Ghanaians that changed the face of Nigerian football

Sun, 12 Aug 2007 Source: Segun Odegbami

As a result of the harsh economic conditions in Ghana in the late 1960s and early 1970s hundreds of Ghanaian footballers flooded the Nigerian league. The best of them were in every big club in the country from Mighty Jets of Jos, to Stationary Stores of Lagos, to Shooting Stars of Ibadan and even up to Sharks Football Club of Port Harcourt. It was very easy to distinguish them at that time because of the flair and flamboyance they brought to the game. Most of them were showmen. Unlike the typical Nigerian football player that played only with speed and power, the Ghanaians played the short passing game, with plenty of exhibitionism, and a certain air that verged on ‘arrogance‘. Their influence was greatest in clubs like Stationary Stores and Shooting Stars at the time, both of which had a large number of these Ghanaian players in their squads.

Their football became markedly entertaining, stylish and attractive to watch. Within a few years this impacted very much on Nigerian football generally. The mix of the Ghanaian style of football with the indigenous Nigerian style evolved into a new generation of players with power, speed, individual skills and style. That‘s why and how Nigerian football caught up with and even overtook Ghanaian football - as a result of the fusion of these two different football characteristics. Ghana‘s football resembled that of Brazil, whilst Nigerian football was grounded in the typical kick-and-rush style of the English.

Ghanaian players in the Green Eagles

Many Ghanaian players became so integrated into the Nigerian environment that many of them ended up playing for Nigeria without the authorities being able to (or chose to disregard) separate their nationalities. That‘s how Willie Andrews, Yakubu Mambo, Baba #$% Mohammed, Johnny Orlando, Phillip Boamah, Raymond Quakopone, Sani Mohammed, Leotis Boateng, Mohammed Lawal, Adokwa Laryea, and so on came to play in Nigeria and for the national team, the Green Eagles. There were many others in clubs across the length and breadth of Nigeria, playing and raising the standard of the domestic game: Joe Appiah, Edward Ansah, Joseph Carr, Arthur Moses, John Benson, Husseini Alabi (a Nigerian, but born and raised in Ghana), and so on.

Back to Annas Ahmed

Annas Ahmed was one of that army of imports. He came with a flair that was very uncharacteristic of a defender. He played football like one dancing, very elegant and graceful on the ball, and a beauty to watch. He floated his passes with such exquisite delicacy that the ball would ‘hang‘ in the air as if begging for a head to connect. That‘s where some of us, good with our heads, thrived! I scored many a memorable goal with those floating passes, particularly at training sessions.

Annas was one of the two pillars of the Raccah Rovers defence in their most glorious years. The other was Ahmed Abubakar, who has relocated to the US and now lives in New York.

In Kano to see Annas

So when Shefiu Mohammed told me last week that Annas was in Kano, I was so excited and curious I could not wait to see him. We had a remarkable reunion, just the three of us, over lunch in my hotel reminiscing over past times. Annas has a remarkable memory. He remembered every single detail of our times in camp recalling them with glee and amusement. His passion for the game (the stylish one) still remained as he lamented the lack of focus on that aspect in the development of the present players. Annas has not changed much except for the forest of grey hair on his head. He still walks with a shuffle as if there is a spring in his feet. So, how has he been doing all these years? He simply retired into the cocoon of his own narrow interest - wood work and design. He has been working for a Lebanese-Nigerian in Kano, assisting with the wood work and beautification of his hotel. He has not been involved in any aspect of football (not even watching) for a long while. He often tells his children stories about himself and some of us when he sees us on television. Otherwise, he has been away from football.

Life may not be a bed of roses for him but he is doing okay. He would love to still do something in the game like teaching young kids some skills and techniques.

So, I am thinking. Where in the football firmament in Nigeria would an Annas Ahmed fit into? I think I have the answer and I have told him so. He is excited. I guess the next few months will tell if I am right or wrong. But which way, any way, it was truly a delight to meet up with one of the great Ghanaian players that helped in the development of Nigerian football to the levels that we have attained today.

As for his kingship, he has passed that on to his son who has relocated to Ghana and is now being groomed to assume the position. His son, after his studies, will ascend the throne of his forefathers!

Source: Segun Odegbami