Belfast Telegraph

From the Oval to Serie A for Acquah

By Chris Holt

The signing by Serie A side Palermo of teenage Ghanian midfielder Afriyie Acquah wasn’t likely to make too many headlines, but delve a little deeper and there unearths a remarkable story.

For the youngster’s dream move to Italy came about thanks in no small part to the hard work and dedication of a group of Glentoran supporters. And but for strict UK employment laws, the talented kid could have been swapping Sunyani for Sydenham.

It may sound like a strange link but further explanation provides proof that the power of football transcends many boundaries — and more than 5,000 miles.

The tale begins back in 2007 when Christopher Antoh Forsythe, a once homeless child who was adopted by a Belfast head teacher and who took on the Glens as his team, approached the club to ask for permission to use the name for an academy he was setting up to help get poor Ghanian kids off the streets.

That was, of course, agreed but eventually the Glentoran Community Trust stepped in to offer hands on assistance and set up a programme to allow fans to sponsor individual players.

Such was the response, that not only was every player sponsored, but the girls team and the coaches, too, meaning that the academy, which also provides an education programme to help offer a better life outside of football, was almost entirely funded by the goodwill of Glentoran fans.

Since then the Trust have helped organise the sending of kits, coaching equipment and even a bus to take the kids to games.

It was only a matter of time before the Glentoran Football Academy Ghana dug out a diamond and that moment arrived last week when Palermo, currently fifth in Serie A, moved to snap up Acquah on a four-year contract.

The 18-year-old is the latest in what is expected to be a long line of Ghanians moving to the continent as top clubs in Italy, Spain and Germany seek youngsters who are hungry to succeed and become the next Michael Essien.

Acquah actually came to Belfast two years ago for a week-long trial during which he trained with Glentoran’s first team and those who saw him knew straight away that he would be a star.

But due to the fact that he would never have been able to gain a work permit, the classy midfielder wouldn’t get the chance to shine for the Glens.

So instead of gracing the pitches of Solitude and Stangmore Park, it’ll be the San Siro and the Stadio Olimpico for Acquah.

Not a bad consolation.

For those at the Glentoran Community Trust, Acquah’s big move to the Sicilian side is seen as a true justification for the superb effort that they have put in to provide children in this impoverished part of the world, the chance to make a life for themselves that a few years ago they could never have dreamed of.

“Anyone who saw Acquah train with Glentoran during his stay could see that he was destined for bigger and better things even as a raw 16-year-old,” said a Glentoran Community Trust spokesman.

“We were delighted when he was called up into the Ghanaian Under-17 side and despite UK employment laws preventing him from signing for Glentoran at that stage, it is a huge vindication of all the support and goodwill generated by the supporters of Glentoran to see the kid who had nothing, being offered a life a million miles away from the hardships of Sunyani.”

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