Charles Asampong Taylor is considered as one of the most naturally gifted players of his generation who enjoyed the best time of his career at Hearts of Oak before a controversial move to rivals Asante Kotoko in his prime.
His amazing technique, speed and sheer audacity at taking on opposing defenders made him a household name in Ghana football as he featured prominently in the Hearts team that won the 2000 African Champions League, 2001 Super Cup and a number of domestic titles.
Five years ago, after an eventful career that saw him playing in Tunisia and Nigeria, Taylor hung his boots for good, but took an unusual route into church ministry and is today an ordained pastor.
In an exclusive interview with Graphic Sports' George Ernest Asare, Taylor looks back at his career from his formative years at Sefwi Asawinso to his sojourn to Accra over two decades ago to begin a professional career at Accra Great Olympics before his successful spell at Hearts.
He also talks about how coach Cecil Jones Attuquayefio influenced his career and turned him into one of Ghana’s finest players.
Below are excerpts of part one of the interview.
Graphic Sports (GS): Can you take us back to how your career started?
Charles Taylor (CT): Well, I hail from Sefwi Asawinso in the Western North Region where I started playing football at a tender age with Anokye Stars, a Division Two side.
When I was about 10 years old, my father, Mr Robert Asampong, was the skipper of Anokye Stars in the First Division back then.
Many of the players from Kumasi, including Robert Eshun and Nana Frimpong, were part of the team, but later they left to play for Asante Kotoko, Ashgold and other Premier League clubs.
Even though my father was the captain and the top player in the team, he never left to play for any elite side for reasons I did not understand.
Later, Anokye Stars was demoted to Division Two and some local boys, about six of us, were recruited to play for the team.
However, I was reluctant to play because I was too young and entertained fears that I could be injured.
This angered my father who rebuked me but also encouraged me to play because he felt that in spite of my age, I could play with the big boys.
I trained with the team for sometime before I began to play in competitive matches. I was about 15 years when I played in Division Two.
Later, an uncle of mine who was staying at South Suntreso in Kumasi took me there to play for Neoplan Stars.
GS: What year were you taken to Kumasi to play for Neoplan Stars?
CT: In 1998 my uncle took me to Kumasi to train with Neoplan Stars at the Prempeh College park, but loneliness and the financial difficulties that I encountered in Kumasi forced me to return to Asanwinso shortly afterwards.
When I returned, some of the players with whom I played at Anokye Stars were offered scholarship at Agogo Commercial Secondary School to study. They informed their sports master about my exploits so I was invited to enroll in the school, which I accepted. I went and stayed in the school just to play football, but not to pursue any academic work.
GS: So were you at Agogo Commercial School just to play football?
CT: Yes. I was in the boarding house, but didn’t participate in academic work. Even at Asanwinso, I was not regular in school, but anytime there was a football match, I was invited to play for the school team.
Somewhere in 1998 during an inter-school competition, my school played against Kumasi High at the Baba Yara Sports stadium. It was my first time of playing at the stadium but my performance was excellent.
The Agogo Commercial School captain who was also a friend took me to Asawase in Kumasi to train at the Dogo Moro park, and I won the admiration of onlookers who encouraged me to work hard to get a chance to play for an elite division.
Eventually, I returned to Asawinso to continue playing for Anokye Stars, and in one of our matches, Mr Jonathan Laryea, a resident of Accra who regularly visited his parents at Asawinso, watched me play.
After the match, Mr Laryea, a trader in shoes, clothing and other items at Okaishie in Accra, informed me that he would take me to Accra to play for Great Olympics.
He explained that Olympics was interested in young players like me to play for them. I did not take him seriously because of the experience I encountered in Kumasi, but when he returned to Accra, he sent his nephew to bring me to Accra as promised.
GS: Tell us about the trip to Accra.
- It was in February 1999 and my first time of travelling to Accra.
Later, he told me that he was first taking me to the training grounds of Hearts of Oak because it was closer to us, so he bought boots, jersey and other training kits for me and introduced me to Coach Ofei Ansah who was by then the trainer.
However, after my training sessions, the coach refused to offer me an opportunity to play for the junior side of Hearts.
I was disappointed and complained to Mr Laryea who took me to his house at Mamprobi. He told the coach that in spite of training with the team for sometime, he (Ofei Ansah) had not offered me an opportunity to play in competitive matches.
The coach promised to offer me playing time, but again, he did not allow me to play so I reported the situation to Mr Laryea again.
I subsequently also refused to train with Hearts again and joined my manager to trade at Okaishie. In the course of the business, Ben Kayede, who was a deputy coach of Olympics, came there to buy some products and I was introduced to him as a talented player who would be valuable for Olympics.
He invited me to join Olympics at their training session near the Trade Fair site, which I did. At the training grounds he introduced me to Coach Jones Attuquayefio.
It was my first time of coming into contact with players such as Dan Quaye, Godwin Attram, Aziz Ansah and Laryea Kingston, among other players, who were at that time playing for the Black Starlets.
GS: How was the atmosphere like?
CT: Initially when I saw the players I was a bit jittery because I had seen them on television playing many times. However, all the national team players left to play for a tournament outside Ghana, so it created a big vacuum for some of the other players to fill.
That was how I got the opportunity to play for Olympics under Coach Jones Attuquayefio.
