Note: This piece first appeared on Allsports.com.gh, now Pulse Sports, on the 23rd of December 2013.
There was something striking about how the woman outside the Darkuman-Bubuashie 'Charity' Park spoke.
“If it wasn't for penalties they wouldn't have beaten us, Our boys have really done well, or don't you think so?” she said with a conspicuous glint of affection at the end of the game.
The woman, a vendor, had set up her food stand just outside the fenced park and had watched her local side Charity Stars lose gallantly to Premier League side Liberty Professionals on penalties in the Round of 64 stage of this season's FA Cup. This was after a heated 90 minutes that saw them, a division two side, admirably match Liberty boot for boot.
It was that sense of affiliation and pride in her tone that was striking.
The woman wasn't alone. Hundreds of other fans – all predominantly inhabitants of the adjoining towns of Darkoman and Bubuashie – turned up in their numbers at the stadium to watch their club do them proud with their sheer bravery and resilience against a more experienced Liberty Professionals side. Few clubs in Ghana can boast of such a close, emotional bond with their communities. It was a moving atmosphere.
Throughout the game, fans huddled frenetically around the dusty pitch, some sitting on walls and others clinging on closely to the fence to get a clearer view of their heroes. They applauded every pass and every tackle, and moaned passionately at every miss in a show of solidarity that was fascinating. When they went down by a goal to nil on the hour mark, they kept believing they would claw back. And they did too, albeit eventually losing 3-4 from the ensuing spot kicks.
On the pitch, it never looked like there was a gulf between both sides. Two long, complicated tiers separate the two sides, but Charity Stars – in their spirited blue kit – were calm and collected in possession. Coach Francis 'Olembe' Owusu's boys didn't look intimidated. They didn't look fazed. There was a refreshing absence of inferiority complex. “If they know how to play, we also know how to play. It doesn't matter if they are a Premiership side!” a hysterical fan shouted.
It is a sign of how far this team has come to even have such expectation.
Rev Owusu Amoah's Gentiles Revival Ministries started Charity Stars Football club as a social welfare wing of their Christian ministries in 1992.
“He [Rev Amoah] was then offering donations and other charity work in and around the area, and in the process, came across a group of young community boys who were good at football but didn't have any avenue to further their talent,” CEO of the club, Samuel 'Sammy' Owusu Amoah, who is the son of Rev Amoah, tells allsports.com.gh. “So he decided to help them by galvanizing them to form a colts club.”
The club was thus birthed from the Ministries' outreach programme as a community welfare project, and has since been shaped by it's ideals. Reverend Amoah, alongside his congregation in their London Headquarters remit funds for the running of the club.
Originally set-up as a colts (grassroots) club, they only started playing competitive Division two football two years ago.
They play at the modest Charity Park, formerly referred to as Future Park. The pitch, all sand and dust with chalk-like white field markings, is surrounded by a fence separating the inner perimeter from the area for fans. Canopies are erected close to the touchline serving as areas for teams' benches and match commissioner's corner.
Just outside the pitch is a church building still noticeably under construction and is used by the ministries for church community church sessions. The building also doubles as the team's dressing room.
The club identifies itself as a christian religious outfit, and it is very evident in their way of doing things. “The philosophy of the old boy [Rev Amoah] is to make the boys believe that there's nothing like juju in football. All they have to do is to train well, work hard and pray and God will see them through,” Amoah says.
It's a way of life.
Before their game with Liberty, the squad gathered together and spent close to 30 minutes singing strictly christian songs of motivation – before following it up with prayers and worship. Close to an hour to the game, gospel songs serenaded the atmosphere through a Public Address system.
“Everything we do revolves around the church,” Amoah elaborates. “And we take discipline very seriously too. As you can see our boys are very focused and respectful. I'm sure you've noticed we keep it simple too. No funny, weird hairstyles!” he laughs.
The team's technical director is the legendary Ghanaian coach Emmanuel Kwesi 'EK' Afranie,himself a well-known stern disciplinarian. He is also a youth football specialist, having had three stints with Ghana's Under 17 team since the early 90s.
