BABA YARA (1936-1969)
Outstanding Ghanaian Footballer
Baba Yara is simply a legend or one of the top best football players our lovely country Ghana has produced. A great winger, his originality and dazzling dribbling talent made Sundays one of the most enjoyable times in the 1960s. He thrilled spectators with his prowess and charming football fans with an uncanny ability to get goals from almost impossible angles.
Being of an unassuming and affable personality, his gentleness in conduct and behavior either on or off the field of play made him a hero in his lifetime. So popular was he that many years after his death his image lingers on the minds of the sporting public in Ghana as well as other parts of Africa.
Baba Yara was born on October 12, 1936 at Kintampo. His father was Seidu Mardah, a farmer and tailor who hailed from Zini in the (now) Upper West Region; but he became more or less a native of Kintampo because his father, Ibraham Mardah, on being discharged from the Gold Coast army after the Second World War had settled there. Seidu Mardah who is Baba Yara Lovely father had two beautiful wives, Amina, who is also the first wife had five children.
Her youngest, who happened to be her only boy, was called Baba Yara. Baba Yara’s sisters were: Shietu, Zinabu, Fulera, and Rahimatu. As the only son of his mother, he was named after his uncle, Osumanu Mardah. Osumanu was affectionately called Baba Yara; therefore, by extension, young Baba Yara came to inherit this nickname also.
When Baba Yara was of school-going age, he was sent to an Arabic School (Makaranta) within Kumasi Zongo. From a young age, he started displaying great love for football. He was often seen at the Akropolis Park near his school kicking and catching oranges which kids often used as balls When he was seven, he started playing and running for his school. He was reckoned as an all-rounder.
He played football and enjoyed running especially the 100 meters dash. Baba Yara’s teacher, Mallam Issa Kataki, who happened to be a good footballer (he played for Kumasi Zongo Standfast team) noticed the skills of Baba Yara and made every effort to nurture that talent in him. But much as the teacher tried to kindle his interest in Football, Baba Yara’s interest shifted to horse racing which seemed to have attracted him due to a number of visits to the Kumasi racecourse where he saw young boys riding horses.
At 14 when he left the Makaranta, his aim was to become a jockey. He, therefore, applied to join the stable of Sherif Abdo, a Lebanese horse-owner. He became an apprentice and in a few months, he could boast of being a good jockey. A year later, he was sent to Accra for further training.
After a year of successful apprenticeship, he was awarded a jockey’s license and was put in charge of a stable of 15 horses. While in Accra, he rode twice, but each time he failed to place significantly. A few months after obtaining his license, he returned to Kumasi. Here, he fared better, for, one day; one horse he rode, “Monais” came first. In another race, he was placed first as “Karioka”. He also won races with “Masum” and “Bass”. With each win came money and soon his dreams of getting rich quickly ceased to be a dream any longer.
But not all of Baba Yara’s relations were keen on his increasing fortune from horse racing. His mother was particularly opposed. She traveled to Kumasi to persuade Baba Yara to quit. As Baba Yara recalled later, his mother told him: “If horse-racing is the only job you will do earn money, then stop it; let me look after you”. As he recounted later, his mother’s protestation kept ringing in his ears, even though he did everything to fight it. He knew he was the most loved of her mother’s children.
In December 1954, after almost a year of indecision, he gave in to his mother’s wishes. He quit. He was then 19, and jobless. He came to depend on his elder sisters for survival. He tried being a tailor but failed.
The early 1950s witnessed great growth in football as a big game in Ghana. In those days it was easy to get employed if one was a good footballer, for companies had their own football clubs. Realizing the possibility of getting employed if he was noticed as a good footballer, he began visiting the nearby football park, and gradually his interest in the game was rekindled.
Not long after, he was playing for Zongo Corners in the game was rekindled.
Kumasi. By 1955, he had joined Kumasi Asante Kotoko. Three months after, he was picked to play a match against Dunkwa Town IX at Dunkwa. He cast away all fears and put in his best. In the end, the match ended in 3-3 with Baba Yara scoring all the three goals for Kotoko.
