Cletus Wotorson’s Soccer Legacy

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During his administration in the 80s, former President Samuel Kanyon Doe took over the Liberia Football Association as chairman and appointed veteran administrator Willis Knuckles as vice chairman.

That appointment set in motion the foundation for one of the most effective or success stories in the history of Liberian football.

Through Knuckles’ administrative oversight, Assa Mady Kaba and the late J. La Marks Kerdoe, among others, began the formation of 3rd Division Clubs and LFA Sub-Associations throughout the country.

But it was reported that Willis Knuckles was interested for the government to concentrate on the youths but President Doe felt that providing for the then group of Lone Star players could make a difference to Liberian football.

President Doe was adamant of what he wanted to do for the Lone Star and so when Knuckles saw that following that policy could only serve the interest of the then generation of footballers and undermine the future of the team, he chose to resign his post.

And so it was that due to “policy differences” Willis Knuckles, the architect of the new soccer revolution, left the scene. What would the president do? Of course there were a good number of sports administrators there. The next in line was Paul Mulbah, former President of the Mighty Barrolle Sports Association, who had served as ‘Chief of Operations’ under Knuckles at the LFA.

In one of his remarkable moves, President Doe settled on Mr. Cletus Segbe Wotorson, who had been successful as the president of the Liberia Basketball Association. And so when he was contacted, he consented to continue where Knuckles left off.

Wotorson did not let the nation down as he continued with some progressive policies that encouraged new developments. He encouraged the organization of female soccer and sent representatives to all the 15 counties to provide material and technical assistance to Sub-Associations.

By 1986 the LFA had been in existence for half a century and Wotorson and his executive committee members decided to celebrate in grand style. Wotorson decided that celebrating the 50th anniversary of the LFA must be climaxed with a football tournament and several teams in West Africa were invited.

Among the teams was Tonnerre Klara Club of Yaounde, Cameroon. There were teams from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire.

Representing Liberia were of course then rival clubs, Mighty Barrolle and Invincible Eleven. Leading Barrolle was then Liberia’s Most Celebrated Player, James Debbah, with the little known Wizard Dribbler George Oppong Weah holding the skipper’s band for Invincible Eleven.

Unaware of what the future held for them, Oppong Weah, like his character, made himself available and was so entertaining in his handling of the ball on the field against IE’s opponents that by the end of the tournament, the Cameroonians could not let him stay on in Liberia.

It was Weah’s performance in that tournament that began a career that beat the world. Remember that he is the only African player to win the Ballon d’Or and the Fifa World Player of the Year awards.

But what happened to James Debbah and Mighty Barrolle? Perhaps fate did not want him to leave Liberia by then, for Debbah always complained about some problems that kept him out of the tournament.

But by the time Debbah realized that the game could not only be played in Liberia, George Oppong Weah had become the idol of the world. But the Wotorson’s magic did not end there, for many footballers, followed George Weah, including Debbah to ply their trade in Europe.

So two persons that made great difference in Weah’s career, included President Samuel Doe (who sent the Lone Star to train in Brazil with Weah included) and Wotorson’s foresight to bring in West African clubs to celebrate LFA’s 50th anniversary.

But we must also acknowledge Weah’s own determination to obey his coaches and his positive responses to use what he was taught. So it is fair for journalists and others to connect the progress of Weah and Liberian football with some of those who played pivotal roles in that journey.

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