The Coronation Park, found in the middle of Sunyani, is no longer the pretty thing it once was. But where pillars and metals have grown weak due to poor maintenance, sheer legend sustains this edifice located at an address named after Ghana’s world-beating Black Starlets of 1991 and surrounded on all sides by thriving businesses.
Here, crunch games have been played, trophies won, and flagbearers elected. Propped up by all that history, it stands tall, refusing to crumble from neglect and age. In many ways, the storied Park’s defiance in the face of adversity mirrors that of one of its long-time tenants, Bofoakwa Tano.
Established some six decades ago, Bofoakwa had been in Ghana’s top-flight long before the professional era left them too weak to compete favorably at the highest level, and years spent in lower-tier football have worn it out some more.
These days, however, a club reduced to a relic of its glorious past has launched itself into national — even international — consciousness, albeit away from the pitch. Bofoakwa has joined the queue of Ghanaian clubs that have lit up social media in recent years, providing domestic football — drained of its life by poor standards and insatiable interest in Europe’s big leagues — with an edge that is cutting through to the hearts of fans once more. Even better, the club seeks to set the pace and, in a sense, they already are.
Bofoakwa doesn’t boast the numbers of heavyweights like Asante Kotoko and Hearts of Oak, but the club has its own strengths and is landing solid punches with a range of posts that entertain and enlighten. Not many hours after Ghana’s first cases of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) were confirmed by the country’s health officials, Bofoakwa — and I’m not sure any other club beat them to it — shared a nicely designed flyer regarding mandatory application of alcohol-based hand sanitizers at entry gates during subsequent home matches.
At the last ‘away’ game before those safety measures were expected to kick in (they won’t for a while, though, with the pandemic having now forced a suspension of all sporting activities in the country), Bofoakwa played Young Apostles, one of the sides with whom use of the Coronation Park is currently shared. And it was on that occasion, at recess and in the early minutes of the second half, that I spoke to David Obeng Nyarko, the man at the wheel.
For all he has achieved thus far, I’m surprised to learn — towards the end of the interview — that this fellow, with his nicely trimmed beard, just turned 28. Only four years ago, he graduated from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) with a degree in Tourism and, a year later, was appointed by Bofoakwa as its Development Manager, before rising to the rank of General Manager that has him responsible for the club’s day-to-day administration.
Nyarko is also the Acting Head of Communications for the Brong Ahafo Regional Football Association (housed in the shadow of the arena Bofoakwa call home), as well as a member — the youngest, in fact — of Ghana’s recently installed Division One League Management Committee. When he’s not doing all that, Nyarko is busy on Bofoakwa’s social media accounts — Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram — which he operates with a dedicated team of creative designers, ‘hype men’, et al.
The inspiration, he says, came from observing how some European clubs made waves on social media.
“The likes of AS Roma and Bayer Leverkusen may not be the most illustrious in football circles, but they certainly hold their own against — even outmuscling — clubs of much higher profile in the social media space,” Nyarko explains.
“Like them, we try to put out relevant content, while tracking the trends to see what resonates most with fans at any given time and connect accordingly.”
Noble as Nyarko’s intentions were, there was an initial reluctance by many conservative fans of Bofoakwa — perhaps not so appreciative of how essential a vibrant social media presence is to the success of a modern club — to catch on.
“Some dismissed my efforts, claiming football was played on the pitch, not on Facebook or Twitter,” he recounts. “Others argued that I’d be letting opponents in on the club’s secrets by opening up about our activities on social media.”
Eventually, though, that corner was turned. The mainstream media — a platform for Nyarko and his team to popularize their cause — helped out, but it was during one of Bofoakwa’s away games that regard for Nyarko’s work really grew.
“On a trip to Tamale, I think, most fans weren’t able to accompany us and radio commentary wasn’t accessible. We scored, and when I updated the website with news about the goal, feedback was positive and ecstatic,” Nyarko narrates. “That, I feel, was the game-changer.”
Bofoakwa — on Twitter, especially — has only gone from strength to strength, gaining new fans and reclaiming old ones. Humor, of all the tools in their kit, has been put to the most effective use. It is what first got my attention, actually, I reveal to Nyarko. Banter has been especially juicy with fellow latter-day strugglers Accra Great Olympics — if you’ve been paying attention — but it was a tweet on one sorry Sunday in Tarkwa for the Ghanaian capital’s biggest club, Hearts of Oak, that takes the cake: a video of late actor Bob Santo taking a swig and . . . you know what, mate, just help yourself with the link below and tell me if that doesn’t feel good.
I know, right?
Bofoakwa has even taken on — wait for it — Manchester United in a particularly torrid Carabao Cup first half against neighbors Manchester City this season, and they never seem to run out of ways to amuse: GIFs, videos, images, and wits. All of that comes at a cost, though, and as Nyarko confesses, it is no laughing matter.
“It’s quite a struggle, honestly,” he admits. “The club does give hand-outs every now and then, though not necessarily specifying how much of it is to be spent on data for our social media activity.”
And so Nyarko and his personnel — featuring the likes of Kwabena Gyamfi, OPK, Freeze Motions, Slim Concepts, Obonto, and Asare Nyarko — have worked around that financial hurdle, reaching out to creatives who are only too glad to have their works out there, in exchange for little tips. Powered by such pro bono services and a volunteering spirit, Bofoakwa’s social media hive buzzes. Still, Nyarko hopes the Hunters’ game could be spiced with the acquisition of equipment that would enhance photography and even help set up Facebook Live sessions.
Even with limited resources, Nyarko believes Bofoakwa is reaping from the off-field work he oversees and steers. The players are more popular now because their exploits are served to digital audiences, he claims, with one — skipper Fuseini Mohammed — in line for international action as a member of Ghana’s U-20s, while the club itself has drawn the attention of donors and sponsors.
And it’s not just Bofoakwa that has benefited from Nyarko’s appetite for modernizing the Ghanaian game; through Kingsports LLC, the football-focused company he runs, Nyarko extends consultancy services to other outfits in the fields of branding, marketing, and development.
Bofoakwa — rejuvenated and refreshed — is a glowing testament to Nyarko’s fine work, and to the power of social media in polishing even a brand defaced by long periods of disappointment and underachievement. The club may have lost some steam of late in the race to return to the Ghana Premier League for the first time in a dozen years, not winning any of their last four Division One League games to fall seven points behind city rivals B.A United in Zone One.
Armed with their social media-inspired wings — along with a MTN FA Cup Round of 32 ticket nicked off noisy neighbors United earlier this year — Bofoakwa’s rise continues in full flight, regardless, and they ain’t perching anytime soon.
NY Frimpong — Daily Mail GH