It was the 31st of October, it was in far away South Africa, on Hearts’ first continental odyssey to the land of Nelson Mandela, and it was the year of the birth of the maiden Confederations Cup competition.
But of all the stages to score a wonderful goal, Dong Bortey chose ‘the land of siyadlala’, six good years before the world gathered to make the Rainbow Nation the cynosure of all things football.
The Dong Bortey personality disorder was at its nadir; the twisted ginger-hair had given way to a clean shave, but the confidence remained in tact, dignified and refined, and the self-anointed “Serial Killer” was on the verge of shelving the not-too-pleasant moniker.
But his gifted, yet constantly deigned, football ingenuity torched brightest than the sun in the Cape Town Athlone Stadium that afternoon.
Hearts and Cecil Jones Attuquayefio had beaten Santos in the opening game of the Confederation Cup courtesy an early goal from Lawrence Adjah-Tetteh, and because the score line was not emphatic in Accra, and with Hearts losing on their last away trip in the maiden competition, the Phobians went to South Africa with the latent intention to play for a draw.
However, in the 35th minute of action, Dong Bortey’s ephemeral brilliance came to the fore .
Santos, keeping in line with the game pattern, had gone on a foray in the Hearts half. They pushed men forward, knowing that victory would serve their campaign in good stead, and forward their keeper also came.
Out of nothing and with Hearts in possession in their half, and with no single Phobia player in the Santos half, Bernard Dong Bortey flighted the ball from his half towards the opposing goal, with the keeper barely off the 6-yard box and slightly to the left side of the penalty spot, began to backpedal.
The ball sailed in the air, breaths were held, the home side hoped it wouldn’t dip, the Hearts technical bench felt the ball was lost, and then they realized seconds after the ball had left Bortey’s right foot that that could be the moment.
The keeper attempted to use his hand at first, then realized the futility in the effort, and withdrew as if it was a meteorite heading for his goal.
His looks after finding the ball in the back of the net was that of bewilderment, bemusement, and frightened disillusionment. How could Dong Bortey have contemplated that strike in the first place? And where the heck from the audacity to try and execute such a strike from close to 70 meters, with three players closing in? Seemed to be the questioning grimace from the astonished Santos keeper.
It was a moment of genius. A spur of the moment magic. But he wouldn’t savour it alone.
Straight he ran to the other flank, in search of what or who, we could not tell, till we saw the warm arms of Cecil Jones waiting patiently for an embrace.
It was a great goal, and he could have stood for the praise alone, or even gone on his trademark run of leg wobbling celebration, but he looked for his coach, Sir Cecil Jones Attuquayefio, and celebrated with the entire technical team and his colleagues.
Well, that is the man, the legend, and the flawed-genius Bernard Dong Bortey.
Bernard scored that long range goal on the 31st October, 2004, and watching the video of the goal makes it feel like it was just yesterday. Undoubtedly, the best Hearts goal ever captured on camera.