It’s Official: Hearts’ Glorious Rainbow Emerges From the Gloom & an Aurora of Promise Appears
The result, in the end, didn’t matter; only the emotions felt by Accra Hearts of Oak’s players before and after the game did.
First, the pride of emerging from the WAFA Park’s tunnel to a guard of honour offered them by a team which — albeit of an entirely different composition — sank Hearts to their knees on this very pitch four years ago in the last completed top-flight campaign.
And then, a little over 90 minutes later, came the unbridled ecstasy that welcomed the final whistle of the game — and of the season — and what it meant: Hearts, officially champions of the 2020/21 Ghana Premier League.
If you thought the scenes that followed the previous matchday’s 1-1 home draw with Liberty Professionals that sealed the title for Hearts were euphoric, well, the freshly-minted champions went the whole nine yards here.
And why not?
This is a feeling Hearts haven’t savoured in 12 years of fruitless seasons and tons of heartache. In that period, they’ve seen other teams — archrivals Asante Kotoko and a handful of smaller clubs — crowned, each coronation a little harder to watch than the previous one.
But none of those experiences was anywhere near as chastening as the humiliation dished out to Hearts on June 4, 2017 in Sogakope by Saturday’s opponents, referred to at the outset.
That thumping resounded not just because it was Hearts’ worst loss in years; it was also quite illustrative, for those who chose to interpret it as such, of just how little fear/awe they inspired in any team, even one made up of a bunch of schoolboys.
Hearts have done quite a bit to exact a measure of revenge against WAFA — two 4-0 thrashings, one coming earlier this season — but the stench still seemed to hang in the air, even if not so heavily, whenever the two sides met.
Not this time, though.
Hearts’ players marched with heads held high unto a turf where they were once reduced to ten men and, ultimately, to nothingness. With their mannerly, respectful applause (although they showed little respect in subsequently raining on the Phobian parade with a 1-0 win), WAFA purged their guests of what remained of the shame inflicted all those years ago, memories of which are retained by some in the current Hearts team: Patrick Razak and skipper Fatawu Mohammed (on the field that day), Ben Mensah and Robert Addo Sowah (not so directly in the eye of the storm, as substitutes), and Caleb Amankwah (then a fresh-faced teen on WAFA’s books).
Mohammed, Razak and Sowah have been instrumental in Hearts’ redemptive, triumphant campaign, raising their game over the course of the season to deliver one brilliant performance after the other which culminated in creating the warm glow of glory that their club is now basking in.
Then there are the other protagonists who have contributed significantly to this achievement: goalkeeper Richard Attah; defenders Mohammed Alhassan and Raddy Ovouka; the duo of Benjamin Afutu Kotey and Emmanuel Nettey that have run the show in midfield; creative spark and Player of the Season contender Salifu Ibrahim; top-scorer Kwadwo Obeng Jr., and regular strike partner Daniel Afriyie Barnie.
And now to the man whose name should lead this honour roll, the brilliant tactician whose mid-season appointment as head coach has elevated this Hearts squad — nearly every member of it, really — and the spirits of their long-suffering fans: Samuel Boadu.
When Togbe Afede XIV, Hearts’ board chairman, handed Boadu the reins in March this year, he insisted that there was no pressure for the former Medeama trainer to win anything immediately.
“Ours is going to be a long-term relationship,” the businessman and traditional ruler said at Boadu’s unveiling.
“We would not set targets for him for this particular year or next year, we just want to be winning – winning match after match and that will come the trophies.”
In that sense, then, the rewards of the project have come quicker than anticipated.
It is, indeed, to Boadu’s credit that he has, within a few months, ironed out those flaws that many a coach has left Hearts with before he took charge, and produced an instant winning formula to secure his own first major piece of silverware.
They’ve won the league and are on course to reel in the FA Cup, too, the prospect — a domestic Double — of which would have been way beyond the wildest dreams of even the most hopeful Hearts supporter halfway into the season; heck, even if they only end up with the title, it’s still a truly big deal.
So what next?
Well, there will be visions of what Hearts, self-styled ‘Continental Club Masters’, could achieve in their first CAF Champions League campaign in a long while, but also the temptation to see this as the end of a quest, rather than the beginning of one.
The latter thought, though, should be firmly resisted; it’s the only way Hearts can kick on from here to greater things, home and abroad. Key to doing so would be consolidating the gains made, mainly by keeping as many of the aforementioned prized players as they can (something Hearts haven’t done too well in recent years, needless to say) and reinforcing with new ones.
There’ll be time to plan for all that, of course, in the coming weeks. For now, let it all — the emotions and the champagne — overflow.