Meet the Fabulous Ladies of Ghana

I’VE BEEN LOOKING forward to this one. It’s a new year and a fresh start for Ghana’s Women’s Premier League.  So, what football fan in their right mind wouldn’t want to know about some Fabulous Ladies? Here D2B gets some insight into the club – yes, they are the Fabulous Ladies FC – their players, the league and women’s football in general…

I’d been kicking around a few ideas for a piece on African Women’s football, particularly after enjoying the participation of the CAF international sides at the Women’s World Cup. One day on Twitter, up pops a message about the start of the new Women’s Premier League in Ghana. The sender of that message – Fabulous Ladies FC. A bolder club name I had not come across before. I simply had to get in touch with them.

Enter Patrick B.K. Apreku, Special Assistant to the Football Ladies Club President and (handily for me) also the Team Media Officer. A key element of Patrick’s role is to manage public relations, including social media, and support the progress of the Fabulous Ladies as the league takes its next tentative steps. It was his tweet, incidentally, that reeled me in…

Based in Kumasi, the club’s roots go all the way back to 1983. The Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) had arranged to run women’s football matches for local leisure and fitness clubs. Soon to be inspirational founder – and now club President – Madam Habiba Atta Forson saw viable talent and potential in the players around her and believed that formal organisation of a club, and then a league, would enable these women to develop not only as athletes, but as people. She got things off the ground and would go on to become the Fabulous Ladies’ first fabulous captain.

“Madam Habiba Atta Forson (Founder and Bank Roller [sic]) of Fabulous Ladies FC is a visionary woman who always thinks outside the box to achieve what she dreams of. She was an athlete during her school days at Kumasi Ahmadiya Secondary and represented Ghana in the All Africa games in Congo in the 1960’s.  She was the brain behind competitive women football in Ghana.”

Patrick B.K. Apreku, Special Assistant to the Football Ladies Club President

The modern-day Women’s Premier League in Ghana is divided into North and South zones with eight teams competing in each. Teams play each other home and away over 14 rounds. The winners of each zone play off in a final for the title.

Led by Senior Team manager, Augustine Nana Atuahene, Fabulous Ladies FC play in the Northern Zone. And there is no shortage of ambition about their targets for the season ahead. They want to win everything, targeting trophies in the league – which runs until mid-June – and the Sandford FA Cup, which is threaded in amongst the league fixtures from March and concludes with a final in July.

Their 2020 campaign kicks off at Wesley College Park (WESCO) on Sunday 19th January. Donning the red and white hoops of their home kit the Fabulous Ladies will take on Pearlpia Ladies.

A championship would be a sensational achievement. The ‘Soccer Ladies’, as they are also nicknamed, last won the National Championship in 2011 before the current league structure was formalised the following season. They then finished runners-up to Hasaacas Ladies in back to back campaigns but have found it tougher going since.

One thing’s for sure, though, if the Fabulous Ladies can’t finish first, they are sure going to try and stay ahead of their main rivals, Ampem Darkoa Ladies FC of Techiman!

But, for many years, their raison d’être has been about so much more than winning ‘pots’ at the end of the season. On their Twitter page it states that: “Fabulous Ladies is a football club, basically into training females who have interest in playing football in Ghana and outside Ghana.” Development of players both as athletes and as young women, then, have been central principles operating in tandem.  Alongside the senior Ladies team, the club runs a junior team called Osei Tutu Ladies FC – from which several youth international players are emerging.

Central to the reasons behind the formation of the team, Madam Habiba Atta has constantly sought to focus on developing the character and skills of young women in Kumasi through football in order to push them to improve their lives, sometimes going as far as providing  bed and board, or sponsoring players to go through higher education programmes to gain qualifications. One ‘nugget’ of information I came across that I really liked is that the founder and President of the Fabulous Ladies used to drive the team bus to away matches. That really is getting the job done.

Madam Habiba Atta Forson, a “visionary” in the Women’s Game.

Now in her seventies, Madam Habiba Atta was elected to sit on the Executive Council Committee of the GFA last October. She’s built an impressive CV over 40 years that demonstrates her commitment to and passion for women’s football in Ghana. A driving force behind the formation of the national women’s football team – the Black Queens – in 1992 she went on to take the role of Head Coach seven years later when Ghana qualified for the Women’s World Cup in America.

Longer term, she is seeking to develop a football infrastructure in Ghana that furnishes top female players with the technical ability and mindset to enable the Black Queens to compete on the international stage with the very best teams women’s football has to offer.

What is likely to take much longer is the aspiration for the game to provide a living for professional, full-time footballers. Fabulous Ladies players don’t receive wages, but they can get allowances or expenses, and the club is happy for players to take part time jobs or run small businesses as a way of supporting themselves while they play for the club.

What the players can’t afford is to a ‘pay-to-play’ system. Weekly or monthly ‘subs’ is something we’re familiar with in the UK, but this is not an option. Having a benefactor is important because costs can escalate quickly and revenues are hard to come by. Patrick: “It is very difficult to keep [a] women’s football organization in Ghana. This is because there is not enough funding in the game. No gate fees are charged at the matches. It’s also difficult to secure sponsorship.”

So, with full time professionalism a long way off, the next best thing for a player is getting the chance to play abroad, earn some money and / or see if they can catch the eye of Black Queens’ manager Mercy Tagoe Quarcoo.

Former Fabulous Ladies attacking midfielder Alice Kusi was able to achieve this very thing. Now playing at Shabab Al-Ordon in Jordan, Kusi has made 5 appearances for the national team.

