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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 July 2013

Paul Darby*
University of Ulster


The nationalistic fervour that greeted Ghana's performances in the 2010 football World Cup in South Africa powerfully evoked memories of an earlier period in the history of the Ghanaian state that witnessed Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of independent Ghana, draw on the game as a rallying point for nation-building and pan-African unity. This article uncovers this history by analysing Nkrumah's overt politicisation of football in the late colonial and immediate postcolonial periods. This study not only makes a novel contribution to the growing historical and social scientific literature on what is arguably Africa's most pervasive popular cultural form but also deepens our understanding of one of the continent's most significant political figures.

Popular Politics in the 1960s and 1970s
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

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I am grateful to the three anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments and constructive criticisms. Author's email:


1 Asamoah Gyan missed a penalty in the last minute of extra time in their quarter-final against Uruguay that would have seen Ghana win the game. Ghana went on to lose the penalty shoot-out.

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3 Field notes, 28 Aug. 2010.

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6 This project was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (RES-000-22-2617).

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32 Vasili, P., Colouring Over the White Line: The History of Black Footballers in Britain (Edinburgh, 2000), 73Google Scholar.


34 The Gold Coast at this time was divided into four disparate entities: a coastal colony, a conquered kingdom (Asante), a northern protectorate (Northern Territories), and a United Nations trust territory (Volta region).

35 Birmingham, Kwame Nkrumah.

36 Cited in Ibid. 51.


38 Meredith, M., The State of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence (London, 2006)Google Scholar.

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41 Bediako, National Soccer League.

42 Birmingham, Kwame Nkrumah.

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45 Stuart, O., ‘The lions stir: football in African society’, in Wagg, S. (ed.), Giving the Game Away: Football, Politics and Culture on Five Continents (London, 1995), 34Google Scholar.

46 Akyeampong, ‘Bukom and the social history of boxing’.

47 Boer, ‘Football, mobilization and protest’.

48 Alegi, African Soccerscapes.

49 Bediako, Black Stars.

50 Nkrumah, K. cited in James, C. L. R., Nkrumah and the Ghana Revolution (London, 1977), 118Google Scholar.

51 Evening News (Accra), 29 Jan. 1960; Alegi, African Soccerscapes.

52 Vasili, Colouring Over the White Line.

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55 Broere and van der Drift, Football Africa!, 83–5. In January 1957, Matthews had been gifted a symbolic stool of chieftainship of the Gold Coast from Accra Hearts of Oak. West African Pilot (Lagos), 18 Jan. 1957, 4.

56 Bediako, National Soccer League.

57 The teams were Hearts of Oak and Great Olympics from Accra, Asante Kotoko and Cornerstones from Kumasi, Hasaacas and Eleven Wise from Sekondi, and Mysterious Dwarks and Venomous Vipers from Cape Coast. Ibid. The national league was complimented by the Aspro Cup, the first nation-wide knock out competition that was inaugurated in the same season. Kwateng, Asante Kotoko F. C.


58 Versi, Football in Africa.

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60 Hawkey, Feet of the Chameleon.

61 Cited in ‘Africa Kicks – Part One’, BBC World Service, 8 Jan. 2009, <>, accessed 10 Jan. 2009.

62 ‘There is no choice left, our boys must win’, Evening News (Accra), 30 Jan. 1960.

63 ‘All eyes focused on Ghana’, Evening News (Accra), 29 Jan. 1960.

64 Evening News (Accra), 8 Feb. 1960.

65 Evening News (Accra), 20 Feb. 1960.

66 Cited in Obeng, S., Selected Speeches of Kwame Nkrumah, Vol. 1 (Accra, 1997), 2930Google Scholar.

67 Goldblatt, The Ball is Round; H. D. Chipande, ‘Introduction and development of competitive football in Zambia (1930–1969): a historical perspective’, (unpublished MSc thesis, Norwegian School of Sports Sciences, 2009).

68 Cited in The Ghanaian Times (Accra), 13 Jan. 1962.

69 Bediako, Black Stars; Evening News (Accra), 16 May 1960; The Ghanaian Times (Accra), 3 May 1962.

70 M. Morozov, ‘Red footballers: story of Russian tour of Mali, Guinea, Ghana’, West African Pilot (Lagos), 9 Jan. 1962.

71 The Black Stars played 12 matches during the course of their 42- day tour, winning eight games, drawing one and losing three. K. Obeng, ‘The sporting youth salute the party’, The Ghanaian Times (Accra), 13 June 1964; Hawkey, Feet of the Chameleon; Goldblatt, The Ball is Round.

