The story of Richard Apetor’s family begins in Abelemkpe, a suburb about 3.5 miles north of the city center of Accra, the capital of Ghana. Abelemkpe is a tale of two cities within a city: a busy, modern half and a lower, cluttered, communal neighborhood called the Zongo.
Thomas Apetor, 54, was born about 5 miles from Abelemkpe and migrated as a teen-ager to the Zongo community in 1972. As one of the first settlers there, Mr. Thomas recalls how difficult life was at that time.
“Here was bush when we first came. We had no water. We walked far away through the train station to a nearby town to fetch water. There was no street here as you see now. The place developed suddenly much later.”
Thomas and his siblings were frequently dismissed from school for failing to pay school fees. Football was one way through which they could forget some of their woes. It was in his era that all the parks his son and other children play on currently were established.
As Thomas explains, football is part of the Apetor family DNA: “the males in this family are footballers from head to toe. All the brothers of my father played football. My sons Foster and Richard play as well.”
Thomas’s education did not continue beyond primary school; his parents never found the money for him to attend high school. He decided from that time on that all his kids would go to school. However, he had no problem accepting Richard’s decision to end his education just before university largely because of Richard’s clear talent.
He also knows now that there is a lot of money in football, so he devotes himself to supporting Richard get as far he can, to do what he could not do.
Mr. Apetor currently works with Pro-security Ghana Limited, a British company, as both driver and mechanic. Thomas ran his own mechanic shop for several years prior to joining Pro-security.
Richard’s mother Janet Ziwu, 47, has been a seamstress since 1983, the year she completed high school. The daughter of a military officer, she lived for several years in the army barracks and moved to Abelemkpe in the 70s. It was while learning dress making as an understudy a few blocks from the Apetor home, that she met and married Thomas.
They are separated now after a 24 year marriage and two kids. She now lives in Midea – a city 8.5 miles outside the capital.
Her way of life, like much of the Zongo community’s, is simple and routine. From Tuesday to Saturday she makes the journey from Midea to her sewing shop. The shop – called Mama Jane’s – is a white, wooden structure that borders the major road separating old and new Abelemkpe. It is stocked with three sewing machines, and two finished dresses dangle from wire hangers on one side of the entrance. Janet has a female assistant and as a sign of growing times, another is being sought. Mama Jane’s is where quite a number of girls from the community come to do patch work and sew the odd new dress for a big occasion.
Janet works from morning to dusk on weekdays. On Sundays, she worships at the Royal House Chapel church in Accra. Most of her prayers are for Richard to succeed in football. She had a hard time accepting her son’s decision not to go to university, but she is now Richard’s biggest fan. His daily 15-minute stops by her shop on his way home from training are the highlight of her day. She cooks his favourite food (Jollof – rice cooked in gravy) for him as often as she can and she helps him with money.
With mum in Midea and dad having moved a few miles away to Kaneshie for work a decade ago, Richard and his older brother Foster, 25, are the only family members still living in the Apetors’ Abelemkpe family home. Being there for Richard is Foster’s full time job. Foster supports him in different ways: he gets his boots fixed, prepares his kit for games, acts as a human alarm clock prompting Richard at key times of day or night; takes him to hospital if injured, and accompanies him to watch football games at Mainland Hotel – a popular pub where they have watched matches for years. Foster is Richard’s mentor, guardian, counselor and brother.
Richard’s support system extends beyond his family as well. Pastor ‘Uncle’ Franklin Bentum is the founder of the Teshie Dominion Power Community Church – a spiritual church, where Richard and his dad worship. The Teshie church is noted for the unusual number of past, present and current football talent who worship there. Pastor Bentum, himself a onetime professional player before becoming a member of the cloth, feels that the players relate to him and he supports them with prayer.
Football aside, the other constant in Richard’s life is his girlfriend of six years, Pearl Mawuenyo Egli. She lives around the corner from Richard. She keeps him motivated she says, especially during fleeting moments of despair when Richard second guesses his decision to pursue this uncertain career path.
“Richard gets discouraged sometimes because a few of the opportunities he’s had so far have not worked out,” Pearl says. “…but he keeps on trying. He knows he will be great. Our dream is for God to let Richard go where he has to be. Richard believes he will make it one day. We know he will make it.”