Story: Kwame Asare Boadu, Kumasi
A significant page in football history was opened yesterday in the Garden City when football fans converged on the Baba Yara Stadium as Kumasi Asante Kotoko played host to Commune FC of Burkina Faso to celebrate the golden years of Ghana’s largest sporting arena which has hosted some of the greatest matches in the history of African football.
The home ground of Kotoko, arguably one of Africa’s most celebrated football clubs, the Baba Yara stadium is appropriately named after one of Ghana’s most gifted footballers of all-time, Baba Yara, nicknamed ‘The King of Wingers’ who in his heyday was a key member of the national team, which was then called Real Republicans, and Kotoko in the 1960s.
Originally built and presented to the state as a gift by UAC (present-day Unilever Ghana Limited) in 1958, the imposing edifice is a sight to behold as it rises conspicuously with an impressive outer gold glazing on a hilly ground at the heart of Amakom, a suburb of Kumasi. It has been transformed by Consar Construction Limited into an architectural masterpiece, stadium with a seating capacity of 40,514 for the 26th MTN Africa Cup of Nations tournament and will host Group C teams, comprising five-time champions Egypt, four-time winners Cameroun, 1970 winners Sudan and Zambia.
Although it underwent various facelifts ahead of the 1963 and 1978 Nations Cup tournaments in Ghana, the structure shed its old appearance after it was raised to the ground in December 2006 and reconstructed at a cost of $37 million.
In front of the main entrance is a large fountain that welcomes guests into the stadium with its magnificent roofed stand which accommodates the well-equipped commentary boxes, press gallery and the VIP box accessed by a lift and fitted with modern communication equipment and other gadgets that give it the status of a modern sporting facility.
It was opened to the public on December 16 last year after the official inauguration by President J.A. Kufuor.
Formerly known as the Kumasi Sports Stadium until the change in identity in 2003, the Baba Yara Stadium has had its date with football history, particularly in 1983 when Kotoko were crowned African champions for the second time after a 1-0 win over Egyptian giants Al Ahly, and two decades later when Accra Hearts of Oak won the maiden CAF Confederation Cup at the expense of Kotoko in the first-ever continental final involving clubs from the same country.
Perhaps the most significant moment in the history of the stadium was recorded on Sunday August 5, 2005 when Ghana sealed qualification to the Germany 2006 FIFA World Cup, having provided a fertile ground for the Black Stars to achieve the most important moment in Ghana football.
The ecstasy that erupted on those two important moments when Hearts and Kotoko reached the pinnacle of continental football conquests was as significant as the spontaneous outburst of emotion after Stephen Appiah led the Stars to beat a plucky Uganda side 2-0.
At full capacity, it provides both a safe haven for home teams particularly Asante Kotoko and the Black Stars and turns into an intimidating atmosphere for visiting teams who often wilt at the sight and booming roar of home fans.
Security and comfort of fans are not compromised as the infrastructure has been built to conform with FIFA standards; there are ramps for physically challenged spectators, CCTV monitors have been fixed at vantage points to keep tabs on miscreants, while medical centres and hospitality joints are well located within the precincts of the stadium to provide a pleasant experience during matches.
Two large conference rooms have been provided for press conferences. There are four changing rooms, a well-equipped gymnasium, 40 new ticketing booths with electronically-operated turnstiles that provide ease of entry for spectators and almost eliminates queueing, which was evident when the old stadium was in operation.