It was a day in 1984 in Nigeria and he had visited the camp of the U-23 team, the Black Meteors. Having spoken to some of the players who told him they were playing for Kotoko, he immediately decided to return to Ghana to try and catch the eye of the fabulous club. That decision later changed his life forever.
Sarfo Gyamfi, alias the ‘Black President’ is a Kumasi Asante Kotoko legend who played for the club between 1985 and 1990. Kotoko Express caught up with him at his residence in Kumasi to find out how Kotoko has impacted on his life.
Kotoko Express (KE): Tell us how you began your football career.
Sarfo Gyamfi (SG): I started playing colts football at a very young age. I then played for a couple of teams including Neoplan Stars before I left Ghana for Nigeria. There, I played for Abeokuta Walls Rangers FC, a Third-Division side, for a year, I played for another Third-Division side belonging to a sugar factory in Warri State for two years. I joined the Warri Water Corporation’s Second-Division team for another two years before moving to Lagos to play for Nigeria NEPA, a First Division Club.
KE: When and how did you leave Nigeria?
SG: I came back to Ghana in 1984. Earlier that year, the Black Meteors had come to Lagos to honour a match. I visited their camp and met Anane Kobo and Yaw Asamoah, my Colts playmates in Ghana. They told me they were playing for Kotoko. Having played with them before and knowing that I was, by far, a better player, I decided immediately to come back to Ghana and work my way to catch the eyes of Kotoko and so I did.
KE: How did you achieve that aim?
SG: When I returned to Ghana, the season had ended. But there was this Inter-Community football championship going on and so I featured for Kwadaso. I impressed Thomas Boakye and Alhaji Sheik, the then Chairman of Kumasi Cornerstone FC in one of our games. Alhaji Sheik asked Thomas Boakye to come with me to their training grounds. I went there and had one training session with them. The next day, Opoku Agyeman, who I had played with in Nigeria but at that particular time, the goalkeeper of Kotoko took me to the Kotoko training grounds. I had my first training under Mr. Ben Koufie, then coach, who told me to come back the following Sunday.
KE: And then what happened?
SG: Kotoko, unknown to me, had lined up a pre-season friendly against Cornerstone FC, the team, which earlier on had given me a trial. The Kotoko- Cornerstone match was to be my trial match. Executive Members, Messrs Allen Gyimah and Yaw Bawuah had returned from Accra to see the game, so was, Mr. Elias Teye, then, Chairman of the Ghana Football Association (GFA). Thankfully, I impressed and even scored the only goal of the game. Not only that, Mr. Teye gave me my first Senior National Team call up after the game.
KE: So you featured for the Black Stars even before you could play for Kotoko in the league?
SG: Exactly, and to say that I was surprised is to say the least. I kept wondering what more could be in store for me when I finally become a Kotoko player. This increased my love for the Club, raised my confidence and my zeal to fight on to achieve something for myself and the team.
KE: So when were you registered, and when was your first league match?
SG: My first match should have been against Hearts of Oak in Accra but my registration was delayed so I could not feature in that game. Thankfully, I was registered to play the next game against Sekondi Eleven Wise FC in Kumasi.
KE: How was your debut for Kotoko?
SG: It was not easy at all. We had players like Addae Kyenkyenhene, Yahya Kassum. Karim Zito, Anane Kobo,Opoku Sampene,Ernest Apau and Ahmed Rockson. I was a midfielder, and preferred the Number-eight position. I was very stylish and skillful. But I met a number of equally skillful players in the team and so I had to change my style of play, trained hard to become a hard tackler in order to get a place in the team.
KE: How different was playing for Kotoko in your days from the present?
SG: Although we profited financially in Kotoko, players then considered, first, their love for the Club and their determination to leave a mark in the team. The current Kotoko players love the team the same but football has become a bit more commercial so players, first think of their pockets before anything else.
KE: What are some of your achievements for the Club?
SG: I could not win the league in my first season but I won the following four years’ before I left the Club. I scored a number of important goals for the team especially in our Africa Cup matches. I scored against JSK of Algeria, Zamalek and Al Ahly of Egypt and a host of other Clubs.
KE: Which was your most memorable game?
SG: There are two of them. First is the 2nd Round Champions League match against Zamalek in Kumasi in 1988. We had lost the first leg 2:0 in Egypt and so needed to win by a three goal margin in Kumasi. Interestingly, Zamalek scored first in Kumasi but we managed to score five goals to eliminate them.
The second memorable game was in 1989 against Hearts of Oak in Accra. It was Dec 31st Anniversary Cup and, at the same time, a Knockout Final match. So two cups were at stake. Somebody came to our camp prior to the game and predicted that Kotoko would carry the day only if any member of the team refused to shake hands with the PNDC Chairman Jerry John Rawlings, who was widely perceived as a Hearts fan. I volunteered to do that and refused to shake his hands. Incidentally we won. That was when sports writer Kwabena Yeboah gave me the nickname, the Black President.
KE: And your saddest game?
SG: That was a second round Champions League Semi Final match against JSK of Algeria. We won the first encounter by a goal to nil here in Kumasi. In Algeria, the game was still goalless after the 89th minute but we conceded two quick goals from corner kicks in the last minutes of added time. The pain, in fact, was so unbearable that, all of us, including Reporter Kwabena Yeboah, cried on the plane back home.
KE: Has Kotoko been beneficial to you?
SG: I played for Kotoko for only five years. Because I loved the Club, I served it to the best of my ability, featured prominently for the Back Stars, left for Austria and Germany where I spent 10 years playing professional football before I retired in 1998. And I have since been a businessman. But none can be compared to the fame and prestige Kotoko gave me. Sarfo Gyamfi is now a household name and this has brought enormous benefits to me. Kotoko, indeed, changed my life and I will forever be grateful.
KE: You later became a management member of the team.
SG: I have been serving Kotoko since I retired and, I tell you, it is something that I cannot stop doing. I began as the Assistant Team Manager to Opoku Afriyie and became the substantive Team Manager in Sylvester Asare Owusu’s administration. I was later on called to serve on the Alhaji Nje-led Interim Management Committee by the Life Patron of the Club, Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II.
KE: What do you make of Kotoko’s chances in both Ghana and in Africa next season?
SG: The strength of every football team is in its midfield. We have a very good midfield and thankfully none of them, I think, has left the Club. Didi Dramani (the current coach) is also a very good coach. I only pray that he gets the luck. It’s been long since we last played in Africa so we could expect some nervousness especially in the first two games. But if we are able to scale over those matches successfully, we surely shall be in contention to win the trophy.
KE: Any advice for the present Kotoko set up?
SG: The current Dr. K. K Sarpong-led administration, I think, is the best thing that has ever happened to the Club. He brought in good players and a lot of sponsors who are helping to augment the finances of the Club. I will only wish that it continues that way. The technical bench now has a number of retired players and that is also good. The players should be selfless and always endeavor to die a little for the club.
KE: How do you see Kotoko in the next five years?
SG: If things will remain as they are now or hopefully improve, I see Kumasi Asante Kotoko dominating the local league, winning, at least, two Champions League trophies within the next five years.
KE: Black President, thank you very much for your time
SG: You are most welcome.
From Gideon Boakye, Kumasi