Culled from Foot for Thought: 50 Years of Football in the Southwest Region & Anglophone Cameroon, forthcoming book by Tanjong Ashuntantang.
The day was Sunday October 1, 1961. The venue was the Hippodrome Stadium in Yaoundé. The event was a football match organized to commemorate the Reunification of the British Southern Cameroons and the French-speaking La République du Cameroun to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon.
Humphrey Mosenge, one of the leading West Cameroon players, greeting President Ahidjo during a match between the Southwest province and Littoral in the 1970s
The game pitted a squad tagged “La selection Nationale” (i.e., the national football team of the new nation) against a selection of Cameroonian nationals based in the Diaspora. The guest of honor was Ahmadou Ahidjo, President of the newly formed Federal Republic of Cameroon.
When the opposing teams lined up before the kickoff, there was no “Southern Cameroonian” on either side. One would have expected that such a game would involve teams from East Cameroon and West Cameroon or at a minimum, that “La Selection Nationale” would also include players from West Cameroon. Alas! This was not the case. This begs the question: Were the East Cameroonians celebrating the conquest of Southern Cameroons or were they celebrating the union of the two Cameroons? If it was the latter, then the absence of “Anglophones” at the Hippodrome that Sunday was akin to preventing a bride from attending her own wedding. Signs of West Cameroon/Anglophone marginalization in the new federation were already emerging…
This marginalization of West Cameroon was exhibited again on October 15, 1961 (barely two weeks after reunification) when La Selection Nationale played against a team of English Navy officers whose vessel “Diana” had docked in the Douala Port. Once again, there was no West Cameroonian in the team.
As if to save face, a West Cameroonian was invited to join a squad of francophone players who were scheduled to leave the country on the 19th of November 1961 for a training camp in France. Unfortunately, official records (which are in French) do not bother to mention the name of that history-making West Cameroonian. This is what one French language publication wrote about that training camp.
“Le 19 Novembre, une sélection de l’équipe nationale du Cameroun s’envolait pour la France pour un stage à l’institut national de sports. C’était pour mieux préparer les jeux d’Abidjan qui allaient se dérouler au mois de Décembre en Cote d’Ivoire que le gouvernement fédéral sur l’impulsion du dynamique ministre Eteki Mboumoua a pris cette décision.
- Buts: Atangana Jean, Tekeu Andre
- Defense: Moukoko, Bissono, Mbida, Ndando, Adolphe
- Demis: Toto, Mboka, Job
- Attaque: Ndo, Mbette, Mbape Lepe, mikarides, Odi
et un autre joueur provenant du Cameroun Occidental.
The contempt of federal football authorities is very evident as they did not even bother to provide the name of the lone player from West Cameroon, although the names of all the East Cameroon players called to camp are listed. Perhaps players from Anglophone Cameroon were not expected to be a permanent feature in the national selection. It is therefore not surprising then that the autre joueur provenant du Cameroun Occidental did not make the final selection which subsequently left the country for the Jeux d’Abidjan. There was equally no West Cameroonian in the national selections that represented the country in subsequent international tournaments such as the Coupe D’or in 1962 and 1963, the Jeux de l’Amitié in 1963 and the Coupe des Tropiques in 1964.
Many Called, None Chosen
West Cameroonians had to wait till May 1964 before one of theirs was called up again to the national camp. It happened that the Prime Minister of East Cameroon, Charles Assale, and the General Commissioner for Youths, Sports and Popular Education, Vroumsia Tchinaye, decided that players of the national team shall take up permanent residence in Yaoundé, and receive a monthly salary of 22.500 francs. 18 players were invited to camp, among them, Ebai Fidelis, a West Cameroonian playing for Powercam Victoria. The list also included Bakume Lucas of Union Douala and Atangana Jean of Diamant Yaoundé both of whom subsequently played for Powercam Victoria and Prisons Buea respectively. The experiment however flopped and Ebai Fidelis returned to Victoria without playing a single game. Thereafter the likes of Goalkeeper Agbor Tabi of P and T Social Club of Buea, Eyong John and Akwo Joseph of Powercam earned national team calls but their presence in camp was always cosmetic.
It was not until December 1968 that a footballer playing for a football club in West Cameroon featured in an official match played by the Cameroon National selection. It was, however, not a major breakthrough as the player in question, Atangana Ottou, was an old player of the National team. It happened that the long-serving national team Goalkeeper, hitherto of Diamant Yaoundé, was transferred from Yaoundé to work in the administrative garage in Buea. Finding himself in Buea, Atangana pitched tent with Prisons Social Club where he served as a goalkeeper and coach.
Consequently, when in November 1968 players were invited to camp ahead of a World Cup eliminatory match against Nigeria in Lagos Prisons Atangana Ottou was among the invited players. With the influence of Atangana, Nche Macaulay, also of Prisons Buea, was also invited to the national camp. When the Cameroonian squad of 13 players disembarked in Lagos ahead of their August 8th clash against the hosts, two players from West Cameroon were among. When the match kicked off in the Lagos city stadium in the afternoon of December 8, 1968, Atangana was in goal for Cameroon while Nche watched from the reserve bench.
