On Thursday 7th March 2023, when I heard a daughter wish her father a Happy 89th birthday on radio, my mind raced back into memory lane. Dodoo Ankrah, aka “Mr Magic Hands” was the goalkeeper for the Ghana Black Stars African Cup winning team for 1963 and 1965. A radio commentator who vividly described the exploits of Dodoo Ankrah was Joe Lartey!
My generation of primary school children growing up in the late 1950s into the early 1960s had an almost standard answer to the question “what would you like to be in future?” It was doctor, engineer or lawyer. Occasionally, some girls added “nurse,” just as some did with “teacher,” because their mothers were in those professions.
My Primary-Class-4 teacher could therefore not believe her ears when I answered her I wanted to be a commentator. Perhaps the shock was like a little boy telling his parents in the 1960s that, he wanted to play football for a career.
From an early age, sports fascinated me. However, since this was before television arrived in Ghana in the mid-1960s, boxing, athletics, football and horse-racing were brought to listeners by radio through commentators. Having observed my early interest in sports commentary, my father bought me a little transistor radio.
A live commentary I listened to was a world Heavyweight boxing title fight in the US on 25th February 1964. A 22-year-old American, Cassius Clay later Mohammed Ali shocked the boxing world by beating the fearsome defending champion Sony Liston to win the world heavyweight title.
Having won the 1960 Rome Olympic Games gold-medal in the light-heavyweight division, the 18-year old Clay had established his credentials as a future champion. However, beating the fearsome Sony Liston only four years later was considered a bridge too far.
Before television arrived in Ghana in the 1960s, it was radio commentators who brought sports into our homes. A commentator who impacted me heavily was the legendary Joe Lartey! His commentary brought football live to us. Indeed, such was the impression he made on me that, I started running commentary of football matches repeating everything he said.
Joe Lartey’s senior colleague and co-commentator, later Lt Col Festus Addae would often hand over running the commentary with, “over to you, Joe Lartey!” This was also adopted by another commentator William Opare.
So, who is Joe Lartey?
Joaquim Awuley Lartey aka Joe Lartey was born on 6th June 1927 in Accra. He attended Accra Academy. Popularly known as “Over to You,” Joe Lartey, the iconic broadcaster, was the first president of the Sports Writers Association of Ghana (SWAG).
Lartey’s journey in journalism began at the Ghana Broadcasting Cooperation (GBC) in 1961 as a football commentator. A decade later, he joined Radio Nigeria, where he stayed until 1990 before rejoining GBC and hosting programmes such as Sports Digest on GTV.
In our country which believes more in honouring Ghanaians in death, than when they are alive to appreciate it, we were given a good education to appreciate ourselves, when at age 95, Joe Lartey was honoured in DOHA on 13th June 2022. Perhaps, for his 95th birthday present, Joe Lartey, a legend of African sports journalism, received a befitting “A Life in Sport” honour from the International Sports Press Association (AIPS) at the AIPS Sport Media Awards ceremony held in Doha, Qatar.
Wheeled onto the stage by the president of the Sports Writers Association of Ghana (SWAG), Kwabena Yeboah, Joe Lartey with his smiling face, eloquent voice and grateful heart, drew admiration from the audience. He received an overwhelming standing ovation. Replying, he said;
“Thank you very much for bringing me all the way from Ghana to receive this wonderful honour. I came into contact with this organisation (AIPS) in early 1971 thereabout and the people who made it possible … both of them have passed on. Since the establishment of Sports Writers Association in Ghana, progress has been made and I think we will continue to make progress until the end of time.
I thank those who have been responsible for my journey to this place and the award you have given me. Since I arrived I have been saying thank you everywhere. I want to say thank you again to those of you who have been responsible for this presentation and believe me, I am very grateful and I extend to you a hearty handshake of thank you.”
Many Ghanaian football commentators cannot speak about their careers without mentioning the influence of Joe Lartey. At his home on his 95th birthday, he advised young journalists to remain committed. “I advised them to be committed. When I started participation in sports, I never dreamt that I'd come this far. My mother used to tell me, "a good name is better than riches", and I think I've proved it. A good name is really better than all the riches, …….. and that's why I'm here.”
Recalling some of the memorable moments in his career, Lartey said: “I remember my participation in sports commentaries from Surulere Stadium in Nigeria. And I remember when I joined people like the late Ernest Okonkwo, Sebastian Ofuru and the rest giving commentary on sports. I will never forget that! Kevin Ejiofor is still alive, I think he's no longer in sports but the sporting blood is in him and we speak once in a while on the telephone. I'm sorry that one or two of them are no longer alive but all of us are going. You get to a point where you knock on the door, it opens and you disappear, never to be seen again.”
Joe Lartey’s excellence as a journalist/sports-commentator reminds me of the American philosopher, author, poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson’s (1803-1880) famous quote:
“If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, though he builds his house in the wood, the world will still make a beaten path to his door!” Simply, virtue needs no self-advertisement, as exemplified in Lartey’s massive success in a “non-traditional” profession of journalism in his days!
For parents who force their children into professions they may not like, remember that, guiding them into what they are interested in, may be more beneficial to them as has been the case with Joe Lartey in Journalism. Help them discover their uniqueness, and not force them into being an uninterested replica of you, just to please you!
Again, Joe Lartey’s mother taught him the saying, “a good name is better the gold/riches!” For anyone who puts money ahead of everything in life, please be guided by Mama-Joe-Lartey’s advice. Indeed, Chaucer states in his Canterbury Tales that, “Radix malorum est cupiditas,” to wit, “the love of money/greed is the root of all evil.”
To 95-year-old commentator “Over-to-you” Joe Lartey, and 89-year-old “Mr-Magic-Hands” goalkeeper Dodoo Ankrah, THANK YOU for your service to Ghana!
Fellow Ghanaians, WAKE UP!
Brig Gen Dan Frimpong (Rtd)
Former CEO, African Peace Support Trainers Association
Family Health University College
Source: Brig Gen Dan Frimpong (Rtd), Former CEO, African Peace Support Trainers Association, Nairobi, Kenya
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