Afranie, affectionately referred to as “Coach hene”, is responsible for implementing Charity Stars philosophy of instilling belief in and developing youth players – not necessarily for market purposes, but also as a way of helping the players make something of their lives and their community. A way of making Darkoman-Bubuashie better place.
“Our philosophy youth development philosophy coupled with our style of play has won as many admirers,” Amoah says. “It initially started out with a primary community focus, but now, we recruit players from all over the country. Most of our boys who played today have been here since they were 12. We camp them, feed them and put them in schools too.”
“Charity has a unique style of play that sets us apart from all the other clubs around this area. You can see our surroundings are dominated by mechanics and they love good football,” he continues. “They call us “the Barcelona of Bubusashie”. I think it is that which has made us garner a lot of support.
“There have been countless products,” he adds. “We've had the likes of Obed Ansah [currently playing for Hearts of Oak], Bawah Mumuni and Jonathan Quartey amongst others.”
There are other really good players at the club too. Attackers James Arthur [actually an Under 15 player], Paul “Eto'o” Ayongo and Frank Abbeyson were a handful for the Liberty defence with their pace and strength, whilst left back William Denkyi also looked very agile and innovative. “Denkyi was actually the National Under 17′s first choice left full back this year,” Amoah says proudly.
“In fact, our club was able to produce five players for the national Under 17 team,” Amoah reveals.
One of the five players was striker Emmanuel Boateng. The 17-year-old has been hailed as Ghana's most exciting goal scoring talent in recent years. He scored a whopping 47 goals in 30 games for the National Under 17s, and was unlucky when an injury robbed him off the chance to spear head Ghana's attack at the African Under 17 Championships in Morocco earlier this year.
Boateng, currently recovering from a knock, was there at Charity Park to watch his team against Liberty. He was wearing his National Under 17 shirt, with his surname boldly emblazoned at the back above the number '13′.
“It was always my prayer to play for the national team,” a shy Boateng tells allsports.com.gh . He joined Charity Stars as an eight-year-old nine years ago, and has risen through the ranks, aided by his direct explosiveness up front.
After having played in 'justifier' [trial] which his manager had asked him to attend whilst in school, he was “lucky and blessed” (his own words) to have been selected as part of 30 players amidst hundreds of other youth talents to play for Ghana's famed Black Starlets. He would make his selection count emphatically, going on to become easily the team's major outlet of goals – crowning it with a golden boot for the Under 17 category at the Guinness National Player Awards.
“I'm not a skillful player,” Boateng, who joined Charity Stars as an eight year old, admits. “But I have the strength, the speed and the power.”
His exploits with the National Under 17s earned him a trial at Portuguese top flight side Rio Ave earlier this year, which he passed successfully. “It went really well,” he says of the trials at the club Ghana International Christian Atsu played on loan at two seasons ago.
“The coaches said I have what it takes. I'm hoping to sign for them in May next year when I turn 18. But in the meantime I'll leave for Portugal in January to prepare till then. There's another Ghanaian player there, [Alhassan] Wakaso, who is actually the younger brother of Mubarak Wakaso. He was very nice to me during the trials. Hopefully he'll help me settle”
Boateng is confidently sure of making it straight into the first team, and doesn't foresee the customary passage way through the club's academy. On whether he is fully aware of how rare and almost impossible it is for a player in Ghana or Africa to go straight from third tier to top flight in Europe, his lips part in a warm smile and he says calmly, “I'm very proud to be able to do that. And I'll take the opportunity fully. I won't let anyone down.”
Boateng, who says his dream is to play for a top European Club, will hope his time at the Vila Do Conde based-club is successful enough propel him towards greater heights. And he has the talent, desire and more importantly, discipline to make it happen.
He is future is undoubtedly bright. And when he does make it, the people of Darkoman-Bubuashie will be proud of their own. Charity Stars would have changed another life.