These are miserable times for football fans. As football takes a break from its typically ferocious and unforgiving lifestyle, it’s a time for fans to reflect and re-live their clubs’ most exciting players and joyful times.
Football might not actually be more important than life and death, but we really do miss it.
We at kickgh.com in the last few days have attempted to rewind the clock to a time when certain players hogged the headlines with talents and lit up stadiums. Emmanuel Osei Kuffour, tick. Charles Taylor, tick. Stephen Oduro, tick.
In this piece, we attempt to look at a divisive character regarded by many as the best winger in Ghana’s Premier League era.
There is something that strikes the ventricles of every football aficionado when they witness attacking wing play at its deadliest, exciting and most enthralling. A quick step-over, drop of the shoulder and skip past the full-back is what dreams are made of.
I may be whetting your appetite but watching a winger bombing down the sidelines is a sight that seems to be from a far-flung climate. Bernard Dong Bortey exhibited all that there is for one to expect from a talented winger. He lights up games with his superb passing, remarkable dribbles, prolific goals all while married to a non chalant action style.
Nicknamed Dada Diouf (name he picked when fans considered his style of play was reminiscent of the Senegalese) Humble Lion and Serial Killer, Bortey was born in Nungua and broke into Tema Ghapoha FC’s first team as a teenager in the late 90s. It was at Ghapoha that Dong Bortey would forge the mental aptitude and the technical ingenuity to become a legend.
Recognition and admiration followed resulting in a move to Ghanaian giants Accra Hearts of Oak. Whenever Dong Bortey played; he made sure people who watched him wouldn’t forget him in a hurry.
His talent and ability earned him a place in Sir Cecil Jones Attuquayefio’s Black Starlets team that participated in the 1999 FIFA World U-17 Championship in New Zealand. It was a golden generation that famously included Michael Essien, Anthony Obodai, Michael Osei and Stephen Oduro. Bortey scored three goals in six games and attracted a lot of potential suitors including Arsenal and Manchester United.
The ultimate big game player, the finesse and imagination with which he placed every shot and every pass with his right foot could have won him gold in a ballet competition. The instep of his boots, if not the epicentre of modern technology in magnetism, could have been the source of paranormal activity, as the control of the football he regularly showed is not something seen in regular humans.
Goals from outside the box were frequent: volleys, free kicks, driven shots and curling efforts all caused havoc for goalkeepers in the early part of the last two decades decade and this led Bortey not only to international tournaments, but to be proclaimed one of the league’s most talented wingers/players ever. He contributed in the middle of the pitch as well as out-wide, where his crossing ability was lauded throughout the country.
Combined with his ferocious pace and directness, Bortey was a threat in a Hearts team that attacked like it was going out of fashion. He won the Ghanaian league title 4x; won the CAF Confederation Cup and won the Ghana Premier league topscorer with 18 goals (A feat he shared with fellow winger and teammate Charles Taylor in 2002). His uncanny blend of sublime technical skills and robust work ethic endeared him not only to his the fans of his steam – but to all who watched him play too.
Off the field, the ‘Humble Lion’ endured unprecedented intrusions into his private and professional life. Tags like thief, voodoo user, trouble maker, cheat among others were accorded him, and he became infamous in the eyes of many a Ghanaian football faithful, dedicating more time to his pranks than to his football. Maybe to make the perfect player one needs both the ying and the yang, and Dong Bortey’s chiselled jaw was more likely made from steel rather than glass in that he never shied away from standing up for himself.
For some fans, Dong Bortey represented the very pinnacle of club football. He blended the idea of fantasy and just enough aloofness to keep them glued to their TV sets and also to visit the stadiums on match days. His ability to drift in and out of games and influence proceeding when it was needed most was both unique and frustrating. Frustrating because you can’t help but feel Dong Bortey should have ended his career in the pantheon of true greats. His ability deserved as much.
Bernard Dong Bortey was something of an enigma; a strange, unfathomable contradiction in way he could exhibit purest footballing beauty despite, being in many people’s eyes, being something of an utter lunatic.
Often calumniated and, in many instances underappreciated. Like an unchained animal, Dong Bortey ran riot on Ghanaian football. Under the brightest lights and with a significant amount of adversity, Bortey’s effortless display was one of the finest in the history of the league.
His quality was indisputable. He had proven to be a magician with the ball, embarrassing defender after defender with his frightening ability to accelerate past players like they weren’t even there. He deserves to be remembered as one of the best to ever lace up a pair of boots.
By: Godfred Budu @godfred_budu on twitter/Kickgh.com