Source: By Andy Quao
Last Saturday marked the 42nd year since goalkeeping legend, Robert Mensah passed on in a tragic death that drove an excruciating pain into the hearts of many football loving fans.
Robert died at the Tema General Hospital on November 2, 1971, after surgery by one Dr Obeng to remove pieces of a broken bottle from his stomach after he was stabbed by one Melfah during a scuffle.
Even though he was preceded by some goalkeeping greats such as Addoquaye Laryea, Dodoo Ankrah and others, and then succeeded by latter generation namely Joe Carr, Sam Suppey and others, Robert in his famous cap was a unique goalkeeping brand, who captivated the fans with his magic in his time.
A supremely talented goalkeeper, who until his untimely death in 1971 was the reigning Africa’s best goalkeeper, he led Kumasi Asante Kotoko to their first continental triumph after a thrilling Africa Clubs Championship duel against the fabled Englebert of Congo DR, then a powerhouse of African football.
According to reports, Robert frustrated the home team with some great goalkeeping heroics as strikers of the home team who in prime positions failed to beat him in post.
Indeed, the climax of Robert Mensah’s master class emerged when in the dying minutes of this crunch grand finale after the Congolese have held Asante Kotoko to a goalless draw in first leg encounter at the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi when he saved a penalty struck by the great Kalala of Englebert.
The Porcupine Warriors emerged victorious in the battle on an away-goal advantage to lift the 1970 edition of the Africa Clubs Championship.
Robert Mensah joined Kotoko from Cape Coast Mysterious Dwarfs in 1969 after he inspired the Abontua Abontua Boys to thrash Kumasi Asante Kotoko 5-0 in 1968 at the famous Siwudu Park, incidentally now named after him. Interestingly, that was the time Kotoko had returned from a training tour abroad.
According to the Ghanaian football folklore, the great Robert Mensah frustrated Kotoko so much that at certain stages of the game, he deliberately threw the ball to an unmarked wizard Osei Kofi, whose delicate chip was fantastically tipped to corner by the great goalkeeper.
Following that achievement, Asante Kotoko – then under the management of the late businessman B.K. Edusei – lured the goalkeeper to sign for the Pocupine Warriors in the subsequent season.
However, the former Dwarfs goalkeeper could not readily replicate his awesome goalkeeping magic in Kumasi, and his first appearance which was a Kumasi derby against Kumasi Cornerstone, proved disastrous as Kotoko lost 3-0. Robert lost his position to Essel Mensah, an airforce man in the Ghana Army.
However, by a twist of fate, Robert was to redeem his goalkeeping status as the leading goalkeeper of the Porcupine Warriors when Essel travelled with the Ghanaian military contingent to participate in an Africa Military Games in Burkina Faso.
Robert took advantage of the opportunity to steal the show in the club’s African Clubs Championship quarter-finals duel against Stationary Stores of Nigeria in 1970.
Having captured the Kotoko post, Robert excelled in the subsequent games on both the local and continental front, including the two legged semi-final matches against Young Africans of Tanzania, to qualify for the final.
According to Ibrahim Mahama, a former board member of Kotoko, few days before he passed on, Robert kept telling him to let the Kotoko management honour their promise of buying a car for him after his extraordinary contribution to the club’s successful campaign in the 1970 Africa Clubs Championship.
“Kotoko must give me what is due me now. They shouldn’t wait till I die before they come organising a flamboyant funeral,” he told Mahama who was then in charge of welfare of the club.
In pursuit of his claim from the management of Kotoko, Robert abandoned camp as he refused to keep the Kotoko post, and in the words of Mahama: ”I pursued Robert to Tema and finally persuaded him to keep the post in a match against their bogey club, Akosombo Akotex, at Somanya.
Mahama said he met Robert at a drinking spot at Community Four in Tema, and just when they were about to board a taxi from the spot, Robert saw two young men, namely Nana Ahwere and Melfah engaged in a fight. Robert went between them in his bid to separate the two men, but in the process, Melfah who broke one of the bottles to stab his opponent rather ended up stabbing Robert in the stomach, who fell on the broken bottle, the other end of it still stuck in his stomach.
“We rushed Robert to the Tema General Hospital, and he was immediately sent to the operating theatre. In what appeared a successful operation, Robert was brought back the next day looking well, but unfortunately he told me that he would not make it, so he directed me to take his famous goalkeeping accoutrements, including his cap, boots and jersey, and give them to his son Papa, who is now a Prison officer at Ghana Prisons,” Mahama recounted in an interview with the Graphic Sports.
Robert died the next day after the operation.