Ghanaian football has had its own share of rivalries. The Battle of the West: Hasaacas and Eleven Wise has raged for several years. Recently we’ve seen the War of Adansi, involving New Edubiase and AshantiGold . None of these little battles compares with the strife for supremacy between Accra Hears of Oak (Phobia) and Asante Kotoko (Fabulous or Porcupine Warriors).
At least, no rival football clash in Ghana has claimed more Ghanaian lives than Asante Kotoko vs Hearts of Oak; Ghana’s own version of ‘El Classico’ which can be described as a battle fit only for the gods.
Tribal and political rumours have been used to fuel for the flames of this rivalry at one time or the other. Whereas Kotoko is largely perceived to be a symbol of Ashanti pride and identity, Hearts of Oak is considered to be an Accra (Ga) man’s source of joy. Hearts of Oak is thought of as the play ground for the ruling pro-socialist National Democratic Congress (NDC) while Kotoko has been described as a club for sympathisers of the pro-capitalist New Patriotic Party (NPP). Of course these are mere conjectures which cannot be claimed as statements of fact.
However, often times, assumptions as these have been successfully used to whitewash the real motive of this age-old battle – The bonafide ownership of the right to brag.
In popular Ghanaian aphorism it is said that ‘The age of Methuselah has got nothing to do with the Wisdom of Solomon’. Founded exactly a century ago in 1911, some 24 years before Kotoko’s birth, the Fabulous team have matched the Phobians boot-for-boot in achievement.
Continentally, it was Kotoko who started winning Ghana some CAF Continental laurels. The Porcupine Warriors have been crowned champions of Africa twice and on five occasions, they were runners up. But these titles were won before CAF restructured the continental competitions in 1997. Since then, Kotoko have been merely fringe participants. Hearts of Oak have won the title once and have gone ahead to annex the CAF Confederations Cup. Incidentally, Hearts won the Confederations Cup at the expense of Kotoko at the Babayara Stadium, the home of Kotoko.
In the domestic league, it was only in the 2008/2009 season that Accra Hearts of Oak equalled Kotoko’s 21 league title wins. Hearts have lifted the FA cup 9 times, while Kotoko have taken it 8 times.
These historical facts notwithstanding, Hearts has had the upper hand over Kotoko in the last decade. The Phobians have won 10 of all 20 league games played between the two clubs since 2000, while Kotoko has won a paltry 3. In these 20 games, Hearts have scored 27 goals compared to Kotoko’s 16. At the Accra Sports Stadium where Sunday’s match will be played, Kotoko has recorded very terrible results. They have only won only once in 10 games, scoring just 5 goals while Hearts have always had the upper hand, winning 6 of the 10 home games and scoring 16 goals. It will appear that Kotoko is no match for Hearts of Oak at Accra Sports Stadium.
But current form has always been brushed aside in Hearts-Kotoko clashes. It so happens that, when players filing out of the tunnel and are welcomed to the pitch with that great atmosphere of a packed Accra Sports Stadium, there is no limit to the extent to which they are motivated to ‘die for their clubs’.
With the sea behind them and the fans chanting their famous battle call: “Auros, Auros Auros, be quiet and don’t be silly, we are the famous Hearts of Oak, we never say die”, one can expect a spirited performance from even the most terrible of Hearts of Oak squads.
You cannot not expect the Fabulous fans to chicken out of the contest of which fans scream the loudest. They will fill the Accra Sports Stadium with their daring red colour. They will cheer their club on with chants of “Kum Apem a, apem beba”, which translates; ‘If you kill a thousand, a thousand more will return to face you’. With such similar unyielding spirits, many personal battles will be fought on the field of play.
Ghana’s Serbian coach Goran ‘Plavi’ Stevanovic who is keen on watching this game will have a little reunion with his fellow Serbs Nebojsa Vucicevic of Hearts of Oak and Bogdan Korak of Asante Kotoko who will be interested in outthinking each other.
Stevanovic will also be delighted to watch the extent to which his Black Stars striker and leading goal king Nathaniel Asamoah (Kotoko) will square it off with experienced Black Stars goalie Sammy Adjei (Hearts).
Stevanovic might leave the stadium with completely new ideas about Kotoko goalie Isaac Amoako as he will have to put on his best show to stop Hearts’ in-form U-20 strike sensation Mahatma Otoo, last season’s most valuable player.
Bullish midfielders Daniel Nii Adjei (Kotoko) and Esme Mends (Hearts) will lock horns in the heart of midfield. On the creative side of things, fans may be treated to some delightful soccer from Hearts of Oak’s Obed Ansah and Kotoko’s Stephen Oduro. But watch out for some exciting wing play also, as both teams rely heavily on wingers.
Hearts must pile the wins if they are to avoid relegation. Kotoko must pile the wins if they are to qualify for the prestigious Top 4 Pre-season tournament and to justify all the sponsorship money invested into the club this year.
If the players don’t choke on the occasion; if the referees of the day do not destroy the beauty of the game with bad calls; if fans do not resort to violence in protest of bad football and officiating, then we should be up for the most exciting game of the season.