Was it emotional? Yes, it was. Watching Stephen ‘Tornado’ Appiah on an analogue television at the age of six for the first time is something I will never forget. Growing up in the Central Region of Ghana, I thought everyone called ‘Appiah’ comes from my family.
Football was my passion growing up and every member of my family, schoolmates and friends thought I will grow up to become a footballer until when I had an accident that halted my dreams of pursuing my football career to become a footballer like Stephen Appiah. I fought with my friends and schoolmates for the jersey number 10 because of Leroy.
I watched Stephen Appiah captained the Black Stars for the 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifiers with my grandfather and I remember asking him when am I going to see Uncle Steve? My late granddad laughed and said he is a player everyone likes and loves because of his passion and dedication. He is not part of our family. What my granddad told me never discouraged me from following Stephen Appiah.
Almost a decade after his retirement from international football, Stephen Appiah is still receiving commendations for his leadership qualities, particularly for the Black Stars. Appiah assumed the captaincy role at a time when disunity had become endemic in the Black Stars causing the team to miss out on some international tournaments and finals from 1992 to 2005.
Appiah’s reign as Black Stars captain saw a breath of fresh air where there was utmost respect and unity among players of the team. His era also saw remarkable success being chalked by the Black Stars and he has often been praised for being a unifier.
At the launch of Betway’s 12th man initiative at the Alisa Hotel, celebrated sports broadcaster Kwabena Yeboah eulogised the ‘Tornado’ and praised him for the unity and discipline he instilled in the team.
“I have been around for while and watch football for a decade. I have seen a lot of captains of national teams for decades but I always stress that the best captain I have met in my entire journalistic life is Capitano, Stephen Appiah. This is a man whose captainship he ensured he did not lord over the players and they reciprocated and no wonder during his tenure, Ghana football was at the pinnacle,” he said.
Because of Appiah, I became an ardent listener of sports in various radio stations just to hear presenters praising Stephen Appiah for his dedication. Following Ghana’s maiden qualification to the 2006 World Cup, I watched Stephen Appiah keenly and scoring that famous penalty against the USA in the group phase of the competition is something I will always cherish just like every Ghanaian.
Despite Ghana’s elimination from the tournament, Appiah was praised for his leadership qualities and leading the team to the Round of 16 of the competition for the first time in the history of the country. After Italy were crowned world champions, I asked myself, when will I meet Stephen Appiah? Anytime I see him play with the captain’s armband is something wonderful and I always kept pushing and hoping to see Stephen Appiah one day.
I never saw him play for Hearts of Oak but supporters of the club still cherish him. I was not born when there was captaincy fracas around the Black Stars as to who is qualified to be the captain of the team but I fell in love with Stephen Appiah watching him for the first time and I don’t know why. He has consistently been praised for his ability to unite players and motivate them to go all out during his days with the senior national team.
When Appiah confirmed his retirement from the national team, many Ghanaian football enthusiasts wept because of his dedication and his passion for the game. During his testimonial match at the Accra Sports Stadium on June 2015 which I was not able to go, he was praised for his dedication on many radio stations in the capital and watching the game on television was emotional for me and I was shocked with the number of people that went to the stadium. Footballers, former footballers and statesmen who honoured Appiah’s invitation was something that really touched my heart as a fan of Stephen Appiah.
Despite my six years of practising journalism, one person I always love to listen to and talk about is Stephen Appiah. In 2019, I had a chat with a senior colleague in the media about Stephen Appiah and I was stunned. My senior colleague revealed how Stephen Appiah welcomed that news when Milovan Rajevac decided to leave him out of the team for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa due to his long injury layoff.
It would be remembered that Appiah missed the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations hosted here in Ghana due to injury. However, he became the special adviser to the players. Fernabache needed Appiah back for rehabilitation in Turkey but he failed to show up. He eventually terminated his contract with the Turkish giants due to unfair treatment.
Appiah was on trial with the London-based club Tottenham Hotspur in January 2009 with a view to a 6-month permanent contract, however, concerns over his knee and fitness resulted in no contract being offered. The following month Appiah underwent a trial at Rubin Kazan but the Russian champions decided against signing the player because of the same fitness concerns. Despite being without a club since his departure from Fenerbahçe in June 2008, Appiah remained a regular with the national team throughout the 2008–09 season with this situation at hand, the Serbian tactician decided to exclude Appiah from his squad.
This information was passed on to the management committee of the team and they were stunned and couldn’t tell Appiah at his face about the decision of the coach. The management committee of the team went back to Coach Milo and asked him to call Appiah to his office and explain the situation to him because he is an iconic player for the country. When Appiah was accompanied by the management committee to the office of the coach, was told that he has been dropped but on a second thought, he will be included to the team but will not be guaranteed starting place meaning he will lose his captaincy as well.
Appiah welcomed the decision and pledged his support for the team. Coach Milo and the management committee members couldn’t believe how Appiah spoke. During the tournament, Appiah was cheered up by the fans and his presence was always felt on the pitch. This is a true leader and a person that the country must honour.
Appiah played a similar role in Brazil 2014 when the players boycotted training due to the unfulfilled promises by the management members of the team. Appiah went to the rooms of the players and convinced them to honour the final group game against Portugal.
It did not come to me as a surprise when Kwesi Appiah named Stephen Appiah as part of his technical team. With his experience and dedication, he was welcomed by the football fraternity in the country.
With no doubt, Stephen Appiah was on top of his duties and did his best for the country to ensure Ghana win the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations but it couldn’t be materialised.
On Tuesday, March 3, I arrived at the office late and I was not certain if I could make it to the Accra City Hotel for the announcement of the 23-man squad for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Sudan. I told my colleague at the office I want to attend the press conference and she told me I can go. I had a call shortly from a media friend who also asked me to show up.
Upon my arrival, Stephen Appiah, whom I have been hoping to see all these years was the first person I saw together with Fiifi Tackie at the entrance. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I screamed and the driver asked if I am okay. I told him I am fine just that I just saw someone I have been hoping to see all these years.
At the auditorium, I was sitting behind Stephen Appiah and all the media men were around him and I was shy to even call his name and ask for a picture. He was applauded when he arrived at the press conference.
Finally, I gathered the courage and tapped him from his shoulder and asked for a picture and he said, “young man, please come. I am just one of you.”
I couldn’t control my tears when he said that. I asked for his contact and he gave it to me willingly and asked me to call him anytime.
For me, I can only describe him as selfless, welcoming, humble and someone with a big heart.
Stephen Appiah has indirectly played a key role in my life from far and his influence has helped me to aspire to achieve greater things.
Leading the country to the 2006 and 2010 FIFA World Cups is something Ghanaians will never forget and meeting Stephen Appiah after 20 years is something I will forever cherish.
Indeed, it is a dream come true for me.