Anthony Yeboah is fondly remembered for his time in Yorkshire. However, he had a significant impact on German football as well.
On the 31st of May, 2020, Marcus Thuram scored against Union Berlin, the second of four goals on the day. A comprehensive victory for Marco Rose’s men. Amidst all the goals, one image that stood out was that of Thuram taking a knee, a symbol against the killing of George Floyd in the United States. It was a brutal act borne out of racist intent. Germany is no stranger to racist incidents. It was almost an accepted reality of things in the 90s, until one man along with Anthony Baffoe and Souleyman Sané spoke up against it. That man, was Anthony Yeboah.
Hailing from Kumassi, which is popularly known as the “Garden City” in Ghana, Yeboah’s foray into German football began in the second division of German football in 1988, with FC Saarbrücken.
From there, his impressive form took him to Eintracht Frankfurt, where he scored several memorable goals and made an undying impact on the culture of German football.
He is popular for his exploits in Yorkshire with Leeds United in the early years of the Premier League. Worshipped for his spectacular goals and his trademark celebration. His love of Yorkshire pudding and the white of Leeds. Nonetheless, his impact in Germany was profound and is still spoken about glowingly.
11Freunde editor Uli Hesse and longtime Eintracht Frankfurt fan and life artist, Axel “Beve” Hoffman spoke to First Time Finish about Anthony Yeboah and his influence on German football and society. It makes for an inspiring story.
Arrival in Germany
Yeboah’s story begins in his land of birth, Ghana. At the time, playing for Owkawu United, Yeboah’s good form was noticed by Harald Dubberke. Dubberke was not a professional agent at the time, which makes this case all the more curious.
“As far as I know, two rather dubious agents were behind his original move to Germany. That is, the guy who spotted him in Ghana, a man called Harald Dubberke, was not an agent when he did so. He was in Africa merely to find jobs for German coaches. Then he noticed Yeboah and got him some trials in Germany.”, recalls Uli.
Those trials helped him land into the academy of German giants Borussia Dortmund. Unfortunately for Yeboah, the club were not convinced with his displays during his trial period and he was let go. Still, luck was on his side and FC Saarbrücken eventually decided to take a chance on the young Ghanian striker.
Yeboah spent two years in the second division with Saarbrücken. Additionally, in those two years, he did well enough to impress his future employers, Eintracht Frankfurt. Saarbrücken faced them in the play-offs to secure promotion to the top division. Despite their best efforts, they ultimately fell short.
The aggregate scoreline was 3-2 and both the goals for Saarbrücken were scored by none other than Yeboah himself.
Difficult start to life in Frankfurt
In the summer of 1990, Yeboah made the switch to the metropolitan life of Frankfurt. The move did not get off on a good note. Yeboah’s transfer was met with a largely mixed response from the Frankfurt natives.
He was one of the first black players to play in the Bundesliga and at the time racism was a widespread issue in German society. Yeboah was a victim of racist abuse as well. Certain sections of the Frankfurt fan community booed him when he arrived and were racist in their abuse towards him. Others had different reasons to dislike Yeboah. Ultimately, all of that changed through the course of time.
“It’s true that he had problems at first – partly because of racism, but partly also because Frankfurt fans remembered his two goals in 1989 which had almost relegated Eintracht for the first time in club history – but he became a cult hero pretty quickly.” says Uli.
While he had a good reputation in the second division, he was still a relative unknown amongst the fans of the Bundesliga.
“We knew, that he was a very good player. But Bundesliga was much stronger then the second division, so we didn‘t really know about his development. But we hoped that it works. And it worked.” recalls Axel.
Although on the pitch he made an everlasting impression on his opponents, off the pitch, Yeboah was someone who was a bit of an introvert.
“He largely kept himself to himself. To this day, Yeboah doesn’t speak German and although he always said he loved Frankfurt, the city, he will always cite the stadium as his favorite place in town. However, people didn’t mind that he was a bit reclusive. It was part of his mystique, his bigger-than-life persona.” recalls Uli.
Goals galore for Yeboah
Yeboah’s goals for Frankfurt were always a delight for neutrals and fans alike. The Ghanian loved to strike the ball with immense power, leaving goalkeepers stranded in his wake.
In a total of 123 appearances, Yeboah scored 68 times. Two out of the four seasons he played in Frankfurt, he was the top scorer of the Bundesliga. However, scoring goals was not the only thing that Yeboah brought to the team.
