“I am a pacifist. I have forgiven all those who caused me pain and branded me a spy, a CIA agent and a traitor for believing in the principle of good judgement when I declined to coach the national team.
“Despite the difficulties I went through, I don’t regret playing football for my country and if I could do it again, I will be glad to.” The above summed up the disposition and feeling of 75 year old, Emmanuel Christian Briandt, a pillar of defence in Ghana’s colonial and post independence football history, 45 years after he retired from the game.
A distinguished footballer by all standards, EC Briandt was a tower of strength in the national team and helped to mould the building blocks for Ghana’s accelerated development in football that culminated in her dominance of the game on the African continent soon after independence. At 22, Chris became the captain of the Gold Coast XI Football Team and remained a key figure in the scheme of things, as he spearheaded the transition from “barefootoism” (playing bare footed) to soccer boots until he hanged his boots in 1959.
A complete gentleman in his playing days, EC Briandt as he was commonly referred to in football circles was born in Accra on Friday, July 5, 1929 to the late Stephen Julius Briandt and the late Felicia Ayokor Briandt. He was the third of seven children.
Chris enrolled at the Government Junior Boys School in 1936 and moved on to Kinbu Government Senior Boys School in 1940. In 1945, he passed out with the Standard Seven Certificate.
At school, Chris played football regularly and was a cut above the others in skill, agility, dedication and discipline.
“I loved the game so much that any time a referee whistled for the end of a match, I became sad and rather wished that the game would never end and I also tried as much as possible not to violate the rules,” he told this writer.
Soon after completing school, Chris got employed as a Pupil Teacher at the Osu Christianborg Progress School. Whiles coping with the demands of his new job, he got interested in riding horses and became a jockey of the Accra Turf Club.
His ability to predict the correct winners of most of the races endeared him to the management of Accra Ice Company, a subsidiary of UAC whose members were regular punters at the races and they soon offered him a job that terminated his teaching duties.
So from January 31, 1949, Chris became a staff of the UAC Company and in the same year, he made his first major breakthrough in soccer by getting snapped up by Accra Hearts of Oak.
Having caught the eyes of the selectors earlier on by his exploits at Osu Diegos and Accra Rolands, the nursery team of Hearts of Oak and at only 19 at that time, Chris established himself at the heart of the Hearts defence and played so well that he became the captain of the club a year later.
It was a matter of course that he merited selection into the Gold Coast XI that toured the United Kingdom in 1951.
After four matches on the tour in Belfast, Dublin and Wales, Tim Darbar who was the substantive captain of the team lost his position in the starting line up and the Hearts skipper was given the responsibility to lead the team on the field.
“In our first match under my captainship, we beat Artena League 4-3 and it was a big surprise because we had lost the previous match in Wales by an incredible 1-10 score line.
Though Chris Briandt bought himself a pair of soccer boots after the tour of the UK, he met a lot of opposition from players of Ashanti who insisted that he played barefooted in matches between them and the Colony.
Due to the intensity of the pressure from the opposition, Accra XI dropped Chris from their team and he recalled with pain how he missed out on the match between Accra XI and Kumasi XI in 1952 to inaugurate the Accra Sports Stadium.
“I paid seven shillings and six pence to watch the match and it was the first time that Kumasi XI had beaten Accra XI in Accra.
“The fans protested that I should return to the team and based upon their demands, I was recalled and other players began trying their feet in boots.”
On his most memorable match for the national team, Chris vividly recalled a 1955 Jalco Cup match between the Gold Coast and Nigeria in Accra, which the former won by 7-0.
He said before the match, the media was strong in advising that the Gold Coast players played barefooted but the boot fever was catching up so strongly that all the players insisted they would play in boots. “The resounding victory of our team killed the debate of playing or not playing in boots,” Chris said.
Chris Briandt and James Adjei were selected among the national team players to undergo coaching courses in Germany in 1958 but when they returned in 1959, Chris declined to have anything to do with coaching even though the job had a car attached to it.
Commenting on that unusual decision, Mr Briandt said he became very jittery anytime he sat on the bench, adding that, he was too soft to be a coach as he always tried to plead with the players to do things instead of ordering them to do them.
Though he was branded a saboteur and threatened with arrest and detention, he stood his grounds and nearly lost his job with the UAC as a result.
When the storm died down, Chris played a few more matches for Hearts before he retired finally in 1959.
He continued with his work at the UAC until February, 1981 when he was retired at the age of 52.
Feeling very strong and healthy and not willing to waste his energy, Chris secured a job with the Office of the Revenue Commission as an Assistant Transport Officer.
He bowed out of public service in June 1997 and now lives on a monthly social security cheque of 186 thousand cedis per month. In recognition of his exploits on the field of play, Chris was named the Sportsman of the Year in 1956 and that remains the only honours and commendation he had for his contributions to the Game. Now at 75 and in the twilight of his life, Chris was named the winner of FIFA’s Centenary Award in Ghana.
“I am indeed very grateful to the Ghana Football Association for remembering and honouring me. It is a very good signal that will encourage the young players to commit themselves to the cause of the country,” he remarked.
Interview By Richard Avornyotse , GNA Sports Desk In July,2004.