The Editor-in-Chief of footy-ghana.com, Christopher Opoku is a member of the Division One League Board and he talks about some of the challenges facing Division One
There is the saying that ?the stone that the builder rejected became the cornerstone.? Indeed it is a biblical text and it goes to show that certain situations, individuals or institutions which are responsible for success in various endeavours are often ignored and not given credit for contributions rendered. In Ghana football, it is no different and I am referring to the Division One League.
I know that I might be accused of being biased because I have been a member of the Division One League Board since September 2011, but it is impossible for me to ignore the seeming immeasurable contributions the Division One League is making to our football. As things stand now, the Division One League has no level of sponsorship; division one referees are owed arrears on officiating fees to the tune of over GH?300,000 (?3 billion) in officiating fees and in a 48-team league, there are challenges in terms of security, crowd violence and refereeing itself.
I will come to the challenges in a bit, but it is an undeniable fact that majority of our national team players began their careers in earnest with first division clubs. For instance, majority of the players representing the 2013 World Youth Cup-bound Black Satellites were playing in the Division One League a couple of seasons ago. Indeed, with the exception of Kennedy Ashia, Kwame Boahene and Frank Sarfo Gyamfi, virtually every Black Satellites player was playing in the first division two seasons ago. Nania FC won the 2011 MTN FA Cup and went on to win the 2011 Champion of champions crown, beating then Premier League champions Berekum Chelsea on penalties.
These days, clubs like Asante Kotoko and Hearts of Oak are turning more and more to first division clubs for recruits. I am told that Asante Kotoko has established partnerships with Red Bull Soccer Academy and Gomoa Fetteh Feyernoord Academy, which has resulted in the transfer of players like Michael Akuffu, Yaw Frimpong, Awal Mohammed and Augustine Okrah amongst others to the club in recent times. Hearts of Oak these days look up north to first division outfit Guan United for players and they also have a working relationship with Red Bull Soccer Academy as well.
I remember a discussion I was having with some friends a few years back and it was about the increasing perception that a first division game would produce more excitement that a Premier League game because of the existence of more talent at that level. Having watched a few first division one league games myself, I find it hard to argue with that, even though I would acknowledge that many of the players are indeed talented, if raw.
In short, the Division One League has become a largely ignored but existing conveyor belt of talent not only to the various national teams, but to clubs in the top flight as well. This is all happening amidst the backdrop of certain serious challenges facing the Division One League.
Indebtedness to referees
As I have mentioned earlier on, referees in Division One are owed arrears of over GH?300,000 in officiating fees over the last few seasons. Previously, division one league clubs were responsible for paying officiating fees. When water tank company ?Polytank? came in to sponsor the League, the Ghana Football Association at the time, in a bid to ease the burden on clubs, decided to bear the cost of paying referees, with the sponsorship money from Polytank used as the base. Unfortunately, Polytank?s annual budget of GH?75,000 or so was not enough to cover the cost, and the GFA has its hands full with respect to expenditure on other responsibilities, specifically the various national teams. As a result, the arrears piled up and now, the referees are demanding a minimum of 60% of the amounts owed them; otherwise the Middle League will be boycotted by the men in black. What makes it worse is the fact that unlike their colleagues at Premier League level, referees in Division One are only given officiating allowances without transport and accommodation allowance. Even at that, they are not being paid. The consequence is that a few bad nuts would take advantage and take bribes from certain clubs to deliver biased officiating which brings the game into disrepute. With these set of circumstances, do we then have any moral right to ask for fair officiating? Should that happen, it is therefore imperative that the GFA finds a way of solving the problem. At board level, we have discussed this issue time and again and I can only hope that we find a solution before the season ends.
Apathy from first division Disciplinary Committee
I am sorry to reveal this, but this was the reason why last season the Division One League was suspended for long periods. So many cases of misconduct and protest cases had piled up by the time that decision was taken, and because the league was suspended, the Disciplinary Committee was forced to sit on and deliver verdicts on the protest cases. Unfortunately, many misconduct cases were not called and are still pending as of now. Similar misconduct cases have cropped up this season and you will be surprised to learn that not even one case has been sat on. It is because the prosecutors appointed by the GFA are full time lawyers who simply do not have the time to deal with the cases and as a result, many cases end up unresolved. I am told the GFA is in the process of appointing retired court judges and police officers to fill the vacuum, but time is of the essence! Unless this is done, we are in danger of facing unnecessary delays to this season?s Division One league and so the GFA would have to put pressure on the existing prosecutors to do their work. If this is not done, fans will misbehave with impunity at match centers, knowing that the clubs can easily get away with it and this will mean increased incidents of violence at league centers. So clearly, something ought to be done!
Existing format of the Division One League
With very little inflows of income to the clubs because of lack of sponsorship, it is clear that most of the clubs are struggling to compete in the existing structure of the Division One League, which has been divided into six zones. There is the argument that the existing structure is not sponsorship friendly, but when you consider the number of clubs that take part in the FA Cup for instance, increased numbers can sometimes be beneficial in terms of roping in sponsors. There have been calls to revamp the structure so that we have a truly national division one league, but opponents of this idea, mostly clubs, would point out that it would only increase their expenditure on travels around the country. At the moment, certain proposals are being considered, but a small revision of the existing structure could go a long way towards attracting sponsorship. I am aware that our Board will be actively working on proposals that would be forwarded to the GFA very soon. Perhaps that might eventually open the door for better things to come.
I have chosen to write about this now because the Division One League is one of the structures in Ghana Football that cannot be ignored and the sooner more attention is paid to it by the GFA, the better Ghana football would be.