“He was very strong and full of power. And he reacted after he and other players of color were attacked by racist insults. And he has a great sense of humor. Once he was asked, why he was living like a German? And he answered: ‘Why not. Should I make a campfire in my flat?'” recalls Axel.
Out of all the goals that Yeboah scored during his time at Frankfurt, Uli remembers one goal particularly well.
It was a goal that underlined his abilities as a goal-getter. He wasn’t just someone who stayed in the penalty box. He was powerful and a difficult player to mark as well. In this particular instance, Uli remembers a special goal he scored against Dortmund.
Yeboah is in possession of the ball inside Frankfurt’s half and charges with pace and ferocity towards the Dortmund defence. He is being tracked by a marker but that makes no difference to his focus. After driving on towards the penalty box, Yeboah decides to let fly in typical fashion and smash the ball into the top left corner, leaving the goalkeeper on the ground. The goal can be seen in his compilation of the top five goals he’s scored for the club.
Standing up for what’s right
The Ghanian had a reputation for speaking his mind and standing up for people who suffered from any form of discrimination. Things came to a head when in the early 90s he wrote an open letter to Bild against racism. Along with Baffoe and Sané, Yeboah chose to speak his mind and spoke clearly and with conviction, against all racist activities that were prevalent in German football at the time.
“Yeboah was one of the greatest strikers who played in Germany apart from Gerd Müller. He had a big impact on society.”– Jürgen Klopp speaking to Ed Aarons, the Guardian.
At Frankfurt, Yeboah became the first African player to captain a team in the Bundesliga. An honor that was well-deserved for his loyalty as a character as well as quality on and off the pitch.
The feeling of becoming a captain was one of great joy for Yeboah and his fans and teammates alike.
” He was very proud, because he was the first captain from Africa in the Bundesliga. Charly Körbel, the captain three years ago had left the pitch after 20 years. His successor, goalkeeper Uli Stein had to leave the club, so Tony was the most important player in summer 1994. He played already for the club for 4 years. The fans loved him.” recalls Axel.
The open letter that he wrote along with his compatriots started a movement against racism at large in Germany. His courage to speak up and raise his voice gave several others like him a great deal of confidence.
“I like to think that the fact that Yeboah, Sané and Baffoe didn’t just quietly swallow this abuse but stood up and spoke out about it was an important step towards change. Only a few years later, those awful monkey noises had almost totally disappeared from German stadiums.” says Uli.
A message spread, loud and clear
Out of all the buildings in the city of Frankfurt, the Anthony Yeboah house stands out most. Not for it’s architectural value, however, for it’s symbolic value more than anything.
One simply cannot miss seeing the house as almost all modes of transportation go by the iconic building. What makes it special is a mural of Yeboah himself and a significant message which reads: “We’re ashamed for all those who shout against us.”
“It signifies a lot. Even for Tony, who came to Frankfurt, when the mural was finished. The sentence “we are ashamed about all who shout against us” is much more famous now than 30 years ago. This mural is a statement against racism. For Frankfurt. For Eintracht. When you reach the stadium from the city with the city train, you see it. When you come from the airport in direction city, you see it.” explains Axel.
Yeboah’s personality and his way of life had truly changed people’s minds. Those who once booed him and spoke against him, were now in full support of him. The city and the people came together for him, on many a occasion.
“In 1994, Frankfurt played away at Salzburg in the UEFA Cup. Yeboah was abused for 90 minutes, there were monkey noises whenever he touched the ball. After the game, Eintracht fans raised 1.500 German Marks to buy a full-page ad in the biggest Austrian paper. The text read: „We don’t have anything against Austrians. We have something against racists.“ This from the same people who had abused Yeboah themselves a few years earlier. They had learned a lesson and it was Yeboah who had taught them this lesson. ” recalls Uli.
Yeboah’s immortal legacy
His actions, his messages and his clear words are why Frankfurt fans loved him and embraced him throughout his time at the club. He was a man of pride and of his own principles. And though there has been more progress in recent years in tackling racism, it is still a problem. Yeboah’s actions laid the foundation for several campaigns against racism in Germany and his name will always be remembered for more than just footballing reasons.
“It’s written in the DNA of the club, that we are against racism, sexism, homophobia and anti-Semitism. And one of the writers was Tony Yeboah.”– Axel