A Northern Star Fades; the Demise of RTU
The end is near for Real Tamale United and the prospects are very disheartening; a team that once competed at the upper echelons of Ghana National Football League and thrilled thousands of its supporters with entertaining football is now a pale shadow of itself.
Firmly anchored at the bottom of the League Table – an ignominious berth – with a measly two points, its relegation to the second tier of Ghana football and ultimately into obscurity is all but guaranteed.
The team’s demotion is easily traced to poor management, the conspicuous absence of a wealthy northerner to provide infusions of cash and but more importantly, to the general lack of interest in the National League reflected by sparse attendance at football games around the country. Others put the blame squarely on the foreign football leagues of England and Spain.
RTU the brainchild of a former military administrator of the northern region Colonel Zuma, and other northern luminaries, the late Vice President Alhaji Aliu Mahama, his bosom pals, the late B.A.Fuseini and the late Dr. Baba of Vetrico – resulted from the fusion of Real Sportive and Northern United in 1978.
Until the emergence of RTU, the northern regions were not adequately represented in the National Football League for which many blamed the GFA; prior forays into the League by two Tamale-based teams, Gbewaa United and Savannah Stars were tremendous failures.
The teams, locked in local rivalry for years, were incompetent and performed poorly on the national stage. Unsurprisingly, they suffered humiliating defeats and were mercifully relegated. The amalgam (RTU) proved potent as it went on to demolish all opposition to earn a berth in the National League with players whose skills and talent rivaled those of any in the country at the time.
Players such as Osgood, Mohammed Killer, Musah States, Baba Thunder, Kwame Danger, Bobby Moore, Tanways, Clifford Addae, Karim Star Boy, Sarfo, Kusi, Ampomani, Ahmed Dauda, Farouk, Tetteh and Lanquaye, Abedi Pele, Abu Imoro and Shaibu Grant instantly became household names. They were a delight to watch, those boys.
RTU’s emergence as a force to contend with in the 1980s engendered an intense feeling of pride and identity among those of us who for years threw our support behind teams in the south. Finally, here was a football team that we could call our own, a team that would tear down the indignities that were associated with everything northern. And they did not disappoint.
Though a novelty to some in the south because they could not believe their eyes at the skills on display, RTU’s first year in the NFL was a celebration of sorts because it showcased the football talent that was abundant in the north, but which sadly, the GFA deliberately ignored for years in selecting players for the national team.
Big clubs like Kotoko, Hearts, Hasaccas, Olympics and Cornerstones fell victims to RTUs’ ferocious brand of football. The team came close to winning the National League in 1979 but for the GFA machinations that implicitly prevented the team from swiping the League trophy to Tamale.
The team’s home-games on Sundays and Wednesdays were joyous occasions. Tamale went agog, especially so when a big team was in town to take on the locals. I remember trooping in the scorching sun to the barren Kaladan Stadium with friends dressed in our best clothes to watch and cheer RTU. It was a period of incredible excitement and pride that would remain tucked in the recesses of my mind for years to come.
RTU may be on its way out of the national limelight, but during its almost 30-plus years in the League it provided it core supporters scattered around the country with moments of ecstasy and joy.
My most memorable game was the knockout duel against Hearts in 1981 at the Accra Sports Stadium.It was a blistering hot afternoon and RTU came to play. They scored the first goal when Mohammed Choo blasted the ball pass the gangly Hearts goal-keeper from Kusi’s excellent pass.
To honest observers RTU won the game, but was denied victory when the referee inexplicably awarded a penalty to Hearts in the dying minutes of the thriller. The hearts of RTU supporters were broken and once again the conspiracy narrative propounded at that time was that the GFA had pulled the strings behind the scenes in favor of the Accra-based Hearts.
Those were the good old days, but times have changed. The RTU of old is long gone. The team has lost its once formidable luster even with a gleaming stadium as its base. Once it is relegated, digging its way out of the second division abyss will be an uphill task. And old worries will resurface; football talent from the northern regions will be an afterthought for the GFA.