Robert Mensah was born at Cape Coast, in the Central Region of Ghana in 1939. He was a Ghanaian goalkeeper known for his performances with Mysterious Dwarfs, Sekondi Independence Club, Tema Textiles Printing and most prominently, Asante Kotoko and the National Team.
He was the reigning Africa’s best goalkeeper, he led Kumasi Asante Kotoko to their first continental triumph in January 1971 after a thrilling Africa Clubs Championship duel against the fabled Englebert of Congo DR, then a powerhouse of African football.
Arguably the most significant incident of Mensah’s remarkable career – the one for which he would be most remembered and revered.
Robert Mensah joined Kotoko from Cape Coast Mysterious Dwarfs in 1969 after he inspired the Abontua Abontua Boys to thrash Kumasi Asante Kotoko 5-0 in 1968 at the famous Siwudu Park, incidentally now named after him.
Interestingly, that was the time Kotoko had returned from a training tour abroad. Robert Mensah was unique, supremely gifted. Those who watched him have always failed to describe him with words, his immense qualities.
Robert stood more than 6ft tall and he handled a football with contemptuous ease.
He had a superb sense of anticipation, great physical fitness and the courage and confidence to go down to the feet of dangerous attackers.
And of course, those magic hands that could pick a ball out from the air effortlessly.
Robert Mensah always wore a black jersey and a funky over-sized cap, which prompted fist-fights on occasions due to opponents believing it was troubling them.
He would carry a newspaper on to the pitch and outrageously, read it during matches.
Additionally, he would urge adversaries to shoot while looking the other way.
Robert ridicule those brave enough to take penalties against him verbally and with mocking dance sketches (he had an excellent record at not conceding spot-kicks).
‘The Day Ghana Stood Still’ – so read the headlines throughout the West African nation.
It was October 27, 1971, and Ghana, for the first time in their history, had failed to qualify for the African Cup of Nations following a 2-2 draw with Togo in Lome and was beaten in Accra, by the same Togolese side 0-1 with Ghana losing qualification for AFCON 1972 in Cameroon.
It would also be the last time that Robert Mensah would turn out for the Black Stars, for less than a week later, the headline that described their shocking defeat would soon take on a new meaning.
On November 2, 1971, many Ghanaians awoke to even more shocking news – Robert Mensah had died in hospital in the small hours of the morning after being the victim of a nasty stabbing in an Akpeteshie bar in Tema.
While tragic, his sudden death following a fight in a bar wasn’t surprising to those that knew him well, with his national teammate Ibrahim Sunday being quoted as saying:
“Although Robert was a great goalkeeper, he wasn’t disciplined and was a bit of a troublemaker, and it was this lack of discipline that caused his death.”
That day after he died, a new song emerged, that children will forever sing along in remembrance of the tragic end of a hero;
“Robert. Papapa (clap). Robert. Papapa (clap). Robert Mensah, goalkeeper number one..aka nansa, na wakɔ aburokyire. Kwasia bi te hɔ, ɛyɛ ne ya, wakɔfa pintoa, ode awɔ nenfe…”
Literally, translates (Robert Mensah, Africa’s number one goalkeeper. He has only three days to fly and play abroad. But some jealous idiot stabbed him to death with a broken bottle)
Robert Mensah’s popularity transcended beyond Ghana, and evidence was at his funeral where the Togolese, Nigerian and Ivory Coast Sports Councils made donations to his widow.
A sports stadium in Cape Coast has been named in his honour.
The stadium is the home venue of the Mysterious Dwarfs, the team which Mensah began his football career with.
Ultimately, in 1970, he was voted as the 9th best African football player by French football publication France-Football.
A year later he was runner-up in the African football player of the year award.