History of the Ghana Premier League (GPL)
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 Association (GFA).
The GPL was ranked the 11th best league in Africa by the International Football 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).
THE 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 Association (GAFA).
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)
Compiled by Stephen Tetteh (Continental)