Benjamin Shamo Quaye, one of the greatest football entertainers to don the tri-colours of the Glorious Hearts of Oak, bade an untimely goodbye to the physical world, at the tender age of 26 on the 30th November 1997.
Shamo lived for just a quarter-of-a century-and-a-year, but the torch he lighted and the love story in his almost 10-year stay with Accra Hearts of Oak will never be forgotten in the history of Ghana football.
The mercurial midfielder played for Soccer Angels, Division 3 side Akp3 Stars, before he joined Hearts in 1986 in the Musical Youth era. He had stints with Africa Sports, played in Saudi Arabia, and was a player of Umea FC of Sweden when the unfortunate happened after he complained of severe headaches after a training kick-about in Tema.
During a very torrid time for the club in the late 1980s, rose this special rose from the concrete; out of the turmoil, Shamo became the halcyon we could all rely on. In his first season, Shamo Quaye won the Discovery of The Season Award in 1987. The small success was overcome by a patron-versus-directors-schism that rocked the boat of the club in 1988. But when calm returned in 1989/90, Shamo Quaye’s thirteen goals in the league pushed Hearts to its first league title in five years.
Most will remember him for his prowess, bravery, valour, football wizardry and trickery, but a very few still recollect his genuine human qualities off the field that made him the amazing man he became.
On a road trip to Takoradi just three years ago, Hearts masseur Ali Adjetey alias “Ozi-Oz”a was sent into a 30-minute-spell-of-reticence when, after he had mentioned that the late Shamo Quaye would have been a great coach, his partner in the physio team riposted that ‘not all great players are good coaches’.
He looked for answers, but could not find any. He wanted to speak, but he could not muster a word. Almost half-an-hour later, and more composed, he innocently asked his colleague: “Did you ever see Shamo play?”
The answer was an honest: “No, but I heard he was a great player”. Ozi-Oza said again and as if his colleague had committed a sacrilege, “Yes that is why you said what you said.”
All these had started when I chanced on a Hearts booklet titled: “Prospectus for the sale of 20,000,000 ordinary shares of no par value to Accra Hearts of Oak Sporting Club Ltd.”
On the 25th (xxv) page of the booklet’s introduction, a picture of Shamo Quaye was spread, with the small caption, “Legendary Hearts player – Shamo Quaye”.
He was the last in a line with a teammate’s hand hanging on his left shoulder. But he looked different. He looked reflective as if he was gauging into the future or ferreting for a thing from the past. It was before a game, his hands loosely by his side, and countless faces in the background.
Those were the people Shamo came to entertain, and they were awaiting the master entertainer with an assured hope that they would take something unforgettable from the never failing repertoire of the Hearts No.10.
Yet, he did not appear battle ready. But such was his demeanour – calm in person, composed on the ball and explosive in the box. More importantly, also, he could always put on a show when he wanted to or the occasion demanded. He was the mystery man.
Ozi-Oza had tried in vain to get the right words to describe the man. I asked him why he said Shamo was such a good man. Ozi’s answer was simple: “He cared so much for every single one of us who worked for the club, and he made them raise my salary and I will never forget that.”
How could a player wield so much power and yet be so humble? I asked again. “….Because,” followed by a long pause “he was Shamo Quaye! He cared so much for the rest of us and that made him who he was. The fame never got to him. He worked the most and prayed the most as well before games, and God answered most of his prayers,” Ozi-Oza answered.
The always smiling, joke-cracking Hearts Masseur was getting very emotional talking about a man who had been gone for 17 years.
He said that Shamo always pointed to his colleagues where to move and stand on the field of play. He thought a minute ahead of all the players on the pitch, and he could do whatever he wanted to do with the ball. And it was the reason he said Shamo could have been a great coach.
When I asked Ozi what his funniest moment with Shamo Quaye was, to ease off the rising maudlin, he replied: “One day, I asked Shamo Quaye: Why don’t you have an English name? Shamo laughed and smiled. ‘Aaah, Ozi, don’t you know that Benjamin is my English name?’”
Most of us had forgotten what his English name was because we had rechristened him, “LEATHER” and shouted, “WONDER” whenever he stupefied our eyes.
He came in at the tender age of 15 in late 1986, but he rose like a giant to stake his claim in the pantheon of the greatness of Accra Hearts of Oak by the time he left in 1995.
