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Regarded as one of the best if not the best Ghanaian goalkeeper of all time, it is not so surprising that some of his major milestones are celebrated and remembered 49 years after his tragic death.
On this day, October 3, 1971, the legendary Ghanaian goalkeeper Robert Mensah played his last game for Asante Kotoko in what is today known as the CAF Champions League before his death.
Champions of Africa Kotoko thrashed Egyptian side Ismaily 3-0 to set a date with Great Olympics in an all-Ghanaian semi-final in the Africa Champions Cup.
In their triumph against Ismaily, Robert Mensah was in the post while Oliver Acquah, Abukari & Malik Jabir got the three goals for the Porcupine Warriors.
Sadly and tragically, Robert Mensah was stabbed a few days to the much-anticipated semifinal against Accra Great Olympics.
Mensah died at the age of 32.
Kotoko had been preparing for an African Club Championship semi-final match against Accra Great Olympics on November 7 and Robert Mensah was expected to be in camp with his teammates in Kumasi when the terrible incident happened.
Mensah as a goalkeeper who, although highly respected, seemed incapable of avoiding controversies.
According to eyewitness accounts, Mensah was stabbed while separating two friends who were fighting at Credo drinking bar at Community 7, Tema, on October 30.
More details emerged later. Inspector CJ Acquaye of the local police said a quarrel had arisen between Agya Awere and Joseph Ackersou, two local men who were drinking in the bar. A third man, 31-year-old electrician called Melfah, was remanded in custody, accused of having followed Mensah from the bar after the fight and attacked him.
As for Mensah, he had been operated on, and the prognosis seemed positive. By the time the public read that, though, it was already out of date: aged 32, Mensah died at the Tema General Hospital, at 2:30am on Tuesday, November 2, 1971.
“He was,” the columnist Addo Twum asserted, “a Big man with Big hands and Big heart and no doubt, Ghana’s foremost goalkeeper. Robert stood more than 6ft tall and handled a football with the same contemptuous ease that Jose Louis treated the gloves … There will be many good goalkeepers but there will never be another ‘Yashin’ Mensah.
He will be remembered in his black jersey and magic cap. He had a superb sense of anticipation, great physical fitness and the courage and confidence to go down to the feet of dangerous attackers. And of course, those magic hands that could pick a ball out from the air as simply and effortlessly as the feet of legend Pele score goals, will be seen no more.”
His funeral became a procession of tragedy, as his body was taken from Tema to Kumasi, home of Kotoko. It was for them he had played his greatest games, most notably in their epic victory over the Mobutu-backed T.P. Englebert of Kinshasha in the African Clubs Cup final of 1970.
There were, the Graphic reported, “thousand of mourners, young and old … school children refused to attend classes and rushed to the airport and the sports stadium to pay their last respects … there was wailing and weeping at the nooks and corners of the city.
Traffic stood still as taxi cabs, private cars and commercial vehicles wrapped in the red traditional colours of Kumasi, lined up in the streets tooting their horn signifying their last past to Robert Mensah.”
An accompanying news story reported that “A tro-tro driver today died at the Okomfo Anokye Hospital after drinking his head off following the death of Robert Mensah.”
Ohene Djan, Ghana’s first Director (Minister) of Sports, recalled Mensah’s performance for the national team. “For his brilliant performance in the national team the nation, nay, the entire continent of Africa will mourn him with fitting tributes and eulogy,” he said.
“Robert is no more, but his sparkling performance will endure forever.”
The Sports Council of Ivory Coast, providing respect for Mensah was not limited by national affiliation, donated to Mensah’s widow.
Mensah’s cortege went on to Cape Coast, where he had begun his career with Dwarfs. His coffin was presented at the Town Hall and taken, via Victoria Park, to St Francis’s Cathedral where he was buried.
That day, the Graphic printed on its back page a photograph of a concrete slab near a kiosk selling cigarettes and soft drinks 150 yards from the Credo Bar in Tema. It is spattered with Mensah’s blood.
His assailant, Melfah was jailed for five years for manslaughter.
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