I have spent the last 23 days in the North African country of Egypt, hosts of the Africa Cup of Nations this year.
It has been an amazing experience covering as many teams throughout my time here. I have had the privilege of reporting on the Black Stars most often but the opportunity to cover as many teams has been an experience. Cairo, Suez, Ismailia and Alexandria have together demonstrated the growth of the sport on the continent and how the close to one billion people who reside in it have taken to the game. 24 teams with a squad of players ready to die for their shirts at any given opportunity. Passion was not too difficult to find from the fans either.
The North Africans give you everything you want to get over the line. I met them in their thousands. The Moroccans, Algerians, Tunisians and host Egypt. You would love them. They give everything to the team. Their last chant. Some support you have to say. The game though has made these lengths and courted the attention of many by virtue of some stars of yesteryears and that would be my focus on my write-up.
Host nation Egypt has some of the most passionate football fans in the world. It gets a lot crazy when the conversation has to do with Al-Ahly or Zamalek, the two dominant clubs in these parts. This is where the story begins. I boarded a taxicab from the Grand Nile Tower on my way to Al-Salam Stadium, one of the three stadia being used in the city of Cairo for the CAN. The conversation with the cab driver naturally focused on the tourney after he noticed my accreditation hanging around my work. I have boarded as many cabs in my time here and had my fair share of football conversations but this one was striking.
I had to listen. He seemed extremely knowledgeable about the game globally, the last 40 years and probably beyond that. He spoke articulate French and English as well as the mainstay Arabic language. He was a retired teacher who loved to drive and enjoys being a ‘cab man’ because home is boring as a retiree. After discussing the game globally, the first ten or so minutes of driving, the conversation then narrowed to two names. Emmanuel Quarshie and Abedi Ayew Pele. I was in awe at the lecture I was given the next twenty or so minutes.
Emmanuel Quarshie, a two-time Cup of Nations winner in 78 and 82 was a midfield colossus, I am told, for Sekondi Hasaacas before transferring to Egyptian giants Zamalek in 1983. Mostafa (the driver) was just a fabulous storyteller. He recounted numerous occasions where the late Ghanaian had turned entire match venues into disbelief with his goals and his contribution to the success of the club just a year after signing for them.
He recounted a derby at the Cairo International Stadium where, in excess of a hundred thousand fans crammed to see the game. Ahly had the best Egypt had to offer in terms of player quality. It is the peoples’ club. Loved by virtually everyone. Fans of Zamalek are in his words ‘opposers’ of the old order (whatever that meant).
According to him, the performance exhibited by the late Ghanaian turned the whole country on its head. It was the best midfield performance he had ever seen in his whole life. And he was quick to add that: “It has not changed till this day”. Well, I have had my fair view of talismanic midfield geniuses in my thirty-plus years on the planet. Platini, Falcao (the AS Roma player), Zico, Socrates Maradona, Boniek, Laudrup, Savicevic, Baggio, Redondo, Riquelme, Zidane, and the list goes on. And if Quarshie was that good on the day, then he must have been that good.
He went on and on about how the player’s prowess helped Zamalek win the then African Champions Cup in 1984 after beating Shooting Stars and in 86 when they defeated the dreaded African Sports and how he dominated those campaigns.
When I told him the player passed after suffering from throat cancer in 2013, he parked the car and did not speak for almost two minutes. As if that was not enough, he started sobbing. I was drowned in emotion to be honest. Then to top it up, he politely took out an old Zamalek scarf, wrapped it around his neck, quietly got out of his car to observe a 30-second silence for the player. At this point, I was completely lost.
I could not utter a word. I just sat down in silence and I realised I shed a tear, too. It was so much for me. I am not your emotional person and this is someone I never saw play. I was just amazed at how Mostafa’s actions and words got to me. Such is how the player was revered.
For a moment, I wondered how I didn’t read that much about him growing up as my dad ensured that I read quite a lot of sporting literature from age 7.
As I got to my destination, I felt proud of being a Ghanaian. I was delighted to see my fellow countryman being so revered in a part of the world who do not appear to be best friends of many. Rest in peace Mr Emmanuel Quarshie. I never met you but you have earned my respect.
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