As a young boy who was very passionate about sports, particularly football right from infancy, I had the privilege to watch the likes of Sammy Kuffour, Stephen Appiah and Michael Essien during their prime days at Bayern Munich, Juventus and Chelsea respectively and recently I have seen the wonders of Baby Jet Asamoah Gyan who is now Ghana’s all-time scorer with 52 goals and the leading African top scorer at the world cup with 6 goals breaking the record of the great Roger Miller from Cameroon.
I remember when I used to buy the 90-minute Newspaper and Graphic Sports almost every day in order for me to be well vested in sports and I must confess that those investments I made during my basic school level at Saltpond Catholic Boys is paying off now that I am taking journalism ( Sports Journalism) as a full-time career.
Even though these crop of players I saw, despite their immense talents and potential couldn’t win a trophy for Ghana, I think they did extremely well by qualifying the country to three successive FIFA World Cup in Germany 2006, South Africa 2010 and Brazil in 2014 which even the great players that many sports historians and journalists believe are the greatest players the country have produced couldn’t do it hence the need to commend the players we have seen in this century for their immense contribution to Ghana football.
Come to think of it, if the likes of Baba Yara, Osie Kofi, Mohammed Polo, Golden Boy Abdul Razak, Abedi Pele, and Anthony Yeboah couldn’t qualify the country to the world stage then these crop of Black Star players that I have watched for the past 17 years deserve to be praised.
As a boy, I thought I had seen it all in terms of watching the best players Ghana has produced till the day I heard a man in his early 70’s at a DSTV center 8 years ago when we were watching the El Classico, pass a comment that the Baba Yara he watched from 1958-1964 was better than either Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo. As young as we were (me and my friends) we had seen nothing so we started laughing because I don’t know anyone born in the 21st century who will believe what we heard with our ears that day. One of the guys around even passed a comment that probably the man was drunk so we shouldn’t mind him.
I thought about this for a whole week and I was still wondering, so who is this ‘Baba Yara’? that someone can make a huge claim about him like that, little did I know that the man ( Baba Yara) who was named after the Kumasi Sports Stadium, according to historians, scored 49 goals out of 51 appearances for the Black Stars of Ghana and even that, others believe his goals will be more than 80 since we didn’t have better system of keeping records during the Gold Coast period.
So I took it upon myself to make more enquires about Baba Yara in order to verify the old man’s claim and to my surprise, there was nothing really convincing about him on the internet so I taught the old man was just cooking something up. I was very disappointed that the GFA also didn’t have enough records about many of our Legends, particularly those who played before 1980 so that the new generations will also come and read about them in order to appreciate the work they did for mother Ghana. It is a shame that we pride ourselves as the Brazilians of Africa but we don’t even have a museum where people will just walk in and read about our past players. I say it is a shame because till now we don’t know the definite number of goals Baba Yara scored in the Ghanaian League for both Kotoko and the Republicans.
I decided to ask some elderly people I trust and only once answer run through from my queries ‘’ As for, The King Of Wingers, don’t try’’. My dad who is a staunch Hearts of Oak fan said Baba Yara was the only Kotoko player who he wished was playing for his darling club Hearts of Oak and that made Baba Yara's conversation more interesting
Finally, I got to know more about Baba Yara's story from popular sports historian Bright Yeboah Taylor of Nhyira FM in Kumasi and after watching the ‘’Untold G.O.A.T’’ a documentary by Saddick Adams 'Obama', a sports journalist who was with Atinka Media Village at the time he produced this documentary. I will, therefore, entreat anyone who is yet to watch the ‘ Untold G.O.A.T’ documentary to do so by going on YouTube to check it out.
Now let's talk about BABA YARA 'THE UNTOLD GOAT'
Baba Yara as known by many Ghanaians was the "King of Wingers of West Africa" who played for Asante Kotoko, the Real Republicans and the Black Stars. Born on October 12, 1936 in what is now Kintampo Zongo to Mr. Seidu Maada, a tailor and madam Amina Ibrahim with the real name Usmanu Seidu Maada.
He was named after his grandfather, but out of respect his siblings couldn’t mention his full name, hence the children resorted to calling him Baba and his mum referred to that as the father of all the children. So the name Baba Yara means father of all children.
