VANCOUVER, BC – As one of Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s longest-tenured players, Gershon Koffie is no stranger to those who follow the team.
The 23-year-old Ghanaian has played 105 MLS regular season matches for Whitecaps FC over the last four seasons, making him the club leader in MLS games played.
But last month, we spent the day with Koffie at the Capilano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver to get to know him a little better. And you guessed it: we’ve documented the day below.
1:45 p.m. – Koffie arrives at the club’s Gastown office. He drops off some clothes for donation, mingles with staff, and signs a few autographs.
On our way out, Koffie bumps into Zach Meisenheimer from Curva Collective. Meisenheimer helped Koffie settle in when he first arrived in Vancouver in 2010 and they have maintained a good relationship over the years.
Koffie has also become close with Meisenheimer’s son, Kirk (pictured to the right). The Ghanaian attended his fourth birthday party, for example.
After a brief chat, Koffie and Meisenheimer say their goodbyes. They vow to stay in touch. Koffie is heading back home to Ghana the next day.
2:03 p.m. – Off to Capilano we go. It’s a beautiful day. Koffie starts singing some Ghanaian tunes in the car. He’s having a blast.
“End of November and it’s sunny … really?” Koffie says. “Look at the sun. Isn’t it pretty?”
It sure is.
Koffie asks when we’re heading home for the holidays. We tell him this is home.
“This is my second home,” Koffie tells us. “It’s beautiful. I love this city.”
I ask what he loves about it.
“I love my club first,” he answers. “I love my Whitecaps. And I love the weather, especially when it’s like this. But I’m going home to see my family.”
Koffie’s parents are still back in Ghana – as are his three sisters.
“I think dad has been calling me, but I didn’t pick up,” Koffie jokes.
2:23 p.m. – We’re getting closer to Capilano.
Out of nowhere, Koffie asks what Carl Valentine has been up to. I tell him that Valentine has been coaching the Whitecaps FC U-16 Residency team.
“Oh nice,” Koffie says. “I’ll take over in like 20 years.”
“Yeah, I want to coach the Whitecaps. Not the big boys though. I just want to take care of the kids, so before they get to the big boys, they’ll know what’s up.”
As he’s finishing up that sentence, we drive onto the Lions Gate Bridge.
“Wow,” Koffie says, looking out the window. “Wow. What a city. Look at the mountains. So beautiful. They showed this bridge in one of the Whitecaps videos.”
I then ask him about the video that Tommy Soehn, the club’s former director of soccer operations, showed him when he first came to scout Koffie in Ghana.
“They showed the bridge and how they made the team. I didn’t know anything about Vancouver. When you talk about Canada, I only knew about Toronto. But they showed me the video and I loved it.”
Even better in person, isn’t it?
2:32 p.m. – At last, we arrive at the Capilano Suspension Bridge.
As we wait for a guide, Koffie starts looking at a few of the historical items on display.
“I love the history,” he says unprompted. “It’s always a part of learning. You go everywhere like the aquarium and learn about your city, so you know more about it.”
Koffie sees a little tea set on display and jokingly offers us some. He says he likes tea, but not coffee.
“Because I’m Koffie. They think my name is pronounced coff-ee. It’s co-fee,” he laughs.
A few minutes later, Samantha joins us. She’s the Suspension Bridge’s media relations contact who will be showing us around.
“You guys have a lot of interesting stuff here,” Koffie tells her. “And I’d personally love to learn about it.”
One of the first items Samantha shows us is a picture of George Grant Mackay, the individual who originally built the Capilano Suspension Bridge.
She tells us that Mackay, who was a civil engineer, came over from Scotland in 1888 looking for a change in career.
“So he bought 6,000 acres of land,” Samantha says. “Some of it went to the timber industry; some of it went to recreation and tourism. He kept these 27 acres for himself and his family and he built the bridge just to get to the other side of the property. And then people just came and saw the bridge and it turned into a tourist attraction by accident.”
“Pretty good accident,” Koffie says. “So thank you, Mr. George. You know, my dad is named George. So thanks dad.”
2:50 p.m. – After learning about a few more historical items, we make our way to the suspension bridge itself, and then the treetops adventure, and finally the cliffwalk.
Koffie continues to ask question after question. When he said he wanted to learn, he wasn’t kidding.
3:18 p.m. – We’re now done the formal part of the visit. Koffie thanks Samantha for the tour/history lesson. There’s a bench nearby and since it’s a somewhat secluded area, we decide to do a little interview with Koffie. See below for a summary.
Was it a big adjustment for you coming over to Vancouver in 2010?
“Yeah, it’s always nice to try something new. And this is where my career is taking me, so I have to go see. And I’ve loved it from day one. It’s my home.”
Did it take you some time to make friends here?
“Well, I didn’t really have any friends when I came here. It was me and me. But I was lucky, there was one guy on the team that was from Ghana. He took me to some African shops where I could go buy food and stuff. And I met another Ghanaian guy at our first-ever MLS game against Toronto at Empire. He introduced me to a lot of Ghanaian guys. His name is Daniel. He’s my barber. The shop is Anim Hair in New Westminster. Go check it out.”
Are you still able to keep in touch with your family?
“Yeah, every other day we talk. We talk a lot. I’m very connected with them.”
Tell me more about your family. You have sisters?
“I have three sisters. One of them is in the fire department, one of them owns a hair salon and the last born is in school and she’s also trying to get a cosmetic store going.”
What was it like growing up in Ghana?
“It was fun. It’s always fun. It’s where I was born, it’s where my blood is. I have a lot of friends, we hung out a lot and played soccer as well. They don’t have many grass fields there though. We’d play on the gravel sometimes, which makes you tough mentally. I’m blessed to be a Ghanaian. I love it. But like I said, Vancouver has been my home and I’m loving it as well.”
You’re involved in a friend’s organization to help give back to less fortunate people in Ghana. What’s that all about?
“This is where I came from. People helped me when I was growing up. The same thing that I’m doing, people did to me. Professional players came home and gave shoes out and I got some, so I felt like I should do the same. It’s very expensive to buy cleats and jerseys back home, so I bring them back with me along with maybe some clothes that I don’t wear and some Whitecaps FC gear.”
What kind of stuff do you do for fun here in Vancouver?
“I go to the barbershop I mentioned in New Westminster quite a bit. A lot of the Ghanaian boys come and hang out there. If not, I’ll be home painting. I do that a lot too in my free time or watch movies or listen to music.”
What do you paint? (Koffie then shows us the adjacent photo on his phone)
“I appreciate everything about lions. Whenever I see a picture of a lion, I just want to have it. I don’t understand why. In my mind, it’s a code that I will never get. I can’t give you a reason why I love it, but it just strikes me when I see the picture of a lion. And it just motivates me to paint it.”
Lions are aggressive; is that why you’re aggressive on the soccer pitch?
“Yeah, I appreciate everything about the lion. That’s one of the things. When he goes for hunting, he just goes for it. His timing is great. I just appreciate it.”
3:30 p.m. – We’re now heading back downtown.
Koffie makes a call to Joe Jesseau, the club’s senior manager of professional teams, to sort out some paperwork. A big part of Jesseau’s role is to help the players settle in off the field.
“He’s been with me since day one,” Koffie says. “Tommy [Soehn] gave me to him and said he’d be able to help me out with anything. And he has. He doesn’t fish for you, he shows you how to fish.”
4:15 p.m. – And that’s a wrap.
We drop Koffie off and go our separate ways.
“I loved it,” Koffie says of the visit to Capilano Suspension Bridge. “It was a lot of fun.”
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