It's All About...Accra Hearts of Oak Sporting Club

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It's All About...Accra Hearts of Oak Sporting Club

Today's episode in this series focuses our attention on the African football scene.

Although many talented players such as George Weah, Jay-Jay Okocha and Majed Abdullah, as well as many of the biggest stars currently lifting crowds to their feet in the Premier League, have blessed the world football scene with their sublime skills, hunger to succeed, and raw power, Africa still lacks a club or national side prepared to compete with the best around.

Just as is the case with Asian football, African clubs have remained cut off from the international scene. The reasons for their failure to penetrate the confines of the prestigious international club stage appear to be threefold:

First, Africa is a vast continent with a limiting landscape. It is difficult to travel both within Africa and to and from the continent to other parts of the world. This lack of international exposure means that an extra competitive edge is often lacking.

Second, despite the effort, time and money that has been expended in improving the sporting infrastructure of the continent, it is still a comparatively under-developed continent in this respect.

African players know that they can earn a better living if they migrate to Europe in particular. This exodus of players is only being accelerated by private investment.

Finally, the relationship between sport and politics continues to impeach or, at least, slow progress. African football depends on funding from FIFA, CAF (Confederation Africaine de Football), and also from national government. 

Yet CAF has been widely criticised for its lack of initiative in recent years, especially in the case of the recent demise of Kenyan football. Many accuse CAF of showing bias towards Western African and Francophone football associations.

Despite this, African football is clearly on an upward trend. This will culminate in the 2010 FIFA World Cup, which will take place in South Africa.

It has yet to be seen whether the African sides can mount a challenge for the greatest trophy in world football.

Despite constantly producing batches of world-class players, prestigious and successful African clubs are few and far between.

Clubs in northern states, such as Al Ahly, westernmost clubs like Accra and those in southern countries, like Orlando Pirates, tend to fare better. In between, in Central and Eastern Africa, is where the problem lies.

One Western African club that has a fascinating history of success and struggle, sometimes simultaneously, is Ghana's Accra Hearts of Oak Sporting Club.  

So what of this intriguingly-named club?

 

1. Accra Hearts of Oak (''Accra Hearts'') - the oldest club side in Ghana  - was formed 99 years ago by a group of young men in Ussher Town, a district in Ghana's capital and most populous city, Accra and soon became rivals of The Invincibles, Accra's first football club.

2. One of the founding members of the club, was J.T.O Ankrah, father of ''Black Flash'' Roy Ankrah, the first West African Commonwealth featherweight boxing champion.

3. The Hearts decided to change their club colours to the current ''rainbow'' colours: red, yellow and blue. After this change had been fully sanctioned, club officials ordered their new strips from Manchester, England.

4. The club is 19-times national league Champions, nine-times Ghana Cup winners, and also won the African Championship in 2000, followed by success in the African Super Cup the following year.

5. Last season, Kumasi Asante Kotoko striker Eric Bekoe accused Hearts players and also referee Cecil Fletcher of nearly causing his death during a league encounter.

Following a two-hour struggle for his life, Porcupine Warrior Bekoe told national journalists that Accra player Kofi Gari (''Coleman'') warned him that he would stop him by any means, fair of foul.  

After the match, he suddenly collapsed on the team bus after complaining of feeling dizzy. The team goalkeeper led prayers in Islam in an attempt to revive the player, but they were to no avail.

The player was rushed to hospital, where several scars on his body from the match were revealed. But no plausible medical explanation for his near death was proposed.

6. In what is the most devastating sporting tragedy that Africa has ever experienced, 126 fans were killed during a stampede in 2001 during the match at Accra Sports Stadium against Asante Kotoko.

Witnesses say that the trouble started when Kotoko fans started throwing their seats onto the stadium's running track. The police responded by launching tear gas canisters into the stands and all hell ensued.

Most fans were trampled to death, while some were reported to have died from wounds caused in armed conflict.

7. On a less tragic note, the club has produced many noteworthy players such as former Juventus star and current Tottenham Hotspur trialist Stephen Appiah and Rosenborg SK midfielder Anthony Annan. 

Tomorrow, I present to you...Chilean giants Colo Colo as I continue on my clockwise geographical journey around the fascinating world of football.

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