In the 83rd minute of a friendly against Tanzania in 2008, Ghana’s goalkeeper Richard Kingson vacated his penalty area and ambled into opposition territory. As he crossed the half way line, his brother Laryea placed the ball, surveyed the options and prepared to deliver his free kick. Timing his run with the trajectory of the cross, Richard arrived in the box and headed an equalising goal for the Black Stars. It was a peculiar and unique way for a national team to score.
As both careers trundle towards largely unsatisfactory conclusions, it seems as though two decades of sporting endeavour were encapsulated in that one moment. Talented, patriotic, outspoken and unpredictable, this is the story of the Kings(t)on’s of Ghana.
At some unspecified juncture, a bureaucratic error led to the Kingson family being recorded as Kingston. While Richard has reverted to the correct name, Laryea continues to use Kingston. Richard was born in Accra in June 1978, his younger brother two years later, although these basic facts have been publicly disputed, with audible whispers that Laryea is considerably older than his stated age.
Their footballing inheritance came virtue of their father, Adjie Kingson, who kept goal for Accra Great Olympics and the national team. Richard adopted the same playing position and signed for the same domestic club before embarking on a lengthy career in Turkey. Ostensibly, he was an employee of Galatasaray throughout this time, although he was loaned to five different clubs. He became a naturalised citizen of Turkey and took the name Faruk Gursoy, while continuing to represent Ghana.
Laryea, who honed his technique playing barefoot in endless street games, became a household name while still a teenager, primarily due to his winning goal against Nigeria in the Under-20 African Nations Cup Final, which was held in his homeland. An industrious midfielder, with tight control and excellent dead ball ability, he compensated for his diminutive stature with self-belief and sheer bloody mindedness, personality traits which would, in his twilight years, appear to be in inverse proportion to his efficacy on the park.
His formative years were also spent at Great Olympics, briefly moving to Libya before returning to sign for Ghanaian giants Hearts of Oak. In 2002, after scoring against his former club, he raced to the corner flag and dropped his shorts in front of the opposing fans. The opprobrium that followed prompted a pattern of behaviour that would persist throughout his career, as Laryea expressed profound regret. He stated he was angry that Accra had sent him into slavery in Libya, but had momentarily lost his sense of decency. Requesting forgiveness from all Ghanaians he said his actions were “not only against the rules of the game but against the norms of civilised society.” The incident marked the beginning of a strained relationship with the Ghanaian football fraternity and soon after, he transferred to Hapeol Tel Aviv in Israel.
Meanwhile, Richard was club hopping around Turkey and steadily accumulating caps for Ghana. Undeterred by a six month suspension for failing a doping test in season 2004, he represented his country with distinction at the 2006 World Cup, albeit without his brother. Despite establishing himself as one quarter of a celebrated midfield alongside Essien, Appiah and Muntari; Laryea was omitted from Ghana’s squad, partly due to a suspension he incurred for a red card against Senegal. It would not be the last time he would experience big tournament disappointment.
In 2007, both players settled in the UK. Richard pitched up at Birmingham City, while Laryea left Lokomotiv Moscow for Heart of Midlothian in Scotland. He quickly endeared himself to the fans with his confidence in possession, skilfully navigating his way around congested midfields and reserving his most potent displays for showpiece games against Celtic and Rangers. However, the public perception of an uncontrollable maverick began to crystallise following his dismissal in a league match, where he accused the referee of racism. He later apologised and accepted a three game ban, vowing to exercise greater self-control.
300 miles south, Richard warmed the bench in his maiden season in the EPL. In the aftermath of their relegation in 2008, the Birmingham owner branded him a “complete waste of space”, an insult which elicited an angry response from the keeper. Not for the first time, redemption came in the colours of his country when his agile performances earned him the accolade of best goalkeeper at the African Cup of Nations that summer.
Laryea, continued to infuriate the Tynecastle hierarchy with his unstinting loyalty to Ghana, missing vital games for the club at a time when they were genuinely threatening the Scottish duopoly, and eventually spending more time on the treatment table than the pitch. His volatile temperament was exposed again in 2010 after being fined for an altercation on the team bus:
“The manager is like a father to me. I will not let him down again. But it is not about words, it is about what I deliver on the pitch”
Three days later, seven minutes after coming on as a substitute, he kicked an opponent in the testicles and was sent off.
Around this time, ex Ghana FA chief, Nyaho Tamakloe, implicated Kingston, Essien and John Mensah in an age cheat scandal, citing their propensity for injuries as evidence of the reality of their advancing years. The players rejected the claims and no proof was forthcoming, but local radio stations and newspapers suggested Tamakloe was merely going public on an issue that many Ghanaians freely discussed in private.
Laryea, who once stated he has to wear a disguise to avoid being mobbed in Accra, generated more headlines when he was reported to have violently confronted Ghana boss Rajevac after being left out of the 2010 World Cup squad, claims which were later denied by the GFA. On his return to Ghana with Hearts of Oak in 2012, he became embroiled in numerous disciplinary encounters with the club before being suspended indefinitely for allegedly assaulting the club accountant. Kingston moved to FC Phoenix in May this year.
Simultaneously, but no less controversially, Richard’s career was disintegrating in truly spectacular fashion having been released by Blackpool in 2011. Out of work and dropped from the national team, his wife proclaimed live on television that she was a witch who had cast a spell on him to disrupt his career:
“I messed up Richard’s life ever since we got married. I’ve been working on him spiritually, to the point he could not perform in bed”
Although she later retracted the claims stating she had been possessed, the ignominy prompted Kingson to make a public statement. In attempting to defend his wife’s honour he implicated himself in a bribery scandal, stating he had been offered $300,000 to throw the 2006 World Cup match against the Czech Republic. Confused and indecisive, he noted that his wife had persuaded him to refuse the bribe. He has since been widely criticised for refusing to reveal the identities of those who tested his integrity and has remained without a club ever since.
Like veteran boxers, unable to accept their legacy and vacate the spotlight, both men continue to state their desire to be considered for selection for the 2014 World Cup. Given that Laryea is stationed in the relative backwater of the USL and Richard has not played club football for two years, far less added to his haul of 90 caps, such a scenario appears as improbable as a midfielder crossing for his goalkeeping brother to score an international goal. There will be no crowning glory for the Kings of Ghana, but it’s safe to say they have left an imprint in the pursuit of their dreams.
By Chris Colins
This article originally appeared in In Bed with Maradona