Mr Kwame Owusu is fondly remembered as one of the best midfielders the nation has ever produced so far as the game of hockey is concerned. His dribbling skills, ball control, striking prowess and versatility in handling the hockey stick endeared him to many hockey fans, including the late President J.E.A Mills, who was the Chairman of the Management Committee of the national junior hockey team. It was such qualities that won him many hearts and inspired managements to appoint him as the skipper of the junior national hockey team before he was invited to the senior national hockey team after graduating from the university. Moments after graduating from the university, he was plucked by Accra-based Citizens International Hockey Club, and he played various roles to propel the team to win many gala, knockout and league trophies.
Graphic Sports’ George Ernest Asare engaged the versatile player in an exclusive interview in which he recalled the role he played in helping Legon to win the Ghana University Students Association (GUSA) Games against highly-favoured KNUST in 1982. He also bemoaned the challenges militating against the development of hockey in the country and suggested what should be done to make the game more appealing to the present generation.
Below are excerpts of the interview:
Graphic Sports (GS): You are considered to be one of the kingpins of hockey development in Ghana. As a player, and now more than a philanthropist inspiring the youth to go into the sport, how did you get into hockey?
Kwame Owusu (KO): I had the interest of playing hockey at the basic level when I started carryng the sticks and balls of my senior brother and uncles who were hockey players. They were in secondary school at the time, so anytime they were on vacation, I carried their sticks and balls to the hockey pitch at Akim Oda and watched them play.
Over time, I learnt how to use the hockey sticks to control balls, dribble and score goals. These were the basic skills I acquired before going to secondary school. When I gained admission to Oda Secondary School, I had a fair idea of how to play hockey competitively.
That was the genesis of delving into hockey as a player. Oda Secondary was a school with a Sixth Form then, but by form two, I had been called into the school team, so that tells you about my quality even at that age because I competed with big boys in a big secondary school like Oda.
GS: Are you implying that at the second year in your second cycle education, you were playing competitive hockey in the Eastern Region?
KO: Exactly so. I had acquired the skills by the time I gained admission. I was lucky because I was in a boarding school at Akropong before being admitted to Oda Secondary School.
I was therefore used to boarding school life before gaining admission into secondary school, so playing competitively at the basic level and combining my academic work with sports made it easy for me.
When I went to form one, there were about four of us who were actively playing hockey. That explains why I was able to handle a hockey stick and performed creditably at the secondary school level in the first year.
So I can say that hockey came to us naturally in secondary school form one, and in form two, we were in a class of our own. In Form three, we were actively playing in the school team.
GS: How competitive was hockey in secondary school at the time?
KO: It was very competitive because, aside Oda Secondary School, others such as Okuapeman, St Peter’s, Suhum and Asamankese secondary schools, were playing competitive hockey.
GS: How did your school fare in comparison with the other schools?
KO: I left Oda Secondary School at Form five, but between Form Three and Form Five, the only school that succeeded in defeating us was St. Peter’s. All the schools had a lot of quality players but Oda Secondary School was always second during my time. We went to the final on three occasions, indicating that we beat all the other schools. Sadly, however, we never won the trophy because St Peter’s always beat us in the grand finale.
GS: Who were some of your teammates at Oda in those days?
KO: One of them who readily comes to mind was Abaa Ankrah, aka AAA, who was our goalkeeper. Sadly, however, he is deceased now. Others were Kofi Opuni who went to Cape Coast University, and one Omane. Together, we kept the Oda hockey team afloat and always went to the grand finale during regional competitions, but St Peter’s always denied us the opportunity to hold the regional trophy.
GS: Did you by any chance play in the national team in those days?
KO: No. It was when I gained admission into the University that I had an opportunity to play for the national team. I was initially called to the junior national team in 1980 and was appointed as the skipper.
Our most competitive match at the time was against the senior side. At that time Ghana had invited the Yugoslavia national team for a friendly match in Ghana so we were in camp preparing for a tournament that I cannot recall now.
The Chairman of the Ghana Hockey Association at that time was Mr K.N. Owusu, who was the Chief Executive of Cocobod Board and Ghana Commercial Bank and the Chairman of the Management Committee of the junior national team was the late President J.E.A. Mills. I remember the two, came to inform the players that they had bet on our match against the senior national team which motivated us but eventually the match ended in a 1-1 draw. They arranged another friendly with the senior side which Prof Mills was sure we could win, but the match didn’t come off.