Young Baba Yara moved from Kintampo to Kumasi because his father thought sending his boy to Kumasi to stay with his sister who was married to an Arabic scholar just for his son to be educated in the Arabic ways and that was the reason why Baba Yara moved from Kintampo to Kumasi and little did his father know that sending his boy to Kumasi will be the start to greater things for him.
According to Bright Yeboah Taylor ( B.Y.T), Baba Yara will entertain members of his community with amazing and amazing bicycling skills something of which they had never seen in their entire life. "People even thought he was a beast because he could do virtually everything that was sports-related. He was also a good horse rider and could play the Polo game too."Bright Yeboah Taylor added.
At the age of 16, he had become a very renowned person in Kumasi for his mastery at horse racing and will usually emerge the winner of the weekly horse racing competition at the famous Kumasi racecourse. He was one of the pioneers of the Kumasi Race Course.
HIS JOURNEY IN FOOTBALL
In December 1954, Baba Yara abandoned horse racing and returned to his favorite sport which was football and was advised to go to Asante Kotoko after he quit the jockey sports. He went for trials and the team officials who were present at the training grounds were amazed so they decided to give the young man a spot in their first team and later he was invited to the national team, the Black Stars of Ghana because of his immense talent. Before the age of 20, Baba Yara was a household name in Kumasi, Accra, Sekondi-Takoradi, Cape Coast and all other areas in the Gold Coast where his Kotoko team had travelled to play matches.
According to those who saw him play, it was easy to spot him in games because of his amazing dribbling skills, pace and quick foot works and he scored more than 20 goals in fewer matches in his first season for Asante Kotoko thus becoming the poster-boy of the club and he had a popular chant from the Kotoko fans which was ‘’ YARA-A-A-A-O-O-O-O-O-0 YARA’’ anytime he moves the ball from the right-wing of attack.
In 1958, led by the 21-year-old Baba Yara, Asante Kotoko won the football league which was organized in Ghana a year after the country had gained independence from the British Colonial Rule of which former Kotoko and Black Stars defender Dogo Moro is the only surviving member of that historic Kotoko squad. They were Coker, Dogo Moro, Kwaw Baffoe, Poku Mensah, Kwabena Tawiah, Kofi Annin, Baba Yara, Kwame Adarkwa, Assibey Boakye, James Kwarkye and Salisu.
Even though Kotoko and Hearts games was very intense at that time, he scored 8 goals in the few years that he spent with the porcupine warriors and according to records Baba Yara scored over 90 goals for Kotoko in 6 years before being commanded to join Dr Kwame Nkrumah’s Team, The Real Republicans, a move which nearly ruined his romantic relationship with Asante Kotoko.
The Real Republicans were formed because Ohene Djan who was the GFA Chairman at the time wanted total control over the national team since some teams were reluctant in releasing their players when national duty called. They selected two players each from the local teams to form the Real Republicans. Baba Yara and Dogo Moro were picked from Kotoko, Ofie Dodo and Addo Odametey Hearts of Oak, Benjamin Acheampong from Corners, Olbitey and Dodo Ankrah from Accra Great Olympics and the list goes on to form the team which was a shadow national team.
This issue brought a whole lot of tension between Kumasi people and Kwame Nkrumah together with Ohene Djan which even resulted in Kotoko boycotting the league at a point in time. Due to that intense pressure, Dogo Moro who was poached together with Baba Yara quit The Real Republicans after just a year with them which even resulted in Dogo Moro losing his position in the national team.
Winning with Baba Yara they say was always easy which was the reason why The Real Republicans won two leagues titles in a row( 1961 and 1962) in which Baba Yara emerged as the most valuable player in the country and Kofi Pare a former Black Stars Player in an interview disclosed that he never had a bad day in football throughout the days they played together.
On 30th November 1955, Baba Yara made his national team debut against the Green Eagles of Nigeria now called the Super Eagles of Nigeria in a tournament called the ‘Jacko Cup’’ of which he scored two goals and provided four assists thus contributing to the 6 goals out of the 7goals scored by the Black Stars on that day. It was this match that ushered his name into the eternal history of West African football.
Dogo Moro does it better saying "He could dribble. He could pass and shoot as well. He was an all-round player. When he plays, you will never doubt his capabilities and he does not look at his teammates before giving a pass and it always goes through. The attacker always had ease of scoring goals because of him and it was through him that we saw what we now call the carpet crossing in the 18-yard box from the flanks’’.
