In September 2019 when competitors from 16 countries across the continent gathered in Lagos, Nigeria for the African Freestyle Football Championship, Ghana was fortunate to be represented.
Organised by Feet ‘N’ Tricks International, with support from the World Freestyle Football Association (WFFA), the tournament pitted the very best of freestyle footballers from Africa to demonstrate their exceptional talents.
But while Ghana is known to be one of the heavyweights when it comes to football, the situation is totally different when you step into the realms of freestyle football. A sport not common in Ghana, you are likely to find more skating and hockey players in the country than freestyle footballers.
So, as Ivory Coast’s Abdul Titi Kone made light work of every other competitor to win last year’s African Freestyle Football Championship, Ghana’s Lucky Sarpong could only watch in awe. The 25-year-old from the Eastern region put up a spirited performance at the tournament but his inexperience told when it mattered most.
For Lucky, though, it was more about contentment than disappointment. His is a career that began not long ago after watching a series of videos of French freestyle footballer Arnaud ‘Sean’ Garnier.
“I decided to venture into freestyle football after I completed secondary school in 2013,” Lucky tells Pulse.com.gh, as he spins a ball on his index finger.
“My interest in the sport grew when I saw a video from one freestyler called Sean Garnier. I saw a video of him doing freestyle with the ball and I was impressed. That Frenchman is a phenomenon!”
Inspired by one of the best freestyle footballers in the world, Lucky decided to follow in the footsteps of Sean. From watching the Frenchman’s YouTube videos, he got himself a ball and began to practice on his own.
In Sowutuom, a suburb of Accra where Lucky lives, there’s barely any street in the community that hasn’t tasted his skills. Over the last seven years, the youngster has made huge progress, graduating from a mere YouTube learner to one of the finest freestyle footballers in Ghana currently.
This is all credit to Lucky’s own determination and drive to thrive in a sport that he loves. While every flick and trick he does with the ball excites onlookers, he is not lost on the bigger goal of flying Ghana’s flag at global freestyle football competitions.
And, unlike his many compatriots who dream of emulating soccer stars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, all that Lucky wants to do it freestyle football. “I chose freestyle because it is an interesting sport, you do tricks with the ball and express yourself,” says the 25-year-old.
Lucky, however, admits that his career as a freestyle footballer is yet to bring any monetary gains. While he usually graces the street to excite the public, none of his exhibitions has ever been paid for.
“I haven’t made enough money,” he concedes. “Comparing football to freestyle football; football is well developed in Ghana while freestyle football is a developing sport. No one is ready to pay to watch a freestyler.”
This, Lucky associates to the lack of freestyle competitions in Ghana and the unavailability of an organised federation or association for the sport.
“There are no competitions here in Ghana, the federation here is not active enough, too, so it is challenging to practice and gain some income from what we do,” Lucky remarks, adding that he sells footballs and other sporting apparels as a side job.
On days when Lucky is not showboating with a ball or training, he is usually found running his own business. Having started a career in freestyle football, the youngster thought it wise open the ‘One Lucky Playstore’, where he sells balls, jerseys and other sporting kits.
The ‘One Lucky Playstore’, in his words, is made up of a team of talented and determined boys who “do freestyle and also sell footballs”. With an aim to develop into one of the best freestyle footballers in Africa and beyond, Lucky hopes that the sport would soon receive a huge boost in Ghana.
His personal progress, from a YouTube learner to a competitor in the African Freestyle Football Championship, makes him confident that things would soon get better. Another thing he doesn’t take for granted is the cheers and applause that usually greet him when he’s juggling a ball.
“In the next two or years, I’d like to see freestyle football being the number one sport in Ghana. I can see it developing and people are really appreciating it,” Lucky effused.
For young people who want to venture into freestyle football, Lucky’s advise is simple: “With freestyle football, all you need is a ball and a space to practice.
“Also, watch YouTube videos of the best freestylers. I’d like to tell all young guys to follow their passion and what they believe in.”