On this day, 24 January 1971 (Exactly 49 years ago today), Kumasi Asante Kotoko became the first Ghanaian club to win the covetd African Champions’ Cup (now Champions League) with a well-executed 2:1 victory over T. P. Englebert (now T. P. Mazembe) of Congo DR in the 1970 final second leg match played in Kinshasa.
The victory over the Congolese clearly solved the four-year-old ‘dispute’ between the two clubs, all their previous three encounters having ended in drawn games.
It was a spirited performance put up by Kotoko in this battle of equals at the giant Tata Raphael Stadium.
They surprised the home team with intelligent spell of attacks and good defensive work to beat them in their own pattern of play.
This entertaining classic which dashed Englebert’s hopes of winning the cup for good saw centre forward Abukari Gariba put Kotoko into the lead in the 12th minute .
Left winger Tshinabu put Englebert on equal terms, ten minutes later.
It was at this stage that both sides showed they could attack as well as defend with a purpose.
However, the difference between the sides was Robert Mensah who was at his best.
This Cape Coast born international and ‘wizard’ goalkeeper stood between Englebert and victory.
He made such fantastic saves that gave the impression that he might have some magnetism in him that attracts the ball.
After surviving the magnificent onslaught by the home team, Malik who was not at his best, connected home a low grounder ten minutes to time to give Kotoko a confident 2:1 lead. It was a typical Malik Jabir drive and Kazadi could do very little about it.
Just as Kotoko were beginning to celebrate their victory, the referee awarded a penalty against them. Sportingly, Kotoko did not raise a finger and left winger Tshinabu, perhaps scared by Mensah’s wizardly in the post, gave an almighty shot which sailed “MILES OVER THE BAR”.
Yes, it was destined that Kotoko, after years of toil in their search for international honours, should be the proud recipients of the giant trophy, the ultimate in African continental soccer.
Taxi drivers, who were supporters of Kumasi Asante Kotoko, set the city of Accra agog immediately the result of the final match was known.
With their taxis drapped in the traditional red colours of Kotoko, the drivers literally went on procession through the streets as many other Kotoko supporters followed and sang praises in honour of Kotoko.
At the sports stadium, where Olympics were playing the visiting Romanian club, Politechnica Liasi, attention was generally focused on radio commentary on the match which was received on transistor sets carried by many of the spectators.
As soon as the game ended, the stadium was nearly thrown into confusion as supporters of Kotoko jumped, shouted and sang in praise of Kotoko.
In Kumasi, the citadel of Asante Kotoko, many people including women and children, rushed into the streets chanting war songs as soon as the final result of the match was known.
Others, too, poured libation and drank to the ‘health’ of Kotoko.
At the “People’s Inn”, Mr. K. K. Asante, proprietor, offered free drinks to enthusiastic Kotoko supporters.
Kotoko Line-up: Robert Mensah, Ben Kusi, Oliver Acquah, Clifford Odame, Ohene Brenya/ Bobie Ansah, Sunday Ibrahim (C), Sule Musah, Yaw Sam, Abukari Gariba, Malik Jabir, Osumanu Orlando
T. P. Englebert Line-up: Kazadi, Ngoye, Ukomba, Mukambo, Kalumba, Nguanga, Saidi, Kapata, Kalala, Kalonzo, Tshinabu.
Note: The final was played in January 1971, but it was the 1970 Africa Champions’ Cup final and , therefore, in the record books as the Champions of 1970.
Both the Ghana Amateur Football Association (GAFA) and the Sports Council sent messages of congratulations to Kotoko on their victory.
The message pointed out that a very big welcome was awaiting the Africa champions.
GAFA boss, H.P. Nyametei, said that on the arrival of Kotoko from Kinshasa, there would be a procession of Kotoko and soccer fans from the Kotoka International Airport through the principal streets of Accra.
The procession, he said, would end at the Ambassador Hotel, the reception to be organised by the Sports Council.
In a congratulatory message, Mr Henry K. Djaba, chief patron of the Abuakwa Susu Biribi Football Club, on his own behalf and on behalf of the club, thanked Kotoko for raising the image of Ghana soccer with their brilliant victory.
He said the whole Ghana was proud of their achievement and hoped it would inspire other Ghanaian clubs to attain similar achievements in the future.
The executive, players, members and entire supporters of Accra Great Olympics also congratulated Kotoko on their meritorious achievement in Kinshasa.
The chairman of the National League Clubs Association, Mr. Zac Bentum, noted with satisfaction the great pride and honour Kotoko had done Ghanaian football Clubs by their sparkling victory in Kinshasa.
He said Kotoko had demonstrated by their victory that a club could only hope to achieve greatness by dedication, perseverance, hard work and discipline.
He recommended these qualities to all Ghanaian clubs adding “Ghana football will once again be on the ascendancy internationally if clubs will emulate the shining example set by Kotoko”.
The Ho Sunset club in their message said Kotoko had done the whole country a great honour by defying all odds to beat Englebert in Kinshasa.
Accra Hearts of Oak Football Club also sent a message of congratulations to Kotoko for their outstanding achievement.
The message, signed by club secretary, Mr. Steele Dadzie, said: “On behalf of the entire Hearts of Oak team, please accept our warmest congratulations for your outstanding success in the African clubs soccer championship”.
The Prime Minister, Dr. K. A. Busia, promised to give Asante Kotoko a brand new 22-seater Mercedes-Benz bus for winning the coveted Africa Cup for Ghana.
Dr Busia made the promise at a welcome ceremony at the Castle, Osu, attended by players and officials of Kotoko and members of the GAFA and the Sports Council soon after Kotoko had arrived in Accra.
STORY: GEORGE MAHAMAH