November 1977: The Miracle of El-Wak
Accra Hearts of Oak beat Zambian side Mighty Mufulira Wanderers 3-0, in a game that came to be christened, “The Miracle of El-Wak” at the El-Wak Stadium on 6th November 1977 to seal the Club’s maiden appearance in the finals of the Africa Club Champions Cup.
A fortnight before the day of the return encounter, Hearts were walloped 5-2 by Wanderers in Zambia.
The Phobians were a pale shadow of the side that had eliminated – then-burgeoning African giants – Al Ahly in the quarter-finals, without the services of magician Mohammed Ahmed Polo.
And despite taking the lead in front of the 80,000 home fans through Robert Hammond in the fifth minute, Hearts were down 3-1 before the break.
Wanderer’s skipper Ackim Musenga restored parity from the penalty spot in the 20th minute but two goals in two minutes from veteran striker Thomas Castella Bwalya and Mukwasa handed the home side the momentum in the closing stages of the first half.
Six minutes after the break, Hearts captain Mama Musa reduced the deficit, but it only served to infuriate the hosts who added two goals through Bwalya and Mukwasa to put the game beyond the Phobians.
Hearts had fallen short twice in the Africa Club Champions Cup. In 1972, the Rainbow club choked at the semi-final stage, drawing 1-1 at home and losing by a lone goal in Kampala to Simba FC, and they failed again in 1974 in the quarter-finals against Tanzanian side by name Simba FC.
The reigning Ghana league champions had started the 1977 campaign with the sole aim of getting their hands on the most sought-after Africa Club Champions Series Cup.
Hearts swept aside Liberian side St. Joseph Warriors 5-2 on aggregate in the first round, beat Senegalese side ASC Diaraf 3-2 on aggregate in the second round with Robert Hammond stealing the show, humbled Al-Ahly 3-1 on aggregate in the quarter-finals through a double from Peter Lamptey, but their fate hanged by a thread following a humbling in Zambia.
And so the stage was set for a debacle or a miracle at the El-Wak Stadium on the 6th November, 1977 in the return encounter. The Phobians had beaten Al-Ahly at the same venue by 3 unanswered goals in the quarter-finals, but it appeared almost impossible for
them to beat a side that had put five past them a fortnight earlier without conceding a goal.
After all the doubts and mathematics, the day of the game arrived but with it came extra pressure on the team. The sense of the occasion had gotten to the players and the fear of failure made it difficult for them to get their acts together in the first half.
A young 22-year-old boy from Nima by name Mohammed Polo had returned to the side after missing out in the first league.
With or without him, the questioners had asked the question: Is Polo Hearts or Hearts is Polo? A rhetorical question that always rose when Hearts played or lost without their talisman in action.
So cometh the hour, cometh the man. After a dull first half, Polo, the dribbling magician led the assault on the Zambians. His gentle cross in the 59th minute was blasted home by thunder-man Anas Seidu for the lifeline goal. Hearts had 30 minutes to make something happen out of the game, but they had to wait till the 79th minute to breach the Wanderers defense again.
Polo, again, was at the heart of the goal. He dazzled the Mufulira defense before finding his ‘best man’ Peter “goal thief” Lamptey, who made no mistake, by flicking the ball past the goalkeeper. Hearts 2-0 Wanderers. Still 4-5 on aggregate.
11 minutes remained for the Hearts XI men. And with one Emmanuel Ofei Ansah about to thump the ball upfront on what would be the last foray forward, Polo dropped deep in defense to demand for the ball. He fetched out his captain, the veteran Mama Acquah who paced to the right flank from midfield, replicating his bombing runs which earned him the moniker “Bomber”, before cutting the ball across for the on-rushing Anas Seidu to bury the ball home. 88 minutes on the clock. 3-0 it read. 5-5 on aggregate.
They said it could not be done. They said three goals could be scored, but it was impossible not to concede to the highflying Zambians. They said Hearts could not play in the finals of the Africa Club Championship.
But they did. They conjured the MIRACLE OF EL-WAK to progress to the finals.
Following the apogée of the Miracle of El-Wak, came the nadir of the finals. Hearts lost 0-1 at home to Hafia of Guinea but despite putting up a solid fight in Conakry in the return league, they lost 3-2 and missed out on their first-ever continental trophy.
The Miracle-Of-El-Wak happened just five days before the Club’s 66th anniversary and though Hearts did not win the cup in 1977, the legends of yesteryears shall not be forgotten for the miraculous game they gave this nation on the 6th November 1977.
HEARTS (starting) XI v MUFLIRA WANDERERS:
Evans Aryee Quaye
Emmanuel Ofei Ansah
[[First appeared in Hearts News (Nov. 2014); reproduced in the now extinct accraheartsofoaksc.com (Nov. 2017); written by Anwar Umar Larry; dedicated to Peter Lamptey (who, together with Polo, was denied the opportunity to play in the United States by the government of Ghana]]
Source: Anwar U. Larry