The Homecoming: Kumasi, Kotoko Set to Renew Vows after Months Apart
To say Asante Kotoko have missed their home, the Baba Yara Stadium, is quite an understatement.
For the best part of eight decades, Kotoko have drawn inspiration and vital energy from the arena’s terraces, planting unforgettable memories on its greens. It’s the scene of some of the greatest triumphs in the club’s history, the edifice in whose bowels legends have been forged.
And so the parting (necessitated by the closure of the stadium for a much-needed face-lift), following a goalless draw with regional foes Ashanti Gold in February 2020, inevitably dealt Kotoko a blow.
The team found new homes: in Accra, first, and then, much closer to base, in Obuasi. Both were welcoming, but which football team ever found any pleasure in sharing space with a big rival — two, in this case — never mind the stress of traveling several miles too far for a ‘home’ game?
Kotoko won just 11 of those 23 matches, losing 7. Depending on who you ask — most people, really — it was the loss of their fortress and its familiar comforts that ultimately blunted Kotoko’s edge in the title race with arch-rivals Accra Hearts of Oak last season.
I don’t disagree.
The away form was impressive, but maybe if Kotoko hadn’t traveled so many miles away from home they wouldn’t have dropped so many points at ‘home’. Might they have stood a better chance in Kumasi of beating, rather than being held by, WAFA or Hearts? Or would they, perhaps, still have lost to Aduana Stars or Medeama?
Well, we won’t have to wonder anymore: on Sunday, Kotoko stage a return to a Baba Yara Stadium that looks better than they left it nearly 21 months ago — and, hopefully, a return to form.
For the Garden City, as much as for the team itself, this — the grandest of homecomings — is a pretty big deal. Kotoko have missed Kumasi no less intensely than Kumasi has missed Kotoko, and there appears to be no time more opportune for both to be locked in that long-awaited embrace.
You could tell that much from the chants that drowned the honking as the team bus crawled out of the Accra Sports Stadium last Saturday evening, following the dramatic victory snatched late from the jaws of apparent defeat to Dreams FC on the new season’s opening matchday.
Adapting the lyrics of a popular local gospel song to their emotions, they belted out in the Twi language (do pardon if this English translation doesn’t do it much justice): “If we’re experiencing this much joy in [Accra], just imagine what Oseikrom promises!”
Oseikrom, for the unacquainted, is just one of the monikers by which the good people of Kumasi affectionately refer to their beloved city.
Even more would love to be present for the homecoming itself, a game that would see Kotoko take on the side they first encountered in a ‘home’ match when they relocated early last year — Bechem United.
It is a pity, though, that not as many as possess the desire and the means to grace the occasion would have the privilege of doing so; vaccines might be slowly loosening the grip of COVID-19, but restrictions — whisper it, please — remain in place. This, otherwise, might have been one of those days when the city converges in the stadium, a population of over three million condensing into just about 40,000.
Football — and I say this with the utmost respect to co-tenants King Faisal, who hosted the first official game at the new-look venue over the weekend, against WAFA — is returning to Kumasi.
And in Kumasi, football — in its purest, unadulterated form and flavour — is Kotoko.