In the 82 years they’ve coexisted on these shores, Asante Kotoko SC and Accra Hearts of Oak have contested a lot: league points, glory, bragging rights, signatures of big-name footballers, all sorts of titles, even continental silverware.
Come Sunday, October 29 this year, the eternal rivals would contend once more over something they haven’t had to fight about in quite a while (27 years, to be exact): the FA Cup. Surprisingly for a country that has had these two clubs so dominant for so long, the upcoming clash in Tamale would be only the fourth time they’d be contesting the ultimate in the 59-year history of Ghana’s oldest cup competition.
For a fact, Hearts are convinced they deserve the title and are well-motivated to go all out for it. After all, they haven’t ever beaten Kotoko in an FA Cup final, haven’t won a major honour for the best part of a decade and, for what it’s worth, they also just finished above the Porcupine Warriors in the league for a second season in a row. For all those reasons and more, the opposition’s camp would have you believe they are hungrier and on a slightly higher level than their archrivals per current form. Granted, Hearts may have all of the aforementioned factors (and probably more) propelling them — yet the force pushing Kotoko towards glory in the pair’s 5½th meeting this year (counting the uncompleted, Ghana @ 60 one legged Commemorative Cup game) is still greater.
Even the most devout Kotoko fan would admit 2017 hasn’t been memorable by any stretch. A rare season that saw the club not enjoy any continental football started with early struggles in the domestic league which prompted a change of head coach (on both temporary and permanent basis) quite a few times by mid-term. Just when things began to pick up in the second round under current boss Steve Polack, an unsettling motor accident involving the playing and technical bodies shook the Kotoko fraternity to its core, claimed the life of one of its long-serving and dedicated members — equipment officer Obeng Asare — and disrupted what, until then, had been a pretty steady momentum still under construction. In its aftermath, progress has continued alright, but not in leaps and bounds as many would have hoped; more like a slow, difficult recovery that has dragged the club inch by inch toward that light at the end of the tunnel. And that’s where the FA Cup final comes in: a fine opportunity to make the huge jump into said glow.
In many ways, it’s as though Kotoko’s 2017, with all of its twists and turns, has been building up to this point — you know, the big, banging crescendo. Beating Hearts to win the FA Cup wouldn’t suddenly make Kotoko the finished product the team is still some way off from being, as there awaits a full window during which Polack and the club’s transfer dealers would have to work on the various shortcomings, particularly the painfully blunt attack.
Nevertheless, victory will do Kotoko lots of good: surely a loud way to end a season that hasn’t exactly gone according to plan thus far, also inspiring confidence among fans regarding the future that lies ahead, grabbing a ticket for African football next season, increasing the gap in trophy count between them and the chasing pack while at it, and earning a fine financial reward alongside. And, of course, there is the small matter of Kotoko being able to give their record of success in recent FA Cup finals (one in four thus far) a bit more sparkle.
Uh, need I say more?
By Sammie Frimpong/asantekotokosc