After the match, supporters gave him a kingly ride on their backs while they sang his praise. For Baba Yara, it was a debut to big-time football. Two months after the Dunkwa match (in May 1955), he was called upon to play his second match against the Kumasi Great Ashantis, then, city rivals of Kotoko.
He played the center front forward position in a team that boasted of such stalwarts as Botsio, Kobina Otoo, Poku Mensah, Kofi Enin, Kobina Badu, Asebi Boachie, Okine James Adjei, and Mohammed Salisu. Kotoko walloped Great Ashanti by a whooping 6-1. Can you imagine that Two of the goals that lead to the winning were scored by Baba. Once again, the Crowd went wild. After the match, supporters swamped him and showered presents on him. By the time he reached home, he noticed he had made £3.10s as gifts that included a penny from a small boy who managed to meander his way through the crowd and planted his gift firmly into Baba Yara’s boot.
Baba Yara’s third match was against Accra Hearts of Oak in Accra. It was in this match that, for the first time, he played No. 7 position (outside right), a position and a jersey he became synonymous with. Though the match ended in a goalless draw, he was clearly the outstanding player. It was good goalkeeping that robbed him of getting the ball in the net.
The year 1955 was drawing to an end and Ghana was to meet Nigeria in their annual international soccer match. For Ghana’s preparation, Ashanti was asked to play southern Ghana.
Though some people said that Baba Yara was too young for a big match, C.K took it upon himself to train Baba Yara. They also practiced how they could effectively combine on the field. Then the great day arrived. C.K. played in a center forward position, while Baba Yara played the outside right position. Before the thousands of fans at the Accra Sports Stadium, Baba Yara who was making his debut in such a big match combined so well with C. K. Gyamfi that in the end, Ashanti beat southern Ghana by 2-0.
One of the two goals was scored by Baba Yara. After the match, he was asked to report camping in Accra. He was subsequently selected to play.
The Ghana Team was made up of: A.R. Kassum (Sekondi Hasaacas), Chris Briandt (Hearts) (Captain), Kwamina Appiah (Kumasi Cornerstones), Kobina Otoo (Asante Kotoko), Tim Darbah (Great Olympics), Kobina Tawiah (Cape Coast Vipers), Baba Yara (Kotoko), Asebi Boachie (Kotoko), Charles Gyamfi (Great Ashantis), James Adjei (Kotoko), Oscar Gesper (Great Olympics). The account of that memorable match in which Ghana won back the “Jalco Cup” can best be captured in the words of Kofi Badu, undoubtedly, the most prolific and outstanding sports journalist of the time.
On October 9, 1960, Ghana again met Nigeria in Lagos.
Playing alongside, Dodoo Ankrah, Crentsil, Oblitey, Mama, Aikins, Edward Acquah, Aggrey Fynn, Baba Yara combined so effectively with C. K. Gyamfi and Salisu that Ghana beat Nigeria 3-0 to retain the Gold cup donated by Osagyefo, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah.
Though Baba Yara made a tremendous contribution to the Black Stars, it was to Kumasi Asante Kotoko that he rendered priceless service. Often playing alongside James Adjei and Asebi Boachie, they formed the “Terrible Trio of Ghana soccer” and gave Kotoko the best forward line ever.
In 1961 Baba Yara left Kotoko to join Real Republicans. This was on a directive from Ohene Djan, the Director of Sports, demanding each league club to give up two of its top players for the formation of the model Premier Club fondly called “Osagyefo’s-Own-Club (O-O-C)”.
From Kotoko, Baba Yara and Dogo Moro were asked to join the Real Republicans. Players poached from other teams were: Addo Odametey, Ofei Dodoo (Hearts); Dodoo Ankrah, E. O. Oblitey (Olympics), Edward Acquah, Cromwell (Wise); Thompson Nunoo (Vipers); Bob Neizer, George Appiah (Hasaacas); Joe Aikins, Kojo Appiah (Corners); Edward Boateng (Standfast); Osei Kwasi (Great Ashanti); and Franklin Crentsil (Independence). The star-studded Real Republicans proved an unbeatable team in the country and Africa.