President of the Ghana Rugby Football Union (GRFU) Herbert Mensah has featured prominently on a newly released world rugby documentary entitled ”the last amateur tour” of West Africa.
The documentary which was released by world Rugby Press on September 21 2018 reveals the conception of the idea of the rugby tour of West Africa in 1995 in South Africa by English rugby players and their South African counterparts and the subsequent execution of the plan in 1996 through the sponsorship of Land Rover and other companies operating in Ghana and the sole instrumentality of Herbert Mensah.
The idea was all about helping Max Brito whiles having fun during the tour. He is an Ivorian rugby player who got injured and eventually paralysed from his injuries during the 1995 3rd rugby World Cup in South Africa. This situation prompted the rugby players from both England and South Africa to put efforts together to do a rugby tour of Ghana and Ivory Coast to play charity games and raise funds to support the maintenance of Max Brito.
The ‘last amateur tour’, was conceived and organised by Former English national and professional rugby player, Harvey Thorneycroft who said the Land Rover discovery tour of West Africa was mainly his idea to raise money to help Max Brito but admitted he could not have done it without Herbert Mensah who fixed it all on the ground.
”The final piece of the jigsaw is a man called Herbert Mensah who was Mr Fix it. He is the man who actually made it happen on the ground. He is a friend of a friend who worked with him in the mobile phone industry in Africa and I didn’t realise the ton of force Herbert Mensah was until then. He knew the strength of the squad because he knew rugby players. He said, ”leave it to me” and he agreed to underwrite the cost and this allowed us to go to the next stage to Land Rover and essentially got money to pay for the expenses of the players. Herbert Mensah secured all the sponsorships in Ghana including 5-star hotel accommodation, obtained visas and travel permission, got us to meet President Rawlings at the stadium and all the way to meet the King of Ashanti nation. And so Herbert was the man who really made it happen”, Harvey Thorneycroft reveals in the fascinating documentary.
The world rugby documentary further reveals the state of Ghana’s involvement and support for the Max Brito, Land Rover discovery tour of West Africa through the instrumentality of Herbert Mensah in 1996. President Jerry John Rawlings didn’t only patronise the charity games personally at the Accra stadium, he also ordered military aircraft displays at the stadium during the highlights of the rugby tour to bring more animation to the atmosphere and in honour of Max Brito.
Meanwhile, these players who grouped together on this tour were professional rugby players who played for their respective national teams but who were also tourists willing and ready to explore West Africa. The Springboks of South Africa, led by Captain Naas Botha readily joined the England side in West Africa for the last amateur tour in Ghana and Ivory Coast.
”I only had one phone call with Nass Botha and asked him if he will bring the Springbok side, and he was willing to give his full support. And because he was already a household name in South Africa at that particular point, it was just the most unbelievable piece of luck”, said Harvey Thorneycroft. He added, ”he didn’t only agree to get his player’s expenses covered, he also agreed to bring the whole team along”.
The England rugby team in 1996 on the tour included a player called Peter Mensah whose father is Ghanaian, a situation that excited the Ghanaian public who filled up the stadium to watch rugby games and enjoy with singing and dancing for the first time in the history of the West African country.
The inclusion of Peter Mensah in the England team for the international game at the Accra stadium also drew the Ghanaian public towards supporting them against the Springboks of South Africa.
The teams also engaged in what they called the ‘Ghana hospitality tour’ where they went into local communities and taught young kids in schools and in the neighbourhood how to play rugby.
Harvey Thorneycroft now states that about 9 players out of the England team who did the discovery tour of West Africa in 1996 eventually led England to win the Rugby World Cup in 2003. He believes the tour contributed massively to that successful World Cup win.
Twenty-two years after the Land Rover discovery tour of West Africa, Herbert Mensah is President of Ghana’s Rugby Football Union with the national team, the Ghana Eagles, winning the Bronze cup in May 2018 whiles qualifying for the Africa men’s sevens tournament in October 2018 in Tunisia.
Herbert Mensah is also the board chairman of the Ghana rugby football union and former chairman of the Kumasi Asante Kotoko FC which is one of Ghana’s top two football clubs.
He recollects the 1996 Max Brito tour with nostalgia. ”I remember how I fixed it, which is one of the things that I do. I fix things. I got the hotels and the airlines involved, the government involved and other people and glued things together”.
The Ghana Rugby President also recollects that he got all the Ghanaian footballers playing in England at the time to come join the black stars to play games in the stadium so that it was a combination of rugby and football.
”Rugby is a family thing, you fight for each other, if you play you have no enemy on your side, you enter into a blind alley and you know that there is somebody there to support you and this spirit translated into the help for Max Brito. They had fun and they gave back”, he added.
According to him, on the day, the crowds were hanging on each other’s shoulders and on floodlights, dancing to music and hanging all over the place to watch a game they didn’t understand. And this created an atmosphere in the stadium that wasn’t a swing low but just African souls celebrating and honouring Max Brito.
The international charity games at the Accra sports stadium in the last amateur tour of West Africa were watched by over forty thousand people, the biggest black audience ever to watch a rugby game in a stadium. And the tour was never to be repeated.