She has seen it all – Player, Referee and now Coach. Mercy Tagoe-Quarcoo belongs to the rare league of persons to have had a taste of almost all the facets of football.
An avid sportswoman, she played football to the highest level capping it with an appearance at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1999 in USA. It was Ghana’s first ever participation at the global championship and she prides herself in being a member of that golden generation. She was also a member of the Black Queens squad that lost to Nigeria in the final of the maiden African Women’s Championship in Nigeria in 1998.
After sometime on the pitch, Tagoe-Quarcoo called it a day. Her next stop was refereeing. She did excel in that field too. Named Ghana’s best referee in 2006, her exploits did not go unnoticed and she officiated at the continental level including the final match of the 2008 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (then African Women’s Championship) between Equatorial Guinea and South Africa, which the former won 2-1.
After blowing her whistle for the last time in 2012, she explored her versatility yet again, Coaching her next destination. Currently, she is the head coach of Ghana’s senior women’s national team. A mother of two, Tagoe-Quarcoo is also a Senior Officer with the Ghana National Fire Service.
In an exclusive interview with CAFOnline.com, the 42-year old opens up on her life in football as a player, referee and coach, amongst others. Below are excerpts;
CAFOnline.com: How did you get into football?
Mercy Tagoe: My passion for football developed at an early age. As a child, I loved everything sports. I started with volleyball, then to High Jump, where I was Western Regional champion during my secondary school days (at Fijai Secondary School). I was also involved in Tennis and Table Tennis. I used to play and watch football all the time and that in a way shaped my choice of courses at the University. I wanted to be part of Sports in any capacity. My first team was Supreme Ladies. After sometime, there was a merger between Supreme Ladies and Tema New Town Ladies with another club in Tema (Ghana’s industrial and port city) giving birth to Bluna Ladies.
How was your journey to the national team, Black Queens?
I was called up for the Black Queens in 1995. At the time, there were no age group women teams. Footballers in the region constituted a Greater Accra Regional team, and most of the players came from there. I was very happy with the call up because playing for your nation is the biggest dream of every player. By dint of hard work, we qualified for the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup in USA, after losing to host and rivals Nigeria in the final of the maiden Women’s Africa Cup of Nations (then African Women’s Championship). Some of my teammates were Alberta Sackey, Elizabeth Baidu, Genevive Clottey amongst others and we were the first Ghanaian team to play at a women’s global football championship. Upon our return from USA, I called time on my playing career.
When did you become a referee?
Actually, I got into refereeing at the twilight of my playing career. Somewhere in 1998, I was among the successful applicants who took part in the Fundamentals Refereeing course. After, I enrolled for the next level, Class Three (3) and was accredited as such. After three years, I earned promotion to Class Two (2).
When I had my Class 2 badge, I was still playing for the national team. In 2005, I was accredited as an international referee and received my FIFA badge. At this point, I started officiating in the Ghana Premier League. Prior to that, I was handling games in the lower divisions of Ghana football (thus Division 3, 2 and 1). The highlight of my refereeing career include officiating the final match of the 2008 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea, and also the 2010 FIFA U-20 Women’s World in in Germany. After some time, I reached the point where I realized the soul was willing but the strength of my body won’t be enough for me to continue refereeing; and at this point, I decided I took up coaching. So I went through the courses.
How has the coaching journey been so far?
Already, I had a Diploma in Coaching at the university, but I needed to get the other required certificates that will enable me coach any team in Ghana. I got my first certificate which was the CAF License C, then moved to License B and eventually License A, and that has helped me a lot in my career as a coach.
I began my coaching career with Prisco Minis, a popular Youth Club based in Tema. Later, I joined, Gye Nyame FC, a third-tier side also in Tema. In 2016, I made a leap to the top flight side to Amidaus Professionals, an as Assistant Coach, in the Ghana Premier League. Whilst with Amidaus Professionals, I went to Cameroon for a CAF Instructor’s Course, and never returned to the former upon my return. Rather, I switched to women’s football. The Management of Halifax Ladies, a second-tier side approached me and I agreed to join them. I have to put it on record that all this while it wasn’t about the money as I wanted to get a grip of the art before anything else. I took the job and qualified them to the Women’s Premier League.
When did you receive the national team call?
In 2018, I got my first shot at the national team as an assistant to then head coach Mas-Ud Didi Dramani (now with FC Nordsjaelland in Denmark). After an international friendly with France, Didi had the opportunity to travel to Denmark, leaving the Black Queens head coach position vacant.
In the interim, I took over the Black Queens, guiding them to the title at the WAFU Women’s Championship in Cote d’Ivoire. After that feat, I was informed by the Ghana Football Association to revert to my assistant role and understudy one of the top male coaches in the country (Bashir Hayford) as the team prepared for the Total Women’s Africa Cup of Nations Ghana 2018.
Earlier this year, I was confirmed head coach of Black Queens, becoming the first female coach of the team.
"During my heydays, we played for the fun of it and pride; but the game has taken a business turn. I remember when we came back from the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup in USA, and we were given USD 500 each, we were over the moon,"
What has been the role of your family to your football journey?
Fortunately, my family has always been supportive of me as a sportswoman. My children grew up seeing me as a sportswoman. They are used to it, happy and proud to have me. My husband (Daniel Anum Quarcoo) is also a sports person so he understands me. He was a goalkeeper for the national handball team. He has been my manager, counsellor, advisor and my love.
What are some obstacles along the road?
There have been many challenges, especially as a woman and a first timer. There are still people who are yet to accept the fact that women have the quality to coach top teams. I don’t begrudge them because they have their reasons. I believe that when you are learning on the job, it’s easier since more time equals more experience. To get here, it has been hard work because I didn’t seek favours. Another challenge is being a wife and a mother, as well as my employers (Ghana National Fire Service). The challenges are numerous, but I don’t personally like talking about them. I rather see them as motivational elements to work harder and prove to the doubters that I can really do the job.
What targets have you set as Black Queens coach?
Qualification to major competitions such as 2020 Total Women’s Africa Cup of Nations, FIFA Women’s World Cup and the Olympic Games. Ghana participated in the 2018 edition of the Women’s AFCON as hosts. Prior to that, qualification had been difficult for some time. The same applies to both the FIFA Women’s World Cup which our last appearance was in 2007. Also, Ghana has never qualified to the Olympic Games and its one of the things that I will want to achieve as a coach. I know it won’t be easy, but with the support of all stakeholders, we can achieve them.
Having been involved in the game for more than two decades, how do you compare the past to the present?
During my heydays, we played for the fun of it and pride; but the game has taken a business turn. I remember when we came back from the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup in USA, and we were given USD 500 each, we were over the moon. This was because the chance to play for the nation and wear the national jersey alone was enough. It was all about passion. During the match against Australia at the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup, tears rolled down my cheeks as the national anthem played out. I felt so proud in the national shirt with my hands on my chest, and knowing that my parents were watching me on television back home. That is the passion I am talking about, far different from what we see these days.
On the other hand, there is a huge shift regarding perception as parents now encourage their daughters to play football. I have been receiving calls from parents requesting for tryouts for their girls. It was the opposite when I started playing. Parents frowned on their daughters playing football and will prefer them concentrate on house chores. They perceived football as a men’s game.