The Ghana Premier League, is a football division the is ripe with history, having been founded all the way back in 1956. In fact, some of the clubs date back much further than even that. The league's most successful franchise, Asante Kotoko S.C., located in Kumasi, has won the league a record 24 times, and was founded all the way back in 1935. Hearts of Oak S.C., located in the capital city of Accra, has won 20 league titles, and is even older, having started operations all the way back in 1911. In total, there are 16 clubs that make up the Ghana Premier League. Other clubs that have won multiple league titles include Ashanti Gold, Aduana Stars F.C., and Accra Great Olimpics F.C. (who are currently relegated to second division).
The league has hit a bit of rough water recently however. The most recent champion of the league was Aduana Stars F.C.in 2017, as the 2018 season was suspended due to a corruption scandal. It was the first time since 1957 that the league did not name a champion. However, things look to be getting back on track, as they are currently holding a FIFA Normalization Competition, (as discussed in our recent interview with Abdulai Suburu of ghanapremierleaguelive.com) in hopes of resuming regular league play by August of 2019.
Listen To Interview With Abdulai Suburu
History Of The Beautiful Game In Ghana
Ghana is a nation with a rich footballing history. Their national team, known as the Black Stars, have won the Africa Cup of Nations (Africa's version of the CONCACAF Gold Cup) four times in their history. Right now, they are on a 37-year-drought, having last won the competition in 1982. However, they have finished no lower that 4th place in the tournament, which occurs every 2 years, since 2008. They also finished 2nd in both 2010 and 2015, and are looking to finally knock down the door and raise the trophy in this year's competition. The Black Stars will kick off the 2019 competition in a match against Benin on Tuesday, 25 June 2019. The 2019 tournament features two major changes, as the field has been expanded from 16 to 24 teams, and it has been moved from January/February to June/July. The domestic league is well respected as well. For the period from 2000-2010, the Ghana Premier League was ranked as the 11th best league in Africa, and 65th best league in the world but the International Federation of Football History and Statistics. According to the 2017-2018 Kick Algorithm rankings, the Ghana Premier League ranked as the 78th strongest league in the world. This puts it at a comparable level of competition to the second divisions in Belgium or the Netherlands. This is also a league the relies solely on home grown talent, when you look at a Ghana Premier League roster, you will not see any foreign players.
Although this nation in Western Africa is smaller than the state of Texas in terms of land size, players from Ghana can be seen playing in leagues throughout the world. There are currently five Ghanaian players in the English Premier League (Aston Villa F.C. midfielder Albert Adomah, Newcastle United F.C. midfielder Christian Atsu, Leicester City F.C. defender Daniel Amartey, and a pair from Crystal Palace F.C., forward Jordan Ayew and defender Jeffrey Schlupp. There are an additional 12 players from Ghana playing in various divisions throughout England. In the United States, Ghana is even more represented, with 10 players currently in the MLS, 20 in the USL Championship, and 5 more in USL League One.
The Asante Kotoko S.C. vs Accra Hearts of Oak S.C. Rivalry
Any discussion of the Ghana Premier League doesn't quite end with, but certainly starts with the rivalry between the two clubs who have combined to win 44 leagues titles between them. By comparison, all other clubs combined have won 14. Both clubs have a history that long predates the 1956 (modern era of the league), but the best of my research shows that the rivalry itself dates back to 1954. Also, to the best of my calculations, their recent meeting in the special FIFA Normalization Competition was the 182nd between the two clubs since 1954. In Ghana Premier League play, they have met 107 times since 1958, with Hearts of Oak winning 36 times, Asante Kotoko 35 times, and there have been 36 draws. You don't have to look any deeper than that statistic to see just how evening matched they have been over the years. The most recent match on 16 June 2019, was every bit as close as ever, Asante Kotoko won on penalties 1(5)-1(4).