At that time, I was called Kwaku Taylor and when I was introduced into the senior side, I panicked, but the coach motivated me to do away with all forms of complexes and be of myself. He told me I was far better than many of my teammates and that I needed to be courageous on the field.
He also invited me to his house at Kaneshie where he advised me on what to do in order to improve upon my performance.
Coach Attuquayefio left to coach Hearts of Oak and was replaced by J.E. Sarpong who also took a keen interest in me and did everything to motivate me and help me to improve both at training and competitive matches.
In fact, Coach Sarpong occasionally invited me to sleep with him in camp, and this boosted my morale so much. It was at this stage that I became very confident on the ball and improved generally.
It was at this time also that the media started publishing my pictures and I began to attract attention across the country.
It was at this stage also that my name Bismark Kwaku Asampong was changed to Charles Taylor.
GS: How did you come by the name Charles Taylor?
CT: My name was Bismark Kwaku Asampong. I was named after my grandfather who was called Kwaku Asante. He was a tailor by profession, so his clients always called him “Tailor.”
At Asawinso, I was called Kwaku Tailor, but before I registered for Olympics one of their supporters who traded in sponge advised me to change my name to Charles Taylor because it was more catchy in the football world than Kwaku Tailor.
I agreed and complied with his suggestion. That was how I changed my name from Kwaku Asampong Tailor to Charles Taylor.
GS: Was there a particular match you have the fondest memory of while at Olympics?
CT: It was the President Cup match against Accra Hearts of Oak at the Accra Sports Stadium at a time Jones [Attuquayefio] was in charge at Hearts. I excelled so much during the match that fans carried me shoulder high after the match.
Before that match, Jones invited to the national under-17 team and joined others such as Michael Essien, Don Bortey, Anthony Obodai, Ishmael Addo Stephen Tetteh and Lawrence Kainya in camp.
GS: When did you move to Hearts of Oak?
CT: I joined Hearts in 2000. Initially I had accepted to play for Kumasi Asante Kotoko when Hebert Mensah was in charge. He had by then invited me to his office at Osu and convinced me to play for Kotoko
Before then, Olympics had played a match against Dwarfs in Accra which was watched by Herbert Mensah. He told me he was very much impressed with my performance and so after the match he made me a target.
After the initial verbal agreement at his office, Herbert Mensah said he was returning to Kumasi to bring a contract document for me to sign.
I then returned to camp with the Black Starlets at Winneba. By then, I was sure that I was going to play for Kotoko.
GS: How come you found yourself at Hearts instead?
CT: Three days after I went to camp, while relaxing after training session, I saw a car approaching, with some dignitaries on board . They were about six in number and it included my manager.
My manager called me to join them and he introduced one of them as the Sports Minister, Mr E.T. Mensah. They spoke in Ga, which I didn’t understand, but later, my manager told me that the minister wanted me to play for Hearts instead of Kotoko.
He said it was an opportunity to play for a glamorous club like Hearts, so I should grab it with both hands. He again said initially he wanted me to play for Hearts when I arrived in Accra, but when I asked him about the agreement with Kotoko, he said there had not been any contract to that effect and no money had changed hands so I should ignore it.
GS: Sincerely, which of the two teams did you prefer?
CT: Sincerely, I never dreamt of playing for either side, so I was eager to play for any of them at a particular point in time to develop my football career.
When Kotoko expressed interest in me, I was so happy that on my way to camp at Winneba I started imagining myself in a Kotoko jersey for the first time.
When Hearts also came along, I was very happy because playing for either of them was an honour. However, I had been a fan of Kotoko from infancy.
GS: So did you sign to play for Hearts at the Winneba camp?
CT: I signed at Winneba because of the events that happened at that time. One of the factors was the presence of Mr E.T. Mensah and what my manager told me.
GS: What did your manager tell you at Winneba?
CT: My manager said the Sports Minister was in charge of all football operations in Ghana and had warned that if I refused to sign to play for Hearts, I would never have any opportunity to play for any of the national teams in my life.
That influenced me to play for Hearts instead of Kotoko in 2000. It was after I signed for Hearts that I hit the limelight and became a household name in Ghana.
GS: Of the many matches you played for Hearts, which was the most outstanding?
CT: It was the match we defeated Kotoko 4-0 in Accra. Before then, Kotoko beat Heats by a lone goal in the President’s Cup in Accra, so we decided to avenge that defeat and that is exactly what we did.
I did not score a goal but I gave two assists in that victory and was voted the Player of the Match. I still remember that match very well. With Hearts I also won the Goal-King award once with 18 goals.
GS: What about your continental matches?
CT: Our Super Cup against Zamalek in Kumasi was the most outstanding match. It was outstanding because I scored the opening goal and gave an assist to Osei Kuffour to score to beat Zamalek 2-0. We had earlier defeated Esperance to win the Champions League for the first time in Hearts’ history.
GS: Was there any particular defender who gave you a tough time in matches?
CT: As a striker or schemer, it is defenders who must entertain fear when meeting you. So as a striker, I never feared any defender because I had flair, technique and speed to go past them.
A good striker is like armed robber who must be fearful because they would strike at the least chance. My opponents always attested to this fact, with quality defenders such as Daniel Coleman, Dan Quaye, Joe Hendricks and Godfried Yeboah all confessing openly that I was the striker they feared to face.
I can say with confidence that was the one who put fear into opposing defenders and not the other way round.
More to follow...