Former Accra Hearts of Oak captain Yaw Amankwah Mireku has revealed on LifeStyle TV’s Heart and Soul programme how he led his team to sack some jujumen or spiritualists from their dressing room before the team’s historic 2000 CAF Champions League 5:2 triumph over Esperance of Tunisia at the Accra Sports stadium.
The phobians led 2:1 from the first leg in Tunisia but the stakes were very high going into the return leg of the final game at home.
“We approached the dressing room and as we were about to enter, we saw some guys (spiritualists) in there,” Mireku told show host Erasmus Kwaw.
“I asked them, why are you guys here? They said we have been asked to come and pray for you guys.
Interestingly, Hearts were yet to lose a game in their African campaign in 2000 where they strictly followed a religious programme of fasting and prayers, according to Mireku.
“So I asked them when we started this whole campaign where were you guys? We have done our homework so we don’t need you and we know God is on our side. Therefore can you guys leave the dressing room before we enter?
“Some of the players and our big men did not understand what I was trying to do. I told the players, nobody will enter the dressing until the (spiritualist) leave.”
“So this is what I remember of that day. That I stood strongly against anything that was going to derail us and we knew God was on our part.
Mireku’s account is corroborated by the late Hearts Coach Sir Cecil Jones Attuquayefio as evidenced in the book “Juju, Magic and Witchcraft in African Soccer: Myth or Reality?
“When he and his team got to the dressing, they were shocked to find the chairs reserved for them being occupied by some strange ‘spiritualists,’ some of whom were holding bibles and ‘tesbihs’(an Islamic type of rosary),” an account in the book reads.
“But Jones broke no compromise as far as his spiritual preparations are concerned. And in order not to disturb the already psyched-up team to lose focus, I mustered enough courage and politely drove the ‘strangers away.’ They did not protest my order but obliged and left the changing room.”
In the event, Hearts found the going very tough in the early part of the game and even conceded the first goal before coming back to score three times to defeat the Tunisians 5:2 on aggregate.
Sir Cecil Jones Attuquayefio further remarked in the book: “After the match, most of my players conceded that had the ‘strange medicine men’ been allowed to interfere with the team’s spiritual preparations, Hearts would have been defeated.
Meanwhile, Yaw Amankwah Mireku revealed the secret to the success of the 2000 Hearts of Oak team, affectionately called the 64 battalion.
“The secret that helped us win the champions league, super cup and others was that we realised when it comes to the field, we were not better than the Mohammed Polos and Shamo Quayes. We took inspiration from the Polos and realised that when it comes to football we are not better than those people, but let’s add the last thing which is the ultimate: which is fasting, prayer and believing that God will help us. And yes, we found favour in the sight of God and we delivered.
Asked to comment on Sir Cecil Jones Attuquaefio’s philosophy on juju in football, Mireku insisted that Jones was very religious.
“I never came across Jones giving directions or telling a player to take this water or something to the field. No, I never came across something like that. I was the captain (of Accra Hearts of Oak), apart from the Champions League final where Jacob Nettey captained the team, I took over again. So I agree with Jones’ view (that any player or coach worth his sort should not indulge in juju) but it also depends on the faith of the individual. We had Christians and Moslems in the team and the ultimate thing was that we came together and prayed. We had times we prayed. In the morning, sometimes by 6:00 am and in the evening by 6:45 pm we come together and we pray. This is the ultimate that knew. If there is any other thing that pertained then maybe it depends on the individual.”
The Heart and Soul programme showed another short interview account by J.E. Sarpong, who was Jones’ assistant coach in the national U-23 team in 2004.
“Jones was very religious and I am very happy I met him. Jones would tell you lets pray and tell you why we need to pray before we start with candles,” he said.
“You know he was an Anglican. He puts the candles down, and we kneel and pray and leave afterward. People thought he went somewhere after winning the Confederations Cup and Champions League. It was through prayers. I am sitting here today to tell you Jones never went to see any juju man.
Coach Sarpong added, “I remember there was a time the U-23s went to Burkina Faso and somebody sneaked something into our camp, so one of the players reported the matter to Jones. He called me and told me, to go and tell that person never to come to our camp again before we leave. It was some Ghanaians in Burkina Faso who wanted to help the national team meanwhile we don’t do these things. So I had to go warn that person to leave the camp because we don’t do that. It was because a player came to report it. It shows you the mentality of the player.”
Heart and Soul is anchored by Ghana’s two-time Press Attaché at the Olympic Games, Erasmus Kwaw. It is telecast on Saturdays at 11:00 am and replays on Fridays at 3:30 pm on LifeStyle TV.