So finally the testimonial match for one of Ghana’s greatest footballing sons, Stephen Appiah came off at the Accra Sports Stadium on Saturday June 27 2015.
Personally, I believe that this game came a minimum of five years too late, but it’s still good that it came off just the same.
One of the reasons why I say that he should probably have had such a game organized after the 2010 World Cup or earlier is because of the many stars he could have attracted to this game.
After everyone was expecting to see the likes of former Juventus team-mates Alessandro del Piero and Pavel Nedved, as well as Italy legend Roberto Baggio, the only non-African player who eventually showed up was ex-Italy Under 21 international, Giuseppe Colucci, who played with Stephen Appiah at Cesena.
It was however great to see four time African footballer of the year, Samuel Eto’o Fils put in an appearance, as did the holder of the 2008 award, Emmanuel Adebayor.
Inspite of the relative absence of other foreign stars, it was good to see the likes of John Paintsil, Richard Kingson and younger brother Laryea as well as Anthony Annan, Awuley Quaye Junior and Baafour Gyan in action against a Ghana select side that included virtually all members of the Black Stars save Bright Addae and Ben Acheampong.
It was also great to see Ghana’s President John Dramani Mahama in attendance; flanked by the two surviving ex-Presidents, Flt Lt (rtd) Jerry John Rawlings and John Agyekum Kufuor.
Even Nollywood superstar Ramsey Nouah put in an appearance.
The game itself may have lacked goals in the first half but was entertaining enough, even though Richard Kingson must have tweaked a muscle in brilliantly denying Jordan Ayew.
He was promptly replaced by another former Ghana great, Sammy Adjei.
Stephen Appiah, Eto’o and Adebayor formed a fine attacking trident and you could sense that the crowd was willing anyone of them, particularly Appiah to score, but that did not happen, despite good attacking moves by the trio.
Adebayor found himself off side on a few occasions as did Eto’o.
Jordan Ayew almost scored before half time but his delicate chip hit the post with Sammy Adjei well beaten.
Before half time, Colucci left the field to massive applause from the fans; not least for travelling all the way from Italy to play in the game.
Seven minutes into the second half, the Ghana select side conceded a freekick.
Stephen Appiah bent the ball around the wall and into the net with Razak Braimah beaten. What followed was a wonderful sight to behold.
Players from both teams surrounded Appiah to congratulate him. After all, it was his day.
The Ghana select side soon hit back, with Asamoah Gyan waltzing his way through the defence to beat Adjei with a delicate toe poke.
Appiah went off to thunderous applause from the fans, but his side regained the lead and interestingly it came through Baffour Gyan, who finished off a flowing move.
The Ghana select side also hit back through substitute Ben Acheampong.
The son of the President, Sharraf Mahama came on and so did ex-internationals Stephen Baidoo and Mohammed Gargo, but visibility had become bad because only 18 bulbs were working in the two floodlight stands at the stadium.
Even so, it was a huge surprise when Joseph Lamptey blew the whistle to end the game abruptly.
It was such a shame and highlighted the ills within the National Sports Authority, which has failed to fix the floodlights and scoreboard as well.
It was not good at all.
The attendance was excellent but that should not also mask the fact that the organisers had serious challenges.
When I got to the stadium in the morning for instance, there were still issues with accreditation and had it not been for the presence of Anthony Baffoe, chances are that the program for the game would have been haphazard.
I am later informed that he was informed late and given that he was the match co-ordinator for the 2014 World Cup final, the organisers should have enlisted his help far earlier.
As it happened, his presence saved the day.
There are lessons to be learned from this.
Stephen Appiah will forever remain one of Ghana’s best loved sportsmen and that is why so many people came to the stadium, but as I said at the beginning of this piece, he probably should have had this testimonial five years ago.
Again, getting top foreign stars for such matches needs a lot of prior planning plus perhaps sourcing for sponsorship to buy plane tickets.
The pre-match publicity saw the likes of Nedved, del Piero and Baggio amongst others billed for the match, as well as Augustine Okocha, but going forward, such issues have to be dealt with way ahead of time.
It was however a fitting end to an illustrious career for Stephen Appiah, but it was a pity that the floodlights saw him off finally.
By Christopher Opoku