Midway through December 1997, the players, coaches, and officials of Goldfields Sporting Club found themselves on the brink of something unbelievable – something the modest mineworkers who founded the club almost two decades prior would never have imagined.
They had come a long way, from not being taken seriously enough by the management of the company they worked for – the Ashanti Goldfields Corporation (AGC) – to reaching a maiden FA Cup final all on their own strengths just six years later.
That success, though the final was eventually lost to Asante Kotoko (a far more illustrious opponent, it must be mentioned), caught the management’s attention and brought them on board.
Within the next decade, Goldfields would gain promotion to the top-flight, win the FA Cup and a first league title. Two more of the latter followed in quick succession, establishing the club as the dominant side at the dawn of the professional era in Ghanaian football.
The best, though, was still to come.
Following a couple of failed attempts, Goldfields managed to break through the ultimate barrier of Africa’s flagship inter-club competition in 1997, the very year it was upgraded to become the CAF Champions League.
That final represented the grandest platform Goldfields had ever graced at that youthful age, offering the greatest prize available for an African club at the time. Their opponents, Raja Casablanca, were more experienced campaigners – having even won the trophy once in a not-so-distant past – but Goldfields were unfazed.
They’d earned their place on that stage by overcoming equally formidable sides, the likes of Club Africain and Zamalek. Theirs, too, was a fine assembly of Ghanaian players — the likes of Agyemang Duah, Sammy Adjei (not the goalkeeper), Lawrence Adjei, Joe Okyere, and Kofi Deblah — fed, partly, by a quite productive academy.
Impressive, too, was the sprinkling of quality imports that made Herbert Addo’s team even better. At either end of the pitch, they had an outstanding Togolese – the legendary Nibombe Wake in goal, competition topscorer Kossi Noutsoudje in front of goal – with Ivorian midfielder Ibrahima Kone also in the mix.
That mix proved too strong for Raja in the first leg of the final at Goldfields’ Obuasi fortress, with the hosts winning by a 79th-minute Lawrence Adjei goal; if Goldfields could just avoid defeat in the reverse, a fortnight later, they would have reached the pinnacle and touched the sky.
It’s at that point this article begins – “midway through December 1997”.
Goldfields travelled to Casablanca on a mission to finish the job, to cause an upset, to make history. But Raja fought back fiercely, levelling in just about the same minute Goldfields scored in the first leg, sending the game into penalties and winning 5-4.
Yet even in defeat there was no shame, only pride at finally arriving at the high table of the African game. Goldfields had served continent-wide notice: they were on the up, and they were here to stay.
Midway through April 2022, the players, coaches, and officials of Ashantigold Sporting Club find themselves on the brink of something unbelievable – something the modest mineworkers who founded the club almost five decades prior would never have imagined.
The club has come a long way, from gracing a Champions League final to, well, the present.
In that period, there has been a drastic change in fortunes, with the traditional Ghanaian heavyweights, Kotoko and Accra Hearts of Oak, resurging to claim their place atop the power rankings and consigning Ashgold to being, at best, the country’s third force.
There has also been – you may have noticed in the last few paragraphs – a change of name, courtesy of a ‘change’ in ownership in 2004 that saw AGC merge with South Africa-based AngloGold to become AngloGold Ashanti (AGA).
(In 1999, Dutch outfit Ajax Amsterdam took charge as majority shareholders, with a 51% slice, before withdrawing in 2003 to return the club fully to AGC.)
That transition was rather seamless – blink, and you would have missed it – with business continuing as usual.
But then came another phase of the club’s existence, in 2018, when reins completely changed hands, following AGA’s transferal of their rights to altogether new ownership led by local entrepreneur Dr. Kwaku Frimpong.
There was some wariness in Obuasi about being ushered into an era in which the only obvious ties Ashgold had with its roots was their Len Clay Stadium home and the players’ best-in-the-land residential arrangement, although much of that initial skepticism was dispelled by Dr. Frimpong’s promises of generous cash injections.
The doubts returned in 2020, when Dr. Frimpong handed over the day-to-day administration of the club to his 27-year-old son, Emmanuel Frimpong. Questions were in order about whether the younger man had enough steel to steer the affairs of a club of such magnitude, but the kid — this new Chief Executive Officer — could certainly talk big.
“We want to make Ashgold one of the biggest clubs in Africa,” he is reported to have told Fox FM at the time, “not only in Ghana.”
Exactly a year later, however, Ashgold were in the news for reasons that weren’t exactly in line with those lofty ambitions.
The club finished an underwhelming 2020/21 Ghana Premier League season on a high, thrashing already-relegated Inter Allies 7-0. Not everyone was impressed by the result – or, at least, the nature of it – as some of the goals smacked of collusion and manipulation on both sides to produce a specific outcome.
Those suspicions, after the game, were confirmed by Allies’ Hashmin Musah, who had played a small part in knocking the final, farcical scoreline into cricket territory.
“I heard it in our hotel that a bet had been made for a correct score line of 5 goals to 1 against my club Inter Allies,” he said in a radio interview.
“I decided to spoil that bet because I don’t condone betting.”
Those statements certainly lit the blue touch-paper, sending the two camps up in smoke. If the Ghana Football Association (GFA) sought a cue to act, Musah – the hero, if there was one to be had, in all of this – had sent them one, and it was now their duty to find the smoking gun.
Investigations ensued and continued deep into the new season, with a conclusion not yet forthcoming. Pressure ramped up on the GFA to hasten the process and deliver a verdict. That call has now been heeded and, to the surprise of nobody, the Aboakese has come crashing.
Fourteen Ashgold players have copped bans ranging from 24-48 months in length, members of the technical team didn’t go unscathed, while the Frimpongs have been banned a total of 216 months and fined heavily, too.*
Oh, the club itself?
Scythed, all the way down to the third tier of the Ghanaian league football pyramid.
All of that, of course, is subject to an appeal and, quite possibly, an easing of the various sanctions. That said, anything short of an overturned verdict – and, please, don’t hold your breath – leaves the club tainted for good.
It would spell quite a fall from the heady heights of the nineties – and even from last season, when Ashgold came within just a couple of missed penalties of winning only a second FA Cup crown.
How Ashgold came to this would take a thorough inquisition to fathom, and the resulting report should make for a deeply insightful study on how not to lose one’s way through the twists and turns of time.
Much more than just their way, though, Ashgold are here because they’ve lost their honest beginnings and the moral compass its founders endowed the club with all those years ago. The Miners, clearly, have dug their own pit and descended into it – into hell.
And now they’re left to contend with their imminent fate – the punitive relegation sentence doesn’t kick in until next season if that’s any consolation – as surreal as it seems at present; hopefully, they’d learn their lessons from this tragic, cautionary tale when the ordeal is all over.
Not just them, though, is it?
Let the one who has ears, listen.
*For details of the judgment dished out to the Allies camp, see here.