It was at that time that we played the Yugoslav national team and lost 0-1, while the senior national team beat them 2-1.
I then had an opportunity to play for the national team afterwards and one thing led to another until I completed university and had to leave Accra for my National Service at Ejisuman Secondary School.
However, I was commuting between Kumasi and Ejisu for my National Service so I joined some hockey teams in Kumasi to develop my skills until I returned to Accra to join Citizens Hockey Club which was formed by the late Mr Erick Quarcoo.
GS: Before then can you tell us when you entered the University and your performance in those days?
KO: I entered the University of Ghana in 1979, and anyone who played hockey in those days knew me personally. This was because, unlike football which has a large number of players, the community that played hockey was very small, so before entering university, players who played hockey during secondary school such as Okuapeman, St. Peter’s, Suhum and Asamankese knew each other.
Since we used to train at the national hockey pitch on Tuesdays and Thursdays, we met friends and played together and became very familiar with each other. Before entering University therefore, I had met a couple of people who were masters on their own so far as the game of hockey was concerned. I was by then playing for the Under Writers - the SIC team - which was part of the Greater Accra Hockey League.
That explains why I was in the school team at the first year in the University and played until the third year when I was elected the General Secretary of the Amalgamated Clubs in the University of Ghana. The late Prof Mills was the Chairman of the Amalgamated Club so I had a long working relationship with him, essentially in hockey from 1979 until he became the President of Ghana after the 2008 general elections.
GS: Was it at the University that you met the late President or before you entered?
KO: I met him before entering the University in 1979. I was elected as the General Secretary of the Amalgamated Clubs in 1981 and skipper of the University of Ghana hockey team with the Prof as the Chairman, so I had a good working relationship with him at that time. As the General Secretary and skipper, I naturally carried everybody along, and anytime we attended conferences outside Ghana, Prof Mills drove from Ghana to attend the Conference in Togo. We also went to Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire as well, and all in all, he treated me like his child.
GS: What were some of the matches that easily come to mind during your time at Legon?
KO: One match that left an indelible mark on my mind was during a GUSA games in Kumasi in 1982. At the GUSA games, we always played hockey as a league and in our final match we met KNUST with the winner carrying the trophy at stake. In those days, the teams that converged in Kumasi were Cape Coast University, Winneba, Legon and KNUST. In the first match between KNUST and Winneba, the former which had about seven national team players, whipped Winneba 6-1.
We also won our matches to meet KNUST in the final and, with their cream of players, they felt on top of the world and thought we would be an easy prey to devour. Incidentally, we also had about three national team players who had played with their mates as a team for a while.
When the game started, KNUST scored the first goal but we worked very hard to win the match 2-1 and took the glittering trophy at stake. After the match, the hockey pitch turned out to be a funeral grounds for our opponents because they virtually wept like babies who had been robbed of their precious toys.
I will never forget that match because we did not consider ourselves as underdogs, but our opponents assumed that because of the number of national players in their team, they could beat us easily. Eventually, we proved a tough nut for them to crack.
GS: You also spoke about the Citizens club in Accra. How did you join?
KO: I was invited by Mr Erick Quarcoo who had seen me play in the Greater Accra Hockey League, so he knew me personally. At that time, I had completed my National Service, so when I returned to Accra and was working at the National Service Secretariat, he invited me to join Citizens which I had been playing for since then.
GS: Why did the founders name the club Citizens International?
KO: This question is philosophical. In actual fact I was only interested in playing hockey at that time and since the name was chosen by the founders, who were Messrs K.N. Owusu, Adu Mante and Nii Acquaye Ankrah. I did not bother myself to find out why such a name.
GS: What are some of the achievements of Citizens since you joined almost four decades ago?
KO: I wish someone else will talk about the achievement of Citizens. This is because I am still in the team, but we started as a small club in Accra around 1984 after my national service. However, when I joined as a young man, we gave the other teams a run for their money. I remember we used to play gala each year before resuming the league competition, and on two occasions we went to the finals with Exchequers in the grand finale and won on each of the two occasions. The winning of the gala tournament marked the beginning of making a name for Citizens which had continued up to date.
