When I decided to come to Ghana for a year I knew there would be highs and lows, successes and challenges, and those oh so special experiences you know are coming at some point but you aren't sure when.
Our radio show finished today and the host, Emanuel, told me he had someone he wanted me to meet. I am leaving for Accra tomorrow but I didn't have any plans for this evening so I said, "Why not? Who is it you have for us to visit?"
He told Baako and me about a local fellow named Amusa Gbadamoshie who played for the Ghana National Football Team in the 1960s and who lived in Bimbilla now.
On the way to Amusa's home, I was told about his life. He was a striker on the 1965 Africa Cup of Nations winning team, the most outstanding player on the 1968 Olympic Team, and a man who once scored on Pele in a match in 1969. His career spanned 24 years on teams in the African leagues from Ghana to Nigeria. He was once known as Ghana Pele because of his skills on the ball. I was definitely intrigued.
Amusa is 70 years old and lives in the home he was born in all that time ago. Football wasn't lucrative for African players in the time he played and sadly he now lives in poverty in Bimbilla.
We parked our motorcycles and walked down an alley sandwiched between two mud brick homes with thatched roofs. I stepped over a trench dug to allow the waste water and urine to flow from the drains in the floor of the homes. We rounded the corner and came to a cement wall with a rickety door that allowed entrance into the compound of hand built concrete block rooms that comprised Amusa's home.
There was a small man in a sleeveless yellow shirt sitting on a bench. He had a small transistor radio up to his ear. You could make out the announcers calling a football match in English. He looked in our direction and reluctantly stood up.
Emanuel introduced us and we all sat for what I hoped would be an interesting chat. In the beginning, it almost seemed as if Amusa was annoyed by our presence. He seemed a bit gruff and I wondered if we would even manage to get ten minutes with him. Emanuel suggested that he tell us about his issues with the Retired Footballers Association in Ghana. Amusa's bitterness at his situation was apparent from the time he began speaking.
He went on to tell us about the money that was set aside as a pension of sorts for the aged players who were once paid little to nothing for their skill. The money was mismanaged by corrupt members of the association and the players once again received little if any. Amusa told us a story of going to Accra to meet with the association and being paid ten cedis before leaving- roughly $2.50. Bimbilla to Accra is a 35 cedi bus ride that takes 14 hours.
He would speak in short bursts and pause when it seemed the anger was welling up just a little too much. He would sometimes stare off into the distance for a moment and compose himself. He looked like a man who was well practiced at containing his frustration over the situation. My heart went out to him even though I had no real idea of his legend as a player in Ghana at that point. Footballers are multi-millionaires now and here he was having lived the remainder of his life a poor man after his career.
I worried that Amusa was getting agitated so I questioned him about his playing career. He slowly related stories of what it was like to travel the world as a young man from a village. After the Olympics in 1968, numerous clubs around Mexico City made him offers to play but he said "Mexico City might as well have been a million miles away from Ghana. I wanted to continue to play closer to home."
As he continued reminiscing about the matches it was like watching pebbles slide away from a dam and the planks loosen. The water coming out in a small stream at first, then in a rush as the rest crumbles. Amusa it seemed was transported to another place as he remembered his playing days. A smile spread across his face and he had a twinkle in his eye as he relayed the story of his team's match with Pele.
"He was great, right? One of the greatest?"
"Yes, sir!" I told him.
"He was even better than that. More than you can imagine. His passing? Beautiful."
Amusa had his picture made with Pele in the locker room following the match. I sat there wondering what it must have been like to share a pitch with the legend. He went on
"I don't watch matches on television. The players make me mad with all their missed opportunities to score so I listen on my radio so I don't have to see them. Besides this is the way we always used to have to keep up with the games."
I informed Amusa that I am writing a book about my time here and that I would like to spend some more time with him and talk with him about his life. He then shut down a bit and told me about journalists and how they lie if you don't say what they want you to. There has been friction for years with Amusa and the Ghanaian Football Association over their handling of the monies meant for the men who were the foundation of the national football program.
"I wouldn't say the things they wanted. I wouldn't play their games. I am the only living player in the northern region who is a part of the retired footballers association and they never contact me anymore."
I assured him that my motives are only to tell the story of my time here in Ghana and that I would simply write what he told me.
"If you write about me will YOU tell the truth?"
"Amusa, you're damn right I will."
We took our leave and I went to the building where we watch football matches. I began to research his life.
I discovered the dispute online and how he was proven right by the small websites who researched his claims. I also discovered news coverage like this:
"If many Hearts supporters have complained of losing Osei Kofi, the dribbling wizard to Kotoko, many of them are now or have already forgotten him and cannot believe the dribbling sensation, Amusa Gbadamoshi. He was a class of his own and many people really wanted to see more of the player they have started calling "Amusa Pele".
"Amusa Gbadamoshi, the young and prolific goal-getter has earned the accolade of "the brightest" discovery of the season will be on show and provide the real fireworks for Hearts attacking machine. When Hearts of Oak's "Pele" Amusa is around, a nightmare is created for goalkeepers."
"Amusa Gbadamoshi has beaten all the great Stars of the tournament to became a true revelation in Mexico. According to report reaching Ghana, Amusa played so amazingly that many of the Mexicans just wanted to have a glimpse of him anywhere he went."
"Ghana's Amusa Gbadamoshi of Accra Hearts of Oak emerged as Ghana's best player during the Mexico 1968 Olympics games."
I look forward to seeing where this part of the story goes from here. I have a feeling Amusa has much more to say.