72 Versi, Football in Africa; Obeng, ‘The sporting youth’.

73 Evening News (Accra), 28 Jan. 1960. The placement was arranged during Fortuna Düsseldorf's three-match tour of Ghana in 1959.

74 Cited in ‘Africa kicks’.

75 ‘13 meet Kwame Nkrumah with cup’, The Ghanaian Times (Accra), 3 Dec. 1963. Nkrumah was often referred to as ‘Osagyefo,’ which translated as ‘victor in war’, but was more loosely taken to mean ‘the redeemer’.

76 Versi, Football in Africa, 75.

77 W. Kwateng, ‘Africa's glory matters most in Tokyo’, The Ghanaian Times (Accra), 19 June 1964.

78 Evening News (Accra), 4 Apr. 1960.

79 Cited in The Ghanaian Times (Accra), 25 Nov. 1963.

80 Darby, ‘Football, colonial doctrine’.

81 Fédération Internationale de Football Association Archives, Zurich (FIFA) Confédération Africaine de Football (CAF), Circular Letter to FIFA From the CAF Executive Committee, 21 Aug. 1964.

82 FIFA ‘Minutes of the XXXIVth Ordinary Congress’, Tokyo, 8 Oct. 1964.

83 Cited in Katimia, M., ‘The fight for recognition’, African Soccer, 35 (1998), 52Google Scholar.

84 Personal Communication to Dr Helmut Kaiser from Mourad Fahmy, 16 Aug. 1965.

85 Ibid.


86 FIFA, Minutes of the XXXVth Ordinary Congress, London, 8 July 1966.

87 Nkrumah, Africa Must Unite; Birmingham, Kwame Nkrumah.

88 The club celebrated its one-year anniversary in March 1962, an occasion that was marked by Nkrumah gifting six live sheep to the club's assistant manager B. B. Bismarck. The Ghanaian Times (Accra), 8 Mar. 1962.

89 E. Quansah, ‘The fall of a soccer empire’, West Africa: Special Edition (March 1990), 36.

90 Bediako, National Soccer League.

91 Interview with former Real Republikans player, Cecil Jones Attuquayefio, Accra, 20 Jan. 2009.

92 Ibid.


93 Meredith, The State of Africa.

94 Nkrumah, Africa Must Unite.

95 Bediako, National Soccer League.

96 Ibid. Yankey went on to head Ghana's Special Intelligence Unit, founded in 1963 to monitor anti-government dissent.


97 Fridy and Brobbey, ‘Win the match’. Interview with C. J. Attuquayefio.

98 Nkrumah himself was moved to publicly criticise those who led the attempted ‘coup’. ‘Stop this rowdyism and hooliganism. It does not pay’, Evening News (Accra), 20 May 1960.

99 Bediako, National Soccer League.

100 The Ghanaian Times (Accra), 11 Jan. 1963.

101 Kwateng, Asante Kotoko F. C.

102 The Ghanaian Times (Accra), 3 Oct. 1963.

103 The Ghanaian Times (Accra), 25 Nov.1963.

104 Cited in Versi, Football in Africa, 33.

105 J. Aggrey, ‘Visitors ready’, The Ghanaian Times (Accra), 24 Oct. 1965. The match was dubbed the ‘OAU Match’ in the Ghanaian press.

106 Obeng, ‘The sporting youth’.

107 The Ghanaian Times (Accra), 30 Nov. 1965.

108 Meredith, The State of Africa; Agbodeka, F., An Economic History of Ghana from the Earliest Times (Accra, 1992)Google Scholar.

109 Buah, F. K., A History of Ghana (London, 1980)Google Scholar.

110 Interview with C. J. Attuquayefio.

111 Kwateng, Asante Kotoko F. C.

112 Bediako, Black Stars. General Ankrah is pictured in this publication shaking hands with Kotoko's Wilberforce Mfum prior to one of their games.

113 Kwateng, , Asante Kotoko F. C.

114 Bediako, Black Stars.

115 Prior to Ghana's hosting of the 1978 African Cup of Nations, General Ignatius Acheampong and a tournament organising committee dominated by the military government invested heavily in the preparation of the Black Stars, a move that bore fruit with a third continental title for Ghana. In 1982, Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings welcomed the Black Stars in person when they touched down in Accra following their fourth African Cup of Nations title. A year later, Rawlings decorated the Asante Kotoko squad with medals following their first African Champions Clubs Cup success. Goldblatt, The Ball is Round; Bediako, Black Stars.

116 Ghana Soccer Net, ‘Ghana President Atta Mills Congratulates the Black Stars’, 16 Feb. 2012, <>, accessed 26 Mar. 2012.

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