Cameroon’s football history, over the years, has been characterised and edged in history books by moments of ecstasies, triumphs, and other positive fan loving feelings that kept the fans of the Indomitable Lions united and in high spirits whenever the Lions roared in soccer victories.
In contemporary times, the football legends whose names echoed in radio sets and the few television sets at home and abroad at the time are now observing the country’s performance from obscure distances, and are wiped out of the scene, except for the privileged few who occupy obscure positions in sporting departments, mired in today’s politics that has negatively influenced the Lions’ spirit, as well as the success of the team.
Names like Pierre Njanka, Parick Mboma, Roger Milla, Thomas N’Kono, Victor N’Dip Akem, Cyrille Makanaky, Jacques Songo’o, Stephen Tataw, Eugene Ekeke, Emile M’Bouh M’Bouh, Francois Omam-Biyick, Emmanuel Kunde, Benjami, Jules Onana, Andre Kana-Biyick, Joseph-Antoine Bell and others were famous in the glorious days when the Indomitable Lions stunned the African Continent as well as the rest of the world, in their outstanding and spectacular performances in the football pitch.
Few of the legends like Roger Milla, Rigobert Song Bahanag are still in the limelight of some of the country’s sporting activities, while some of their former teammates are either forgotten, living private lives, or employed for their expertise, by other countries or foreign football organisations.
The climax of Cameroon football was attained during the 1990 world cup stun on the world’s champions, Argentina, when the Lions though faulted by the referee who sent two of the 11 Cameroon players off the field of play, the legends still maintained a steady 1 nil over Argentina in Italy, to the surprise of all football pundits.
Simon Burnton, of the UK’s theguardian, commented “this one stands alone in myth and memory. It was not a perfect match but it was an irresistible narrative, as the World Cup champions, led by the great Diego Maradona, were vanquished by an unheralded team largely assembled of journeymen players from the French lower divisions, though for some of them even that was either an impossible dream or a distant memory.”
The team at the time comprised determined footballers, who for the love of the country and the game, exploited every possible avenue to bring glory and fame to Cameroon, in the light of Football in Africa, thus making Cameroon standout in Africa when it comes to the history of the world cup.
Amongst some of those who are now hardly heard of, is Francois Omam-Biyick, Cameroon’s forward in the 90s whose prowess was felt in the national team’s glorious years. He was seen by many as one of the most important players of the Cameroonian national team. Omam Biyik participated in the 1990, 1994 and 1998 world cup expeditions. Biyik retired in the year 2000.
There was Thomas N’Kono who is seen by many football pundits, as one, if not, the best goal keeper ever produced by the African continent. N’Kono’s expertise in goal keeping saved Cameroon during the indomitable Lions epoch in football glory. He was part of the squad in three World Cups. N’kono’s seriousness, characterised by his commanding attitude of always calling on his defence and other players to order and quick agility in stopping quick and dangerous kicks to the goal post, won the hearts of his fans, both home and abroad. In his club footballing carrier, the goalie is better known for his role in Espanyol, where he played for almost a decade, appearing in over 300 official games. After his retirement, N’kono served as roving ambassador for CAF
N’Dip Akem Victor, one of the legends, is a reputable retired Lion, whose role at his defense base was best showcased in the 1990 Italy World Cup against Diego Maradona’s Argentina. In an interview on a magazine programme on the Southwest Regional station of CRTV, recognition for patriotism, the football icon recount how he bluntly told Maradona, in Pidgin English, “Maradona, I go kill you”. His statement to Maradona, was used as a verbal tactic to weaken the spirit of the opponent. “Cameroon neutralised Maradona mainly by kicking him…..He spent much of the game horizontal despite wearing calf pads as well as shin pads. His 10 team-mates seemed too stunned to make any trouble but they were kicked as well, if they got in the way.” writes Matthew Engel in The Guardian, commenting on the 1990 historic exploit of the Lions.
Cyrille Makanaky, He is best known for his winning goal, scored during the 1988 edition of the AFCON in Morocco, it was the game’s only goal, and led to the defeat the host nation in the semi-finals. They won the trophy that year. Makanaky was also part of the squad at the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy and he played all matches to the level of the semi finals. He retired and engaged in real estate business.
Patrick Mboma, is best known for his record as the former top goal scorer of the indomitable lions. Mboma is also best known for scoring from a distance, with powerful long kicks, usually with his powerful left foot. Mboma scored a record of 33 goals in 57 matches. He participated in the 1998 and 2002 world cups. Mboma also led the Lions when they won gold during the 2000 olympics as well as the 2000 and 2002 African Nations Cups. In 2000 he was named the African player of the year. His over-head powerful scoring skill also remains one of the strikers signatures wildly copied by young footballers.
Eugene Ekeke He is best known for his goal that gave Cameroon the lead against England in the quarter finals of the 1990 world cup, before the team eventually lost in a 3-2 defeat. Ekéké’s played his club football in France at RC Paris from 1982 to 1986.
Late Louis-Paul M’Fede, was a Cameroon midfielder who played for Canon Yaounde, Olympic Mvolyé, as well as Stade Rennais of France. He took part in the Olympic Football Tournament of 1984 in Los Angeles. He also participated in the FIFA World Cups of 1990 and 1994. His major appearances also included his participation in the 1988, 1990 and 1992 African Nations Cup. He died of lung infection in 2013.
Joseph-Antoine Bell. Unlike most football superstars, what remains in the minds of many fans of Bell’s time, is the mob action that was taken by some fans to set Bell’s house on fire, after Cameroon’s elimination during the 1994 world cup tournament.
After one of their classic wins, Cameroon gained more fame in the world football arena. Amongst the many reports made by the media, in reaction to the shocking defeat of the world champions by a little known Cameroon team, The UK, Guardian commented,
“The fanfare for Diego Maradona drowned by the drums of Black Africa in Milan last night as Cameroon defeated Argentina, the World Cup holders, to open the 1990 tournament by destroying a whole package of preconceptions.
This was no fluke, the better team won. They won, moreover, after finishing with nine men on the field, the result of Michel Vautrot’s determination to obey FIFA’s guidelines in dealing with persistent and cynical fouls. The French referee sent off two Cameroon players but such was their superiority that the Africans still finished looking as if they had more men on the pitch than their hapless opponents.
This result, the biggest shock in a World Cup since Algeria’s 2-1 defeat of West Germany in the opening phase in Spain in 1982, has immediately thrown the new tournament off its predicted course.”
Football legends in Cameroon are many in number, but very few are recognised and little or nothing is heard of some of them who are now living private lives, or holding obscure positions in some sporting disciplines, or serving football clubs in different countries.
In contemporary times, the spirit in the Indomitable Lions den, has witnessed a crack, with players picking up quarrels, dividing in camps, as well as the mismanagement of the team by state officials who mire the sport in political quarrels.
Until the outing of the Lions during the FIFA 2017 that earned a goal medal, the national team has been a shadow of its former self, as the prowess of the players, though displayed greatly in clubs, could not yield fruits for the national team, as they often ended up been knocked out of tournaments.