After almost two decades of sober reflection over his violent conduct against former Kotoko coach, Ernst Middendorp, veteran coach Joseph Emmanuel Sarpong has regretted that spontaneous outburst.
About 10 minutes to full time during an epic league match between the then Premier League side, Okwawu United, and Kumasi Asante Kotoko at the Nkawkaw stadium in 2000, Coach Sarpong who was then in charge of Okwawu United, slapped Coach Middendorp of Kotoko for allegedly calling him a pig.
The Disciplinary Committee of the Ghana Football Association (GFA) later found Coach Sarpong guilty of violent conduct on the field of play and subsequently sanctioned him for a year. He was, however, asked to continue training his team during that period.
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“It was something that happened out of the blue and I have grown up with experience and departed from that behaviour. It was regrettable, especially so when he (Middendorp) invited me to dine with him after the incident.”
“He has since remained one of my best friends,” Coach Sarpong told the Graphic Sports in an exclusive interview.
He said moments after the incident, “Coach Middendorp, who knew that he had infringed the laws of the game by crossing over to my technical area after a warning from the then Match Commissioner, the late Opoku Fianko, turned away quietly,” he recalled.
Recounting what led to the incident, Coach Sarpong said his side was at that time leading Kotoko by a lone goal after one of his strikers, Ernest Boateng, powered home a freekick to break the deadlock in that tension-packed match.
He said in the course of the match, Kotoko earned a throw-in, which was to be effected by Emmanuel Nkrumah at a time he (Coach Sarpong) had stretched out his hand to issue instructions to his players.
According to Coach Sarpong, the Kotoko defender bumped into him from behind and fell down in the process.
He said moments afterwards, two Kotoko players — Joseph Hendricks and Godwin Ablordey — rushed on him (Sarpong) and accused him of attacking their teammate, but the assistant referee who was close to the action, retsrained them because he saw that the player dramatised the whole incident in order to win the sympathy of the fans.
“It was at this time that Coach Middendorp rushed from his technical area, ignored the advice of the Match Commissioner and drew closer to me to call me a pig. Before I realised, I had slapped him for that insult,” he explained further.
He attributed his action to youthful exuberance but insisted that such an action would never occur again, no matter how much he was provoked.
“How can such a thing happen again? I have now grown up with experience because a year after the incident I won the SWAG Coach of the Year award with Accra Great Olympics.
“I am certain that this will always remain part of my history,” he assured.