Portia Boakye was with the ‘Soccer Ladies’ for 12 years, from 2004. Now 30, she plies her trade at Djurgårdens IF Fotboll in Sweden – a country that has freely embraced African talent over the years. Portia has represented Ghana at all levels and in 2015 she was nominated for African Women’s Footballer of the Year. Six months later, she was voted the best female footballer of the year by the Sports Writers Association of Ghana, having helped to secure a Bronze medal for her country at the Africa Women’s Championships.

Portia Boakye (17) – Twelve years a Fabulous Lady…

She was a key element in the Fabulous Ladies championship winning team of 2011 and the pride in her achievements is evident at the club still today:

“We are very happy for Portia Boakye for how far she has gone in her career. She serves [as] motivation to the young ones in the team.”

Patrick B.K. Apreku, Special Assistant to the Football Ladies Club President

Maybe the next Portia Boakye is waiting in the wings. There are plenty of exciting players to look out for this coming season in Rabi Musa, Elizabeth Sarpong, Jacqueline Bioakye and Princess Owusu.

Experienced attacker Agnes Aduako is also back with the squad. Now in her 30s, Agnes played for Ghana at the 2014 African Women’s Championship and at the 2015 African Games.

Meanwhile there are some promising youngsters elsewhere in the organisation.  Joyce Asamoah, Florence Annor, Sandra Owusu-Ansah and Belinda Anane are all in their teens but have each played at youth level for Ghana. Just don’t tell Ampem Darkoa about them, ok?

Asked where the club finds its young players, Patrick replies that, “players are recruited from school games. Sometimes, we pick them from some of the towns and villages.” The club ties formal education in for some of the players by enrolling them in school alongside their training and playing schedules.

The future for these young players and the Women’s Premier League sits with the Ghana Football Association. The GFA has made a few quarter-hearted attempts over the years to try and make the Women’s Premier League more financially sustainable year on year, unsurprisingly without success.

Then, in 2018, the league was suspended after documentary filmmaker and investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas exposed corruption in Ghanaian football through his film Number 12 and the BBC picked up the story – which you can view here.

Pretty much the entire football administration in Ghana (top to bottom) was outed and the GFA effectively disbanded. All football matches in the country were called off; the season cancelled.

So, the feeling of positivity that comes with this year’s new administration and fresh start is tempered with some trepidation from observers about governance, as well as concern that the league still won’t be able to gain any significant traction with the football watching general public; particularly with Ghana not seeing direct benefits that other African countries have who participated in the record-breaking 2019 Women’s World Cup.

While the media gave the tournament some light coverage, reaction was inevitably muted. Patrick: “Ghanaians did not ignore the Women’s World Cup. But the talking points that arise when Ghana is participating got missed.”

There are several reasons historically why women’s football has not been able to grow effectively. Like many other countries, the idea of women playing football has sat uncomfortably with Ghanaians, culturally. Although reportedly a popular sport amongst girls, many have experienced prejudice and abuse simply playing the game. Consequently, parents of female players don’t see any long-term value in it and many actively discourage their daughters’ participation – despite the proven physical, mental and social benefits that team sports can offer.

Public interest in women’s football has been virtually non-existent, so the media have shown little desire to cover it. With no media exposure the business community don’t want to sponsor clubs and, of course, because the public then never hear get to hear about them, nobody’s interested. Any initial investment dries up and the will to pour good money after bad – well, we know how that ends. This frustrating cycle continues unabated and the football authorities have chosen in the past to simply pull the full focus of their attention on the men’s game.

Disrespect for women’s football in Ghana hasn’t simply manifest in the domestic game, either. Even the Black Queens have struggled to get contracts paid, and been given little or no finance, equipment or facilities to prepare for international matches. It’s testament to the player’s passion and commitment to the sport that they have been able to stay driven and motivated. But more support would surely turn into better results?

GFA President Kurt E.S. Okraku – a man with ambitious plans. But for women’s football?

Ghana Football Association (GFA) President Kurt E.S. Okraku was elected in October of 2019 and immediately gave himself an ambitious brief to bring clubs and officials together to move the sport forward. By collectively “pulling together”, Mr. Okraku believes he can “change the game” in Ghana and “ignite passion and create wealth for all… to bring back the love for the game our people love so much across the country.”

With a national and regional focus, the GFA has established a Competitions Department to supervise all domestic competitions across Ghana and has put in place Marketing and Communications teams to support the promotion of the game. While no explicit statement of intent has been made on Women’s football, the governing body have decreed that all 16 clubs in the Women’s Premier League have a Media Manager. This, of course, is where Patrick (partly) fits into the Fabulous Ladies organisation.

Sponsorships have been secured with FreshPak putting their name to the Women’s league while Sandford World Clinic once again is getting behind the FA Cup. Globally recognised sports brand Puma are providing official team apparel.

While he acknowledges that support from the national federation has been negligible in the past Patrick believes there are signs of progress: “Compared to what used to pertain before, I can say that the federation has improved support for women football. I foresee some improvement because of how the new Football Administration is giving more attention to women [it].”

He’s also positive in his belief that Ghana attract a spectatorship for the sport: “It’s possible to grow [an] audience for Ghana women football. All that has to be done is to package it well and market it to [the] public. The media is now offering some attention to the game. The government is trying to do its part.”

All we can do now is enjoy the football and wait to see what develops…

At D2B, we’ll be keeping an eye on the progress of the Fabulous Ladies over the next few months. If you would like to follow the results of the Ghana Women’s Premier League you can find them here: www.ghanafa.org and then bookmark for your future browsing pleasure…

Pre-season Training for the Fabulous Ladies.

Recently, D2B reached number 32 on the Feedspot Top 40 list of Women’s football blogs. No one was more surprised than us here at D2B Towers; there’s so much other good stuff out there. Anyhoo, check it out, there’s a heap of really good blogs and websites written by people who know their stuff and have an infectious passion for the women’s game…

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