Atangana continued as the only West Cameroon footballer having a regular place in the National team right through to 1970 when he starred for Cameroon in the African cup of Nations in Sudan. After that season Atangana ended his playing career whereupon he quit Buea and was drafted into the training staff of the National team the following year.
Once on the technical bench of the National team Atangana did not forget the prisons team. Through his influence Prisons’ Nangoh was called up to the National camp ahead of the 8th African Cup of Nations to be staged in Cameroon in 1972. Nangoh trained for the Lions in France and Germany and even featured for the Lions in a friendly match against Austrian side Wenner in the old Buea stadium. Like others before him Nangoh was eventually dumped before the list of selected players could be announced.
The following year, Peter Schnitger invited Kulu of CDC Tiko to the national team camp in preparation for the World Cup and African Cup of Nations eliminatory matches to be played against Zaire in February 1973 and July 1973 respectively. What many felt was going to be a major breakthrough by an Anglophone player was never to be as Djemba was brought in at the last minute to replace Kulu.
In 1976, Raymond Fobete replaced the Yugoslav Vladimir Beara as coach of the Indomitable Lions. Fobete had been coach for the Lions in 1970 during Cameroon’s maiden participation in the African Cup of Nations in Sudan. His second coming into the National team finally saw the breakthrough of players of Anglophone extraction into the National team. First he took Kang Wilson of P.W.D Kumba and Mokube of P.W.D Bamenda to the Central African games in Gabon, Libreville in 1976 where the Lions won the Gold medal in football.
Ngo Franklin and Epie Nzams Make History
Then in October 1976, Ngo Franklin another Anglophone, along with Joseph Bell Antoine who had just joined Union Douala from Prisons Buea, was in the Lions squad that Fobete took to Congo-Brazzaville for the 1978 World Cup eliminatory match against the Red Devils of Congo. Mokube was equally in the squad alongside Nkono, Nlend, Doumbe Lea, Ename, Tsebo, Ayissi, Mbida, Eboue, Emana, Manga Onguene, Milla and Manga Guy. When the match went underway, Bell, Mokube, Ngo Franklin, Manga Guy and Many were on the Lions reserve bench. The historic moment came in the second half when Ngo Franklin replaced Manga Onguene in the Lions fledging attack line. Ngo Franklin thus went into the record books as the first player of Anglophone extraction to play for the National side in an official CAF/FIFA competition. Much could not be seen of Ngo Franklin and Mokube however as Cameroon got eliminated in the FIFA boardroom after the second leg encounter on the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium ended in a brawl.
When the Lions swung back into action in 1978 in preparation for the 2nd All African Games in the Algerian capital of Algiers that same year, there was no Anglophone in the Lions camp. Of the 19 players who subsequently left Cameroon for a training camp at the Hennef sports centre in Cologne Germany, only Bell Antoine the ex-goalkeeper of Prisons Buea had football links with Anglophone Cameroon.
In the 1978/79 season the new National team coach Ivan Ridanovic decided to inject new blood into the National team. He made a tour of the 7 provinces with his assistant Amah Pierre after which he invited 87 players for a final screening exercise. 14 new players were short listed for the National team: Mandeng, Ngalamo, Amassana (Racing Bafoussam) Mayi Dona (Juventus Douala) Mouliki (P.W.D Bamenda) Nkongho George (Prisons Buea) Enanga Zozo (Unite Douala) Ngue (Dragon Yaounde) Noah (Diamant) Ohandja, Djengoue (Lion Yaounde) Ebongue (Tonnerre Yaounde) Forchive (Federal Foumbang) and Ngongo (Mbalmayo club). Of all the 14 players only Ebongue and Enanga Zozo ended up making a name in the National team.
In 1980 another Yugoslav, Zutic Branco replaced his fellow countryman Ridanovic as head of the technical staff of the Indomitable Lions. He was assisted by Ama Pierre and Njoh Lea. Zutic’s first assignment was to guide the Lions through their first eliminatory match of the 1982 World Cup against Malawi. The first leg encounter was played in Douala on the 29th of June 1980. Among the 11 players that kicked off the match for Cameroon was Union Douala’s defenceman Epie Nzams. This former P.W.D Kumba player was the lone Anglophone in the group.
Even though he was replaced in the second half by Moungam Dagobert, Epie became the first Anglophone to have a starting shirt for the national team in an official CAF/FIFA competition. Epie went on to play a full match in the second leg in Blantyre Malawi on June 20, 1980, and making history again by becoming the first Anglophone to play a full match for the National team in an official CAF/FIFA competition. Surprisingly, neither Epie nor any other Anglophone featured again in the rest of the qualifiers or in the 1982 World Cup and Nations Cup matches. Between the Lions return from the Spanish World Cup and when they lifted the 14th African Cup of Nations in the Cote d’Ivoire no Anglophone earned a national team call.
Tanjong Ashuntantang is a Buea based Barrister at Law and a football historian. He recently won a sports award from Radio Buea for his insightful contributions to sports programs over the years.
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