On March 19th, 1982, Ghana won its fourth AFCON title after beating hosts, Libya.
Few months to this tournament, the then Hillah Liman government had said that Ghana would not take part in the AFCON because it was being hosted in Libya.
At the time, Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi was locked in conflict with the United States and Libyan’s government had aligned with the UK to boycott all relations with Libya.
On December 31, 1981, Jerry Rawling staged a coup d’état. That was two months to the AFCON and the Black Stars players were at home without any training.
There had just been a revolution and the country was in a complete quagmire lacking basic products. Ghana was still reeling without money for relevant administrative expenses not to talk of football.
But then sports minister Zaya Yeebo reveals that Gaddafi upon hearing the toppling of Liman’s government sent a high powered delegation to Accra. After a meeting with Rawlings and his key men, JJ was convinced and made a pronouncement that Ghana would not miss the 1982 AFCON tournament.
Quickly, all players had to be recalled, a shabbily assembled technical team led by veteran CK Gyamfi as head and told to proceed to camp. Without money, without basic logistics but the order was final. When the minister went to the storerooms of the National Sports Council, they had been looted. It was as bare as the Sahara desert. There was no sports equipment, no uniforms, no boots, not even a single football.
Zeebo then met the Libyan Ambassador in Accra told him the truth: we couldn’t even afford to go to Kumasi, let alone Tripoli. The Ambassador promised he’d help Ghana find a place to stay in Libya, and provide a bus for the team to get around.
Because of the tensed political situation, 16 players had to be on road all the way to Togo where they camped. Isaac Paha, One of the senior players of the team claimed they didn’t have food in camp at some point and Rawlings had to contact his Togolese gov’t to fet the Stars in their hotel.
Rawlings let out his presidential jet to fly to Libya. Zac Bentum the then FA chairman provided the aviation fuel. Sports writers agreed to accompany the team without being paid their usual allowance. It was all sacrifice.
Nobody expected the team to get past the quarterfinals, but as the tournament progressed, it became clear the Black Stars had not gone to Libya to lose. The nation sat up, and put its support behind the Black Stars.
Before the final vs Libya, someone started spreading rumours around Accra that the sports minister “had sold the match to the Libyans.”
Rawlings got hint and called to warn Zeebo that if Ghana lost, he would be in trouble. They assumed he was in Tripoli meanwhile the minister was in Accra.
After 120 minutes in the final, the teams were drawn 1-1, so the result would be down to a penalty shootout.
Players Sampson Lamptey, George Alhassan, Isaac Paha, Windsor Kofi Abbrey and Albert Asaase scored in the first round of the shootout. In the second round Owusu Mensah saw his penalty saved by the Libyan side. The teams were drawn again. Then Owusu Mensah saved seventh kick from the Libyans, helping Ghana win AFCON for the forth time.
Teenager, Abedi Pele, who would later become the first footballer to win the African Player of the Year on three consecutive occasions was also in the thick of events during the tournament and even had a part to play in the grand finale.
The AFCON victory came at a time when the PNDC regime was facing severe problems and needed a diversion. It gave Ghanaians a reason to be cheerful and united. For two months, Ghanaians could forget their economic hardship and talk football.
It showed that above everything else, football can unite people. It also showed it is possible to fund national sports without spending government money that is desperately needed elsewhere.