s hopes of winning the 1982 AFCON

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The story of Ghana’s journey to Libya 1982 was characterized by a strong sense of serendipity. The country’s hopes of winning the AFCON for the 4th time was nearly shattered by then President of the country Dr. Hilla Limann due to diplomatic reasons.

Muammar Gaddafi then was the President of Libya, his country 3 decades ago discovered oil reserves and had brought a big boom in wealth. Libya reportedly spent close to $1.4 million to organize the 1982 Africa Cup of Nations. Muammar Gaddafi wasn’t going to let the big occasion pass, he used the tournament to give his political ideology wings, he promoted Libya’s Green Revolution. A revolution that promised to rescue the world from the failures of Western democracy and Communism.

Interestingly, Gaddafi’s policies made few friends internationally and consequently deteriorated the rich nation’s relationship with other nations, and that included Dr. Hilla Limann’s Ghana. Dr. Hilla Limann had amalgamated with another nations to boycott all relations with Libya and that included football. The boycott was headed by the United States. Dr. Hilla Limann annnouced that Ghana would not partake in the tournament.

Hillah liman had made his decision and was inexorable, nothing was going to change his mind. Stakeholders of the nation were left disappointed, they made all efforts to cajole him into changing his mind, but to no avail, that wasn’t going to happen. Ghana’s hope of winning the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) for the 4th time was almost buried, but that wasn’t it, there was a turn of events.

On December 31st, 1981, a young, ferocious and radical Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings staged a coup d’état, he dethroned Hilla Limann and became the President of Ghana. He pulled off a smooth second-coming, Limann did not last long enough in power to see his decision enforced.

Upon noticing Limann was no more in power, Gaddafi, a man who also acquired power in similar fashion to Rawlings in 1969 sent a delegation to Accra to have a talk with Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings. After a progressive discussion, Rawlings who was much inspired by Gaddafi because of his political ideologies rescinded Liman’s earlier decision, Ghana were going to partake in the AFCON.

“We are going to Libya to prove to the world that Ghanaians can take decisions for themselves,” said Zaya Yeebo, who foresaw the country’s footballing activities back then.

Erstwhile Ghana player and manager Kwasi Appiah also revealed how Jerry’s decision brought a smile to the faces of the playing body and nation as a whole, “Rawlings actually brought smiles on our faces when he promised us participation”.

In January 1982, the tournament was scheduled for March and Ghana didn’t have ample time to prepare. The country had only 2 months to prepare for the tournament. The team had to be revived from it inactivity, the players hadn’t train in a while and the team didn’t even have a coach.

Quickly, all players had to be recalled to camp. All corrupt staffs of the Ghana Football association (GFA) were sacked by Zaya Yeebo, the GFA was quickly reconstituted. A shabbily assembled technical team was created, the veteran and experienced CK Gyamfi who had previously won the AFCON twice with Ghana was tasked to coach the team. Emmanuel Kwasi ‘E.K’ Afranie and Fred Osam Doudu were also part of the technical team. That wasn’t it, there was another problem.

The country was in turbulence, there was no funds to prepare the team for the tournament, there was political instability and financial crisis. There was no sports equipment, no sports uniforms, no boots and not even a single football, but Ghana still had to find a way to make it to Libya.

Zaya Yeebo met Libyan Ambassador in Accra and told him about Ghana’s problems. The Ambassador promised to help the team. He found the team a place to stay in Libya, and also provided a bus for the team to get around. Again that wasn’t the end of the afflictions, the players needed to be paid.

Zaya Yeebo and other sports stakeholders staged football matches all over the country, and charged a small entrance fee. The matches played included two of the nation’s biggest local derbies – Asante Kotoko v Cornerstone in Kumasi and Hearts of Oak v Great Olympics in Accra. The money raised was used to support the players during the tournament.

Ghana who were not even expected to qualify from their group defied all odds and went on to win the tournament. They defeated host nation Libya 7-6 on penalties, the game ended 1-1 after 90 minutes and extra time.

Ghana by then was in turmoil. The continental triumph brought smiles on the face of Ghanaians, football brought smiles on the faces of disturbed people.

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