Remembering Tony Yeboah: Much More Than a Man With a Rocket in His Right Boot

WIMBLEDON V LEEDS
WIMBLEDON V LEEDS | Phil Cole/Getty Images

For my generation, Tony Yeboah's contribution to our footballing lives extends to memories of him occasionally popping up on a Premier League Goal of the Season compilation.

This reductionist view not only does the Ghanian's on-field ability a disservice, it also underplays the impact he had on the game more widely. Blazing a trail across the continent throughout the 1990s in the face of vile prejudice, Yeboah was one of the most entertaining and important strikers of his generation.

His story begins in the city of Kumasi, Ghana where he born on 6 June 1966. You might be reading this on his birthday. Happy birthday Tony! After scoring an obscene amount of goals for various clubs in his homeland, he earned a move to Germany with FC Saarbrucken in 1988.

Tony Yeboah during his time with Leeds in the Premier League
Tony Yeboah during his time with Leeds in the Premier League | Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

“Yeboah was one of the greatest strikers who played in Germany apart from Gerd Müller. He had a big impact on society."

Jurgen Klopp (via the Guardian)

An impressive few seasons at Saarbrucken caught the attention of Eintracht Frankfurt, who made him their first ever African player in 1990. Though he is now considered a legend, his time with the club was not always plain sailing.

The move initially sparked opposition from a racist minority of the Frankfurt support and he was jeered during his first few matches at the Waldstadion. Despite this, Yeboah impressed on the pitch during his five-year spell at the club, making 156 appearances and averaging well over a goal every other game.

He secured back-to-back Bundesliga Golden Boots in 1993 and 1994 and was a key part of one the best Frankfurt side of the modern era, with Die Adler securing a string of top four finishes.

Saying this, Yeboah's story was as much to do with what he did off the pitch as what he did on it.

In 1993, alongside fellow black players Souleymane Sané and Anthony Baffoe, he penned an open letter challenging the racism prevalent in Germany in the early 1990s. Their words were published in the nation's largest sports newspaper, Bild, and it is a rare and refreshing example of activism being responded to by the footballing authorities.

Several months after the letter was drafted, the DFB and Bundesliga worked together to create the
"Mein Freund ist Ausländer” campaign - translated to “My friend is a foreigner” - with each side wearing the slogan on their chest. It was a genuine landmark in German football's resistance to racism and they had Yeboah in part to thank.

His fight against racism would be immortalised in a mural commissioned by Frankfurt in 2014, 19 years after he left to club for the bright lights of Leeds United. Yeboah's time at Elland Road was annoyingly short but he made sure to squeeze a hell of a lot into just two and a half years.

His scoring record for United was impressive - 29 in just 56 games - but the cult hero status he enjoys in West Yorkshire stems from the quality, not the quantity, of the goals he netted.

At times Yeboah resembled a human bulldozer. He mowed down defenders with reckless abandon, always looking for a chance to unleash his secret weapon - the rocket that he kept hidden in his right boot. There are countless examples of his scoring genius dotted throughout his spell with Leeds but naturally, one's attention is immediately drawn to two goals in particular.

WIMBLEDON V LEEDS
Tony Yeboah scored many incredible goals during his career | Phil Cole/Getty Images

The first came against Liverpool in August 1995. Fresh from starting his first full season at the club with a bang by netting a brace at Upton Park on the opening day, Yeboah scored the only goal of the game against Roy Evans' Reds - and what a strike it was.

In a beautifully English piece of approach play, Tony Dorigo aimlessly lumped a ball up to Rod Wallace, who then nodded it vaguely in the direction of Yeboah. He, without so much as breaking stride, unleashed an unstoppable volley that kissed the bar romantically on its way past a fresh-faced David James.

The very next month, he was at it again.

This time, Wimbledon were the victims. Just like it had done against Liverpool, the move started with the route one football synonymous with the Premier League in the 1990s. While everyone around him was flailing at the ball like sweaty octopus trying to unhook a bra, Yeboah showed wisdom and composure, taking the ball down on his chest, maneuvering it past the hapless Alan Reeves, before unleashing another delightful, crossbar-kissing drive into the back of the net.

In scoring these two wonderstrikes, Anthony Yeboah had ensured that his name would be whispered by YouTube goal compilation addicts for generations to come.

Although it's perfectly fine to eulogise cult heroes in this way, it is important to not forget the profound impact he had on the game in Germany and the prejudice that he endured throughout his career. He was a true trailblazer, worthy of being remembered for far more than a pair of screamers.