According to Bright Yeboah Taylor ( B.Y.T), he scored 49 goals in 51 matches for the Black Stars and some of the goals were not even recorded that is why they say he scored over 49 goals and to me, that's one incredible record that the Pele himself couldn’t have done that considering how physical the African game is as compared to the outside games.
He was voted as the best player in West Africa by the sportswriters within that region and his popularity kept spreading throughout the continent and he even turned down an opportunity to play outside Ghana after he was identified by north African football scouts because he wanted only Ghana to benefit from his immense talent and not another country, the same way Rev. Osie Kofi turned down an offer to play for Stoke City somewhere in the ’60s.
THE TRAGEDY OF BABA YARA
This is where the sad news comes. Who could think that a legend like that will live a very short life like Baba Yara did after six years of sustaining a spinal injury in a lorry accident. I think he was the Jesus of African football because like the Lord Saviour, Baba Yara also couldn’t live past the age of 34.
According to Dogo Moro, Baba Yara’s heart was troubled for leaving Kotoko so he told him he will quit the Republicans after he returns from their match against Kpando in the Volta Region of Ghana because he wasn’t comfortable after the departure of the( Dogo Moro) but disaster struck the entire Republicans team.
The bus in which Baba Yara and his Republicans teammates were traveling in from Kpando to Accra got involved in an accident at Prebe when their driver lost control and fell into a ditch.
‘’There was a stampede in the bus and we all fell on Baba Yara’s seat from the back and that is how he raptured his spinal cord. We were sent to the Ho hospital but he (Baba Yara) couldn’t move his limbs’’. That was a narration from one of the survivors to Saddick Adams in THE UNTOLD G.O.A.T documentary.
But after they were treated here in Ghana, Baba Yara was flown to Stoke Mandeville hospital in London and reports were constantly sent to the people of Ghana that the ‘’ King of Wingers’’ was doing well and he spent two months at a hospital in London.
The day it was announced that he was coming according to history was a memorable day. The crowd, I am told went to meet him at the Accra AirPort now Kotoka International Airport was unbelievable and they say people were nearly killed upon the arrival of Baba Yara at the airport because they would not even allow the plane to land. I know you are amazed because no one in the history of these nations had ever received such a reception upon returning back to the country, maybe we will witness another if the Black Stars of Ghana win the 2021 Afcon Cup.
The people expected that he will be the last to come out of the plane and wave a white handkerchief but he arrived on a stretcher and they put him in an ambulance and drove off to the 37 military hospital in Accra and they did that because he could not walk again since his spine was raptured and the masses at the airport felt disappointed.
Baba Yara eventually died after 6 years in the wheelchair around 10:45 am on the 5th of May 1969 at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital at a tender age of 33. Due to this tragic incident, his mother sworn not to allow any of his talented sons to play football.
That is how Ghana lost its priceless asset before he could attain his full potential. Even though there isn’t much information about him like I expected, I think we the younger generation should be the ones to tell the little that I have put together so that the whole world will know that there was a time where Africa, Ghana had a player who could score 49 goals in 51 appearances for his national team. Something Pele, Maradona, Messi, the two Ronaldos, Ronaldinho, Zidane, and the likes couldn’t do in their long football career even though Baba Yara had a short football life.
Though Baba Yara didn’t win an AFCON trophy for Ghana like Rev. Osei Kofi, Mohammed Polo, Golden Boy Abdul Razak,Abedi Pele, I still consider him Ghana’s greatest player because when I listened to the people who watch all the above players, they placed Baba Yara at a different level. "Don’t compare Baba Yara to any other player in this country”. you'd hear many of them say. Many of my generations don’t know about him because the media has not been telling his story to the new generation.
Veteran Ghanaian Sports Commentator. Joe Lartey sums it up by saying it was one the wisest thing the country did by naming the Kumasi Stadium after Baba Yara and is incontestable.
Today the biggest football edifice in Ghana, the Kumasi Sports Stadium has been named after Baba Yara for his exceptional talents and immense contribution to Ghana football. It has been 50 years since Baba Yara left the seen but his memories will forever live on.
Please share this article so that everyone you know who can read will also get access to it because a country that doesn’t celebrate his heroes is not worth dying for.
Credit : Bright Yeboah Taylor & Saddick Adams 'Obama'
Joel Eshun sends his regards.