Confused, Controversial or Cunning?: Bernard Dong Bortey Is Probably Just A Conflicted Soul
In the middle of Sunyani, even if only a pale shadow of its former self and crying out for a facelift, the Coronation Park retains its pride and name.
You’d have to travel over 120 kilometres, however, to find the ground honoured with the purpose of crowning the winners of Ghana’s elite men’s competitions this season. Within a two-week period, the Baba Yara Stadium has witnessed the coronation of Asante Kotoko as Premier League champions, and Accra Hearts of Oak as FA Cup kings.
The former enjoyed the fullness of the occasion far more, having sealed their title with games to spare. The ensuing 3-0 thrashing of already-condemned Elmina Sharks was just the icing on the cake, a literal walk in the park, topped by the party that followed.
A fortnight later, Hearts had a longer, less sure path to the podium.
Their league campaign had been a real wreck. Theirs had been the throne the Porcupine Warriors claimed, and Hearts were so bad in their defence that they finished a whopping 19 points behind the new champions. They lost their last four games in a manner that suggested the players had no more fight in them, and for head coach Samuel Boadu, the ominous writing was all over the wall.
To save Hearts’ season and – almost certainly – his job, Boadu had to sustain a strong FA Cup run and take it to a successful end. They’d won that trophy, too, last season, and to do it again would be quite some feat, one no club had managed since… well, Hearts themselves, at the turn of the century.
And they did pull it off, just not without sweating it out.
Their opponents, Bechem United, weren’t ready to hand it to them on a silver platter. The Hunters knew they were nowhere near as decorated as their opponents, but they’re former FA Cup champions themselves and, what’s more, they’d enjoyed a better season overall.
True to form, Bechem snatched the lead towards the end of the first half. But Hearts being Hearts – ‘never saying die until the bones are rotten’, eh? – fought back, drawing level before the half was over and scoring the eventual winner not long after recess. Both goals were stunning, by the way.
Cue unbridled ecstasy when the full-time whistle went.
The supporters were just as ecstatic as those that had covered the same pitch two Sundays prior, but their composition couldn’t have been more different; you could be sure, in fact, that not one member of the Phobian family present showed up when their archrivals had their turn.
Erm… not quite.
There is, actually, that one guy who graced, and was very visible at, both events: Bernard Dong Bortey, a man who is certainly no stranger to being in the eye of the storm as far as this rivalry is concerned.
From 2001, and for the best part of the next decade, Bortey enjoyed a long and successful spell playing for Hearts.
He established himself as one of the league’s most watchable players, the kind almost always guaranteed to give spectators their monies’ worth. Prime Bortey was the ultimate flair player, an entertainer who performed with consummate flamboyance on his day – most days, in fact.
But he also had a mean streak, that uncanny gift for sensing big moments during a game, seizing them, and going for the jugular. And few teams were more bruised and battered by Bortey’s special brand of terror than Kotoko, for whom he so often appeared to reserve his most devastating ammunition.
More than one Super Clash – as the Kotoko-Hearts fixture is known – has been decided by a Bortey masterstroke, most famously that time back in 2009 when he sent the Kumasi-based outfit reeling with a Cristiano Ronaldo-esque freekick. That moment remains, over a decade later, the stuff of legend, eternally etched on the minds of all who saw it.
At the receiving end of all that, though, might have been Hearts, not Kotoko.
The latter had almost landed Bortey while he was still a precocious teen with then top-flight side Ghapoha Readers, even having him in their grasp for a while. But just when Kotoko were on the verge of securing his talents, Hearts – the great foe – swooped to sway and sign him.
That U-turn, needless to say, didn’t enthuse the Kotoko fanbase – even though Bortey claims he returned all that he had received as enticement from his initial suitors – who entered his name in their bad books; it didn’t help, either, that Bortey went on to make Kotoko one of his favourite opponents.
That said, Bortey made no secret of the fact that he still fancied a stint at Kotoko as a player (that ship has definitely sailed now that he’s retired) or as a coach (probable, but don’t hold your breath).
Even so, it was rather curious, never mind shocking, to see Bortey make a ‘guest’ appearance on the day Kotoko were due to receive their 25th league title. He did more than just appear, though, emerging from the tunnel pre-match in the company of other former footballers, albeit ones who accomplished what Bortey never did: play [with distinction] for Kotoko.
He even engaged the fans, saluting them – and showing his ‘true colours’, with a Kotoko flag draped around his shoulders.
Well, yes, but Bortey did have his reasons.
“I am not a legend of Asante Kotoko but they gave me a nice reception,” he told Kumasi-based Pure FM.
“I don’t think the current leaders of Hearts of Oak understand football. They don’t allow the old players to get closer to the team. I don’t think the current players know some of us.
“It’s a big honor for me to join Asante Kotoko, I’m proud and I think I can add it to my achievements that there was a day Kotoko won the league and they invited me to join them.”
Oh, and he wasn’t finished.
In the days that followed, Bortey would offer Kotoko unsolicited tips on how to improve their chances of succeeding in the upcoming CAF Champions League campaign; namely, by adding three players to their squad, including a couple that would require that they raid Hearts.
Of course, Hearts fans weren’t at all pleased that their legend, their darling, had appeared to cross carpet – and then some – and that displeasure was loudly voiced. Bortey, it seemed, had become persona non grata in the Hearts camp, but that didn’t faze him at all.
He had one more surprise up his sleeve.
Given how his presence at the table of the ‘enemy’ had been received, Bortey was the last man anyone expected to see at the FA Cup final – yet there he was, among the earliest to arrive!
Bortey stepped off the Hearts bus along with the players, bearing the club’s flag. He proceeded, then, to address the few Hearts fans already at the venue, though without a word. Using only gestures – even getting on his knees – Bortey appealed to the fans, ostensibly expressing his contrition over recent events.
“I’m back home,” he seemed to say. “Back where I belong, and still one of your own.”
How far down the ears and hearts of the supporters Bortey’s pleas were drummed isn’t clear, but the club itself – players and officials, at least – appeared to have pardoned and embraced him. Post-match, Bortey was very much in the mix as Hearts celebrated a 12th FA Cup triumph, just as he was when Kotoko were basking in league glory.
What does all this make Bortey, then?
A two-faced fraud? An opportunist? Or some guy who just can’t make up his mind about anything?
It’s hard to tell, really.
Bortey, throughout his time in the public eye, has never strayed too far from the headlines, for reasons right or wrong, never scared to court controversy; if anything, he actually seems to relish it.
A hypocrite, though, he’s almost certainly not. Bortey is far too forthright, if you know him, not the kind to hide who he is or what he truly feels. If he fellowshipped with Kotoko, quite likely, it was because he was so moved by the ‘spirit’. If he did same with Hearts, it was possibly because he genuinely felt inclined to (even if just to atone for his ‘sins’).
His heart may just be split between the club he ended up making a name with and the one he retains unfulfilled dreams of representing in some capacity. Conflicted soul that he is, the enigmatic Bortey probably deserves to be pitied – or, at worse, completely ignored – more than criticised.
He’s no closer to figuring himself out, even after all these years, than we are to doing same.