Less than 40 days after suffering the heartbreak of a promotion playoff loss to Nsoatreman, Tamale City returned to the Accra Sports Stadium for another crack at climbing to the Ghana Premier League for the very first time.
On the second attempt, they were required to play two games and finish top of a three-team mini-league table.
Their challengers, Liberty Professionals and Ebusua Dwarfs, had decades of topflight experience — some of it recent — between them, and City, who haven’t been around very long, were really up against it; the odds, even in the high-stakes encounter with Nsoatreman, weren’t this high.
In the end, though, they prevailed – well, just about.
For a team that scored the most goals in the entire 2021/22 Division One League (regular season) – reflecting in a very healthy goal difference – City didn’t quite have their foot on the accelerator in the playoffs, but they did the needful to get themselves over the line.
Ultimately, against equally capable opponents, it was City’s steely resolve that gave them the edge.
Two days after pipping Liberty Professionals 1-0, City held Dwarfs to a draw last Monday, earning their place as the substitute for disgraced and demoted Ashantigold — and as one of four new sides set to make their Premier League debut in the 2022/23 campaign.
That ascent feels overdue.
They were on course to attain that ‘elite’ rank in 2018 before a corruption scandal brought the entire Ghanaian football pyramid crashing, forcing a hard reset that extinguished City’s hopes of promotion.
“But for the ‘Anas exposé’,” head coach Mohammed Hamza argues, “I think we would have been four or five seasons in the Premier League [already].”
They were also in the running two seasons ago before losing their footing as the race narrowed to a showdown between Sunyani-based Bofoakwa Tano and City’s local rivals Real Tamale United (RTU), with the latter emerging triumphant in a thrilling photo-finish.
But City recovered from that, and also from the setback mentioned at the outset, to finally reach their long-desired destination.
“Our intention was always to be in the Premier League,” Hamza, part of the group that secured Ghana’s place at a maiden FIFA World Cup 17 years ago, said after qualification had been sealed.
Now, they’d get to show just how ready they are for this challenge.
The story of neighbours RTU – for whom Hamza starred during his playing days – last season on their return to the Premier League after a lengthy absence offers a cautionary example of the testing times that await City.
RTU put up a brave fight and eventually survived, but not with any measure of ease.
The burden of covering a greater aggregate distance than any other team in the league certainly took its toll, and complaints about dried-up streams of funding grew louder as the season went on, to the frustration of head coach Shaibu Tanko (who is no more at post, by the way).
If City are as well-resourced as is believed, they probably wouldn’t feel the financial strain of all that travel as much as they would the physical, but there are other harsh realities a newly-promoted side would inevitably have to grapple with.
Time to nurse those anxieties would come later, though.
All that City and their city, Tamale, are feeling – and, indeed, have the right to feel – at present is unbridled delight. After waiting eight years to savour the cream of domestic football, Ghana’s biggest northern capital has now seen two of its clubs go up in quick succession – a bit like what they say about London buses, eh?
Support will henceforth be split, but in a way that the natives will no doubt relish, and that first Tamale Derby – on Matchday 4 – can’t come soon enough.
Yaw Frimpong – Ink & Kicks