Founded in 1956, the Ghana Premier League (GPL) is the elite
football league in Ghana and has been in existence since its inception till
date. The league is organized, managed and supervised by the Ghana Football
The GPL was ranked the 11th best league in Africa by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS) from 2001-2010, and also ranked 65th in the IFFHS’s Best Leagues of the World Ranking in the 1st Decade of the 21st Century (2001-2010).
INAUGURAL ERA – THE RICHARD AKWEI ADMINISTRATION
Until 1956, football in Ghana was organized on regional
basis, each regional football association with its own head (chairman). These
included the Cape Coast District Football Association, the Western Province
Football Association and the Ashanti Football Association. In the 1940s emerged
Richard Akwei, a professional
teacher, popularly known as The Lion
Heart, who entered football administration with lots of innovations, ideas
with the charisma to make impact on football organization in the then Gold
Coast. Akwei, who was a popular football organizer, suggested the idea of
bringing all the major regional football associations together to form one
football organizing body, so as to be able to, for the first time, organize a
national football league.
However, efforts to merge the various associations to form a
one organizing body faced several challenges, leading to breakaways. Two
Associations emerged from the breakaways; The
Gold Coast Football Union with Richard Akwei as the President, and the Gold Coast and Ashanti Union with a
Kumasi resident, John Darkwa as the President.
These two bodies functioned independently till 1951, when the
national team had to embark on a tour of the United Kingdom (where they
eventually played 10 matches, won 2 and lost 8) when the Government insisted on
a merger of the two Associations before sponsoring the trip. This compelled
Richard Akwei and John Darkwa to issue a joint statement in October 1950,
announcing a merger of the two Associations to form one body.
On Sunday, 29th October, 1950, Executives of the
two Associations met in Kumasi and agreed to form one body called the United Gold Coast Amateur Football Association
which was responsible for football organization in the country. John Darkwa
became the first Chairman of the newly formed body with Richard Akwei as the
Vice. Born out of government influence, the body was faced with teething
problems leading to internal wrangling.
Right after the national team’s United Kingdom tour in 1951,
another election was held in Accra and this time, Richard Akwei was voted Chairman of the Association. Akwei’s
administration was characterized by unceasing crisis till 1956, the
administration which gave birth to the organization of a national football league. In 1956, the idea of organizing a
national football league was suggested by Ken
Harrisson, a then honorary coach of Accra Hearts of Oak.
In 1956, the maiden national football league was organized, pioneered
by fourteen (14) teams. These included Accra Hearts of Oak, Accra Great
Olympics, Cape Coast Mysterious Ebusua Dwarfs, Sekondi Hasaacas, Sekondi Eleven
Wise, Accra Standfast, Kumasi Asante Kotoko, Kumasi Cornerstone, Obuasi Hearts
of Oak, Kumasi Evergreens, Obuasi Evertons, Accra Great Argonauts, Cape Coast
Venomous Vipers and Kumasi Dynamos.
However, the league was poorly organized and as such, clubs
such as Kumasi Asante Kotoko, Cornerstone, Evergreens and two other Kumasi
based teams boycotted it. This created lots of power struggle between the
Ashanti Regional Football Association and the national association, making
clubs from Ashanti region boycott all national football programmes. The
National Association, headed by Richard
Akwei suspended the rebelling clubs. The competition (the league) then
started with only the teams from the Southern sector. Along the line, five participating
clubs – Dwarfs, Vipers, Olympics, Standfast and Hasaacas were influenced by the
four rebelled Ashanti region clubs, and they also pulled out of the
competition, leading to the intensity of calls to remove Richard Akwei as the Chairman
of the Union.
In effect, the maiden national league, which is the 1956 league,
had to be abandoned, and Accra
Hearts of Oak, leading the table at the time, were declared winners and given
gold medals, with Sekondi Eleven Wise as runners up, with Silver medals.
In March 1957, the Gold Coast got her independence from the
British colonial masters, and with the country’s name changing from the Gold
Coast to Ghana – under the leadership of the first President, Osagyefo Dr.
Kwame Nkrumah, and the name of the football association also changed from
United Gold Coast Amateur Football Association to the Ghana Amateur Football
In September 1957, the want away first GAFA Chairman, Richard
Akwei resigned and was succeeded by the
unanimously elected indefatigable football administrator in the history of
Ghana football, Mr. Ohene Djan of blessed memory, who was then based in Nsawam
as a school teacher and a cocoa merchant.
There was no league in 1957, and the newly elected Chairman
of GAFA (now GFA), Ohene Djan, inaugurated the newly born national league in
1958, where it was unanimously agreed that the Football Association should be
the only authority mandated to organize, promote and sanction football
competitions involving football clubs in the country.
The 1958 league, considered the maiden national league
properly organized, constituted only eight
(8) pioneering clubs, which included Accra Hearts of Oak, Asante Kotoko,
Accra Great Olympics, Cornerstone, Sekondi Eleven Wise, Sekondi Hasaacas,
Ebusua Dwarfs and Venomous Vipers. The league was won by Accra Heart of Oak.
Since 1958, the Ghana Premier League has been in existence
till date. Number of clubs participating since the league turned professional in 1993, has been sixteen
(16) till Friday, 25th October, 2019, when, at the GFA Extra
Ordinary Congress, clubs voted to extend it to eighteen (18) clubs.
The most successful club in the history of the Ghana Premier
League at the time of writing is Kumasi Asante Kotoko, who have won the title
24 times, followed closely by their arch rivals Accra Hearts of Oak with 20.
The League has since been won by eleven (11) different clubs.
Picture credit: Accra Great Olympics (team squad of the 80s)
Stephen Tetteh (Continental)