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A tribute for a soccer star, Joe Debrah & his contemporaries


By Napoleon Ato Kittoe

In 1990, the combination between Robert Eshun and Joe Debrah produced one of the swiftest and most ingenuous attacking plays ever in Ghana football. Indeed, Kotoko’s inability to run over Hearts in the time of Joe Debrah showed that Hearts was also in a class of their own with an attack that was completely but admirably different in style.

Here were Ablade Kumah and Shamo Quaye facing a strong and flair-abundant Kotoko team, yet the Hearts attack could also penetrate to the other end to prove a point. The development of Kotoko’s attack at the time was so swift and defense-splitting. That required a major strategy in defence to prevent the almost incomparable marauders of Kotoko in 1990.

The attacking buildup of Hearts was methodological, in the sense that it took the pure magic of Shamo Quaye and Ablade Kumah to weave through the opposition. An uncanny sixth sense in the realms of the gods allowed the twin-engine of Hearts to proceed not with gusto but with a certain midas touch that looked like an apparition.

It was between the dare-devils of Hearts of Oak and the irresistible force of Kotoko, ratcheting up the quality of 1990 league and Ghana football to one of its highest apogees. 

In terms of body swerves, this is what Joe Debrah did. His “speedsterism” was a second fiddle to that of Thomas Boakye, who plied the right wing, yet his pace and ability to displace every opposition in his way were marvelous. He swung his frame to the left or right to give his tacklers the wrong direction or anticipation. Yet, his precious feet firmly attached to the rotund leather, Joe Debrah would swerve and that swept away hordes of defenders to create openings and the firing range.

Kotoko was so deadly in the year 1990 that a player like Robert “Ebo Electric” Eshun who was a dribbler par excellence that operated on the left wing and was enforcing Joe Debrah, was not even the poster boy. Hearts’ lateral defenders, Osumanu Iddi and Osumanu Sackey, came out of the 1990 Accra battle badly bruised, but then Hearts too had the firing power to draw blood, ending the fiercely contested match two-all, Hearts winning on penalties and the league that year. 

The Hearts set up also provided lessons for Ghana football. Having been mobilised at the end of season 1986, their wine matured in taste in four years time, underscoring the fact that in sports preparation needs time before results. Hearts were broken when Shamo Quaye took the bow so early, clouded in a mysterious death towards the end of 1997. I covered his funeral at Tema Manhean, when Mr. E. T. Mensah was Ghana’s Sports Minister. He too is no more, and it is a fresh case. Only to wake up to other sad news back to back. 

Robert Eshun had died in traffic in London from a heart attack, and just three days later, Joe Debrah too kicked the bucket. Reports say Joe Debrah had been unwell for about a year before his shocking, out-of-the blue tale. We knew nothing about his health, and even more deafening was the silence that ensued the day he hung up his boots. What a gem he was. 

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