Like many clubs from a nation’s ‘second city’, Asante Kotoko have a special bond with their local supporters, united against an eternal rival from the capital. In the case of the Porcupine Warriors, they hail from Kumasi, which is the home of the ancient Ashanti or Asante peoples, and their main competitors are Accra’s venerable Hearts of Oak. While the larger city on the coast is considered the modern centre of Ghana, it is a point of great pride for residents of the northern city that their representative football club has surpassed their opposite number in titles both domestic and continental. They even have claim to bragging rights across Africa after the International Federation of Football History and Statistics ranked them as the continent’s Club of the Century in 2000 based on results. Although CAF placed them third in a similar ranking - behind Egyptian giants Al Ahly and Zamalek - they still could look down at Hearts of Oak in seventh with a smile.

Birth of an institution
The history of Asante Kotoko begins in the colonial past when a Kumasi native named Kwasi Kumah went to Accra in the early 1920s and became a driver for an English soldier. Exposed to the inventors of the game and impressed by the football scene in the capital, he went back to his home in 1924 and established a club, which struggled to find an identity until almost a decade later. It was then that a local sage prophesied great things if they change their name to Kotoko, which is the Asante word for porcupine, a symbol of their famed empire. The name Kumasi Asante Kotoko FC was taken in 1935, and the club has been closely intertwined with the Garden City and its residents ever since. The crest features a remarkably threatening looking porcupine and the motto ‘Kum apem a, apem beba’, which means roughly ‘Kill a thousand, and a thousand more will come.’

The making of a legend
By the time the Ghanaian national league got in full swing in the late 1950s, the Porcupine Warriors were national powers, and they won the title in its second year. However, it was not until the next decade that the side put a mark of dominance on domestic football and began to make major strides on the continent. In fact, beginning in 1967, they reached the final of the African Cup of Champions Clubs four times in seven years. Although they won the top continental prize only in 1970 during that run, things could have been much different.

In 1967, they drew the first two legs of the final against Zaire’s TP Englebert. With no penalties played, they went back home and did not find out about the tie-breaking third match until it was too late and they were marked down as a walkover. Four years later, as defending champions after gaining revenge on Englebert, they again went to a third-match tiebreaker and fell to Cameroon’s Canon Yaounde 1-0 after the match was abandoned early due to crowd problems. In 1973, they seemed to be coasting to a second continental crown after winning the first leg 4-2 at home, but AS Vita Club thumped them in the second leg 3-0 to bring the trophy back to Zaire.

Further losses in the ultimate match in 1982 as well as in 1993, on penalties after two scoreless legs with Zamalek, have given the Kumasi side something of a bridesmaid reputation. A record five defeats in the final of the top continental tournament as well as similar losses in the 2004 CAF Confederation Cup and 2002 African Cup Winners Cup are offset by the 1970 triumph as well as continental glory in 1983. In that year, they claimed the scalp of the event’s most successful team, Al Ahly, and earned revenge for the defeat in the previous year’s final.

They have gone through periods of great dominance in Ghana as well. Between themselves and Hearts of Oak, the two have shared 40 of Ghana’s 50 titles, with Asante Kotoko winning two more than their rivals. They have won three titles in a row three times, and between 1980 and 1983, they lifted the trophy four times consecutively.

The present
Given their stellar history, Asante Kotoko have been going through a relatively barren patch. They have finished top of the Ghanaian table just three times since 1993, with the last of those coming in 2008. On the continent, they have been even more disappointing, and they have failed to reach the group stage of the CAF Champions League since 2006. They seemed to be sinking into crisis mode early in the 2010/11 season as they started off with a shocking seven defeats on the trot. However, they showed their pedigree by recovering enough to finish the season in second place - three points ahead of Hearts of Oak.

The stadium
Asante Kotoko play in Ghana’s largest venue, the Baba Yara Stadium, which holds just over 40,000 people and shades Hearts of Oak’s Ohene Djan Stadium by under 1,000. Formerly known as Kumasi Sports Stadium, it was built in 1959 in time for the club’s glory days, renovated in the late 1970s, and again in the late 2000s ahead of the 2008 CAF Africa Cup of Nations. The stadium also hosted matches at the 1963, 1978 and 2000 continental championships.