Since then, we have also won a couple of other tournaments, including the league on many occasions, as well as being at the finals on countless times . However, it is the spirit we have been carrying with us over the years that had brought us this far. Along the line, we have had a couple of young men who had joined the club, and this had also propelled us to higher levels over the years.
I can therefore say that Citizens has gone beyond a hockey club, and the vision of the three people who formed Citizens International was not only good but has yielded fruitful results.
Their vision of selflessness, care for one another and positive social interactions , especially when any member of the club was in need is what had bonded us together over the years. We sometimes travel together in a bus for long journeys such as Wa to attend funerals and naming ceremonies among other social events to meet the needs of our members. This kind of selflessness, devotion to duty and care for one another is what had propelled us to this level.
GS: You indicated earlier that you played the role of a striker. Why did you move to midfield?
KO: As a young man in secondary school, I had the energy to run very fast so I started playing as a striker. But in the university I played as a midfielder just as I did when I joined Citizens, in my old age I am now a defender. This is because I can no more run as I used to do.
GS: What turned you from a striker into a midfielder at the university level, because you were still young at that time?
KO: We invited the Under Writers Hockey Club in Accra for a friendly with Akim Oda and during the match, the player who was to play in midfield was not available, so I was conscripted to play in midfield instead of striking. When Mr Addoquaye Ankrah, who was the captain of the team saw me play in midfield, he advised that I remained a midfielder because, to him, I played the role better than as a striker. I can say that day’s performance at Akwatia transformed me from a striker to a midfielder. That is how I started playing the midfield role afterwards.
GS: What do you want to be remembered for as a hockey star?
KO: This is a tough question and I wish another person could answer that. But what I can say in particular is that of the penalty goals I scored against Exchequers during our two encounters at the grand final of the Gala tournaments in Accra. On both occasions, the champion was decided by penalty strokes, and I was the last to take the penalty stroke which was to decide the champion. I scored against our opponents to win the trophy for Citizens.
GS: Can we therefore conclude that you are an expert in penalty strokes?
KO: In those days I could say I was an expert, but now I will run away. If there is a penalty in any match I do not go near it at all.
GS: During your days, hockey was considered one of the attractive sports in Ghana. But over the years the attraction of hockey seems to be dwindling. Why is hockey not developing as fast as football in Ghana?
KO: Hockey is not growing because it is now considered as an elitist game. This is because the amount of investment needed in hockey before one could actively play the game is far higher than football which is a street game. Regarding football, all you need is a round and flexible object on a small pitch.
You can play it at the backyard, compound and even on a lonely street and once you can exhibit your skills, you are ready to play. But with hockey, you don’t only need a standard ball but also a stick and how to handle the stick proficiently. Football doesn’t need a coach at the basic level. Toddlers can play it without a coach, but the same does not apply to hockey.
Handling the stick very well is a skill one needs to learn more meaningfully because you can hit with the wrong side of the stick to affect play.
The ingredients that would propel you to play hockey is quite costly, especially in our part of the world where the economy is not growing at the pace which makes it possible to take care of the lesser sports.Until something dramatic happens, many of these lesser sports may die off unless it is propped up by philanthropists, organisations and institutions who desire to see the sport grow.
It is for this reason that some of us are still playing because we think we have something to offer the younger generation. If we decide that we are tired of supporting its growth, the sport will die an unnatural death. While many people play football to make money, those in hockey spend money to play the game, so it is a selfless way of promoting the game in our part of our world.
GS: What in your view should be done to promote the game in Ghana?
KO: We need many more hockey pitches in Ghana just as football. The hockey pitch at Akim Oda has overgrown, making it impossible to play the game there. Many of the lesser-known sports have also been killed at the second cycle level due to the academic calendar provided by the Ghana Education Service. During our time, we stayed in the boarding house for seven long years, a situation that offered us an opportunity to develop our potentials well in our respective disciplines. At the moment, there is a three-year Junior High School from home and a three-year Senior High School in the boarding house.
This period is insufficient to perform well in school even if you have the potential. If you are not a genius, there is no way you can do well in school. During our time, some students exhibited their potentials in athletics, football, hockey, volleyball and other disciplines when in forms four, five or at the sixth form before becoming national stars.
This happened because in form one they were shy and refused to participate in school competitions. However, they started picking up in form two and form three and excelled at the higher levels, but the present academic calendar is not friendly to exhibit such potentials and therefore deny the nation the opportunity of benefiting from such talents.
To be continued