With Accra and Ashanti separated by by just 122 miles as the crow flies, this isn't quite a local derby, but certainly well within traveling distance for both fanbases. During our interview, Suburu said that every bit of intensity and passion that you see when teams like Liverpool F.C. and Everton F.C. meet up for the Merseyside Derby, you will see when these two clubs meet up for what he calls "the Ghana version of El Clasico." Both of these clubs play in stadiums that hold 40,000+ fans, and not only does the stadium fill up for these matches, but the crowds spill out into the streets with people trying to find their way inside. This passion goes beyond just the two cities involved however. According to Suburu, this is a game where literally the whole country shuts down to watch.
The 2001 Accra Sports Stadium Disaster
Unfortunately, when you mix together such intense passion, and combine it with 40,000 people in a tightly confined space, bad things can happen. Sadly, on 9 May 2001, one of the most tragic events in footballing history occurred at the Accra Sports Stadium. The mayhem began when angry Kotoko fans began removing and throwing chairs from the stands. The police, some argue unnecessarily, responded by firing teargas into the crowd. In the ensuing stampede, 126 lives were lost. It was later found that locked gates, and a stadium design with fewer exits than necessary contributed to making this the greatest loss of lives to ever occur at a football event on the African continent. The stadium was renovated in 2007, but as of 2017, there were still reports of safety issues at the stadium in Accra.
Increased Parity In Recent Seasons
While they two clubs mentioned above have dominated the Ghana Premier League for more than a half century, recent seasons have seen a bit of a changing of the guard. Most notably, Hearts of Oak have not won a title since 2009, and have now surpassed their previous longest title drought, which was from 1962-1971. Asante Kotoko have one 3 in the past decade, but none since 2014. Impressive newcomers, Aduana Stars were only founded in 1985, and made it to the Ghana Premier League for the first time in 2010, have now one twice. In addition to the 2017 title, they were the first team in league history to win it on their first try, back in 2010. Another newcomer who have won a recent title are 2016 champions, WA All Stars F.C.. The team, who are Suburu's home club from the Upper West Region, were founded in 2006.
Other recent champions include 2015 champions Ashanti Gold SC, who also had a run of 3 consecutive championships from 1994-1996 when they were known as Goldfields. In 2011, Berekum Chelsea won their only title, with a squad that included Phoenix Rising FC captain Solmon Asante. Berekum Chelsea was founded in 2000, and of course takes inspiration for their name, badge, and kit from the famous London club Chelsea F.C.. Since Berekum Chelsea also takes their nickname Blues from the London club, and WA All Stars are nicknamed The Blues, things can get confusing when they play one another.
Ghana Premier League Final Grade
I will start off by saying that the Ghana Premier League is one of my favorite leagues that I have discovered since we started this series of leagues around the world. You have to give credit for any league that has been around for over 60 years, in spite of the recent corruption issues. The fan safety issues at Accra are a concern as well, and especially the idea that it took them 6 years to even try to fix things after over 100 people died is unconscionable. That being said I am going to give the benefit of the doubt and operate on the assumption that the corruption was an isolated incident with a few bad apples. As far as the stadium issues in Accra, I feel like the trend of newer teams winning the titles shows that maybe there is some new money coming into the league, and it is going to push the older clubs to upgrade their facilities in order to compete.
That being said, I want to focus on the thing that truly impresses me about this league, and that is its ability to develop talented players that go on to be successful around the world. Like I mentioned above, this is a league that relies solely on domestic talent. A 78th place world ranking might not seem fantastic, but when you take into consideration that most of the leagues above them are importing players, and that Ghana is a nation of just about 25 million people, it is quite impressive. Even more so when you consider the amount of talent that is being exported out to other leagues. This is a league that is not only producing star talent for leagues around the world, but is also the engine driving the national team to be among the best in Africa. From a talent standpoint, in terms of the level of football that is being played, I would rank this grade somewhere in the B level when taking into consideration the quality of the guys who have gone to other leagues. Guys who are not just playing in, but staring in other leagues around the world. However, since the league is currently going through normalization and has not yet been reinstated, and I cannot operate fully on the assumption that the corruption has been rooted out, my final grade is incomplete.
Final Grade - Incomplete
(Note: many of the statistics in the article have been pieced together from various sources and are linked when possible.)