“Since I saw Shamo play, I never saw him lose form. He could wander in the game as if he was not there, but once he sprang to life, he either scored a goal or made WONDERS,” one staunch Phobian and former NCC General Secretary, Maxwell Koranteng recalled.
Ex-Hearts PRO, Muheeb Saeed added: “Well, the best players score goals, but Shamo Quaye scored hard to comprehend goals.”
For those of you, who were lucky enough to see the WONDER goals and there were a lot of them, Shamo’s memory will linger forever. Yes, that season-double against Olympics in 1990, home and away. Remember? Shamo Quaye had the ball in the middle of the pitch; goalkeeper Karl Sekyere had committed the cardinal error of vacating his 6-yard line, a drop of the shoulder and a split-second peep at the opposing goal, the “leather” drove home a magical chip from the center circle, wide eyes and gasps followed the strike. Sekyere flinched a muscle to retreat to his line, but there was no stopping the salient strike. It was the equalizer, and it denied city-rivals Olympics the bragging rights. Then, again, he repeated it. If they ever thought that he was lucky on the first attempt in the first league, they were proved wrong. Lightning does not strike twice but Shamo scored a picturesque replica of his long-range lob again against Karl Sekyere and Olympics. Incidentally, it was the equalizer again.
And were you at the Kaladan in 1990? The day the dreaded Kaladan Park die-hard and hard-to-please RTU fans clapped for an opposing team goal. Hand up, Shamo. The magical Hearts No.10 drove a low, carpet strike from about 35-meters, on a pitch that had gained notoriety for its undulating nature, to gift Hearts a lone goal victory over RTU leaving the home fans dumbfounded as they kept appreciating the sensational effort.
And were you part of the few who decided to leave the stadium with the score goalless in a league fixture with Dwarfs in Accra? The time was up, and it was the year of drawn games going to penalties. The two teams had just submitted their list for the spot kicks. Guess, who was not in the mood for penalties? Shamo Quaye, lining-up with Mohammed Polo, conjured a simple yet exquisite one-two, to send the stadium into absolute delirium.
Still fresh in the memory is that goal against Asante Kotoko in the 1990 League Decider. It was the opening goal. It was not an ordinary goal; it was a goal that could make a ghoul an angel. Shamo Quaye, sandwiched between two centre backs – and remember, he was not the tallest of players – met a looping cross midair, without the ball touching the turf, and unleashed a fierce volley into Mohammed Odoom’s net. Are you bemused? No need for yes. So was goalkeeper Mohammed Odoom, who concluded in the local dialect that, “Shamo is a wizard!” Shamo celebrated like he was in the stands by taking off his no.10 shirt. Shirtless Shamo Scorcher! It was for those who were lucky to be there.
The “wonder” man reserved one of those wonder goals for the Wonder Club in the mid-1990s too. Richard Kingston was just etching his name on the local terrain, and he was a thorn-in-the-flesh of the Phobians in a league encounter at the Accra Sports Stadium. The Accra rivalry had just been reduced to a Kingston-versus-Hearts affair as the Phobians bombarded unsuccessfully the goal area of Olympics. Yet, and timely too, Shamo Quaye had just returned from a trip abroad to re-echo his name once again in the capital’s longest running rivalry. Kingston’s heroics on any other day might have won the plaudits and the points for Olympics, but Shamo skillfully outshone the young keeper and Olympics, again.
Olympics were defending a goal lead, Kingston was saving everything in his way, then came the Shamo moment. A looping ball into the area was majestically trapped between-toe-and-shin, and still, with his foot hanged in the air, he flicked it sideways into the net to leave Kingston rooted. He did not wait for the ball to hit the back of the net as he wheeled away towards the score-board-end of the stadium to celebrate with the vociferous fans.
Shamo Quaye had the sense of the dramatic and had delayed his entry onto the pitch to add to the suspense. In the end, he left the pitch with as much applause as he had entered it.
The son of a fisherman and a Ga Fetish Priestess, born in Tema New Town, rose to become the symbol of the indomitable spirit of Accra Hearts of Oak in less than a decade. And what a dynamic symbol he became. The Shamo Leather is fondly remembered by all Phobians on the 20th anniversary of his demise.
The WONDER man lives on, not just on the field, but in the heart of the many Hearts fans he thrilled and uplifted in the short time he spent on earth.
Wherever you are, Benjamin Shamo Papa “leather” Quaye, your name will be remembered forever and ever. Sleep well, sleep well, sleep well.