Ghana is one of the biggest football countries in Africa. At the heart of this history are two clubs, Accra Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko.
Encounters between the two teams go beyond football. Like most derbies, it is a social event on its own. Hearts vs. Kotoko is also a clash between the two biggest cities in Ghana: Accra v Kumasi. It is a clash between the North and the South of Ghana. Hence, the name “Super Clash.”
Origins of the Clubs
Accra Hearts of Oak was formed on November 11, 1911, by young folks from Ussher Town, Accra, led by Christopher Brandford Nettey (an influential war leader during the colonial era).
The club, which is popularly known for its rainbow colors (Red, Yellow & Blue), initially sported the colors green and white until a change in 1917.
Asante Kotoko was formed later on based on inspiration from Accra Heart of Oak. A driver on a visit to Accra from Kumasi watched an Accra Hearts of Oak match and was inspired to start a club of his own.
Kwasi Kuma, the driver, established his club in Kumasi and named it Kumas Rainbows after the colors of Hearts of Oak in 1924. The club then saw several name changes from Rainbows, to Ashanti United, to Titanics and later Mighty Atoms.
The last name change happened in 1935 when a teacher sought permission from the then King of the Ashanti Kingdom, Otumfouo Nana Osei Pempreh II, to name the club after the Kingdom’s symbol Kotoko (which means porcupine in Twi).
Despite the seemingly shared origins, these clubs quickly transitioned into a rivalry that had never been seen on the continent. The main characters in this story arch have been the supporters of these two clubs who maintain a fierce rivalry.
The Hearts of Oak vs. Kotoko Rivalry
It took years for the two clubs to finally meet due to the administrative structure of football in the then Gold Coast (now Ghana). Football leagues were played at the regional level, which meant that the two teams couldn’t meet. When the national league rolled out in 1958, the battle lines were drawn.
The first match between the two was in Kumasi in a game filled with drama. By the end of the first half, Hearts was up by 0-3. This sent shock waves throughout the city beyond the stadium. It was unheard of to see Asante Kotoko lose at their home ground.
The fans considered it as an insult to see an Accra team beat the pride of the Ashanti Kingdom. Kotoko knowing very well that fans were unhappy, came back to a roaring start in the second half.
Kotoko quickly scored three goals in the first ten minutes to level the game at 3-3. Hearts quickly responded with another goal to make it 3-4, which made matters worse for the home fans. At this point, an element that will continue to be part of the history between these two clubs longer than anyone wanted, revealed itself: violence.
A clash between Hearts goalkeeper Addoquaye Laryea and Kotoko defender Gago Moro brought fans onto the pitch, causing the match to be called off due to crowd violence. As a result, the two teams agreed to a replay later in the same year. That match ended with more damaging results for Asante Kotoko as they lost 2-5 to Accra Hearts of Oak.
The battle lines were being drawn at this point, and the final leg of their league encounter made sure a historic rivalry was sealed.
At the time of the last match, Accra Hearts of Oak had already won the league. Kotoko had a lot to prove after the humiliating defeat at home and made sure they took their chances. The match ended in a surprising 2-4 win for Asante Kotoko. Unhappy Hearts of Oak threw objects at Asante Kotoko players after the game until police intervention.
At this point, the two fanbases had established their displeasure for each other and the Hearts vs. Kotoko story had begun.
The rivalry continued and was at its highest level in the late 90s and early 2000s. Around that time, the fans of both clubs rallied to form supporters groups to support their clubs. Asante Kotoko fans built a group called Kotoko Circles. The group spread across the various regions of Ghana to provide support for the team.
The relevance of the supporters’ group has grown over the years to the extent that the National Circles Chairman is a highly contested position among Kotoko fans.
Hearts fans also have their version of a supporters union called Hearts Chapters. These Chapters have also spread nationwide and each carries a specif number (e.g., Chapters 24).
Hearts fans respond to the name of the team with chants such as: “We Never Say Die Until the bones are rotten,” “Be quiet and don’t be silly,” and “Mighty XI.”
Kotoko fans also respond to their team name with “Fabulous!”, “If you kill a thousand, a thousand would return” (usually said in Twi, a local Ghanaian language).
The heated rivalry continued until tragedy hit in 2001.
The Accra Stadium Disaster
One of the darkest days in African football happened on May 9, 2001. During a Hearts and Kotoko game at the Ohene Djan Stadium in Accra, several fans lost their lives.
According to media reports, Kotoko fans started a riot, which prompted the reaction of the police. The police response, which included firing tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd, led to a stampede. During the chaos, 127 football fans lost their life.
The once vibrant social event instantly became unpopular and attendance rates dropped significantly in the derbies to follow.
The Super Clash Today
The sad events of May 9, 2001 continue to haunt the rivalry. Both sets of fans have not been able to fully recover from it. Every year fans treck to the Accra Sports Stadium to commemorate the event.
The Super Clash still attracts a lot of attention in Ghana but has record-low attendance compared to before the tragic incident. Having said that, games between the two teams still record the most fans in the local football league.
Additionally, both clubs have attempted to get fans excited again through various activities and initiatives.
In Ghanaian football, there will always be a divide along the lines of Accra Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko. It is one of the great football rivalries of Africa.
If you are going to watch football in Ghana, it is the game to see!