Joseph Ewunkem, former Captain of the legendary Prisons Social Club of Buea in the 1960s and 1970s, member of various West Cameroon football selections, and part of the Cameroon national squad that took part in the 1975 Military World Cup in Germany, died in Buea on July 10, 012.
The young Ewunkem being introduced to President Ahidjo before the 1968 Cup Finals.Mbappe Leppe is seen watching over the President’s left shoulder.
An iconic figure of West Cameroon football, Ewunkem is probably best remembered for his dramatic act of defiance during the 1968 Cameroon National Cup finals when, in the presence of President Ahidjo, he broke protocol to protest, in a most dramatic manner, against injustice to his team - an act which many believe was instrumental in the dissolution of the West Cameroon Football league.
In this commemorative article, Ashuntantang Tanjong tells the story of Prisons Social Club of Buea and the 1968 Cameroon Cup finals.
Origins of the Prisons Social Club of Buea
Founded in 1967, the Prisons Social Club of Buea owed it birth to the vacuum created on the Buea football scene following the simultaneous decline and eventual disbandment of P&T and Cambank football clubs after the 1966/67 season. The demise of these two former finalists of the Cup of Cameroon left lowly-rated Police United as the lone team in the West Cameroon capital.
Brooding over the demise of the two West Cameroon football giants, the football fraternity of Buea craved for the good old days when the town rode the crest of West Cameroon football; first with P&T and later with Cambank. To give substance to this craving, members of the Buea Mountain Club, acting through Justice S.M.L. Endeley and Richard Titang talked the West Cameroon Penitentiary Department into fathering a new football outfit in the state capital. In keeping with tradition at the time, the new team was called Prisons Social Club, Buea.
At the time of Prisons’ creation, West Cameroon enjoyed football autonomy. The State had its own football administering body, its own football Championship and its own knock-out competition for the Cup of Cameroon. Traditionally, the West Cameroon Championship and the Cup of Cameroon matches in West Cameroon were played in two Sub Pools or Zones. The Coastal or South Pool comprised of teams from the area making up today’s South West Region. Teams from the present North West Region competed in the Grassland or North Pool. To be crowned West Cameroon League Champions or Cameroon Cup lords, a team had to emerge winners of its Sub Pool (in the competition in question) and then defeat the winners of the other Sub Pool in a play-off match that was tagged the West Cameroon League finals or the West Cameroon Cup finals as the case may be.
The winners of the West Cameroon Championship confronted the winners of East Cameroon’s La Premiere Division in a confrontation tagged the National League Finals. Similarly, the West Cameroon winners of the Cup of Cameroon knock-out series played against the winners of East Cameroon’s La Coupe at the National Cup Finals. Both finals were traditionally played in the Nation’s Capital, Yaoundé.
Like the other clubs in West Cameroon, Prisons registered for the West Cameroon Championship and the Cup of Cameroon knock-out competition. Unlike in the State Championship, Prisons had an impressive run in their maiden participation in the Cup of Cameroon matches in 1968 and qualified for the West Cameroon (South Pool) finals of that competition. Their opponents at that final were Powercam Victoria. Playing in the Buea Government Stadium on the 26th of may 1968 before a capacity crowd that included west Cameroon Secretary of State for Education, J C Wanzi and that for natural resources, J C Kangkolo, Prisons edged Powercam 3-2.This win qualified Prisons for the 1968 West Cameroon (Cup of Cameroon) finals against PWD Bamenda, the West Cameroon (North Pool) winners.
The first leg confrontation of the 1968 West Cameroon (Cup of Cameroon) finals opposing Prisons to PWD was played on the 23rd of June 1968 with both sides separating on a 1-1 score. In a replay on the 7th of July 1968, Prisons got their act together and whipped the boys from Bamenda 4 - 0. This victory qualified Prisons for the National Cup finals against Oryx Bellois of Douala, the winners of East Cameroon’s own knock-out competition and reigning National league Champions.
1968 Cameroon Cup Finals – Ewunkem Takes a Stand
On Sunday the 28th of July 1968, West Cameroon’s Prisons confronted East Cameroon’s Oryx Douala in the National finals of the Cup of Cameroon. The match was played in the newly opened Yaounde Military Stadium with President Ahmadou Ahidjo as Guest of Honour. It was the first National Cup finals to be played on that ground. Before then National football finals were played in the Hippodrome Stadium.
Playing against Prisons, Oryx lined out a team of living legends. Their last line of defense was goalkeeper Rodolphe Tokoto while their point man upfront was Tokoto Jean Pierre. In between these namesakes was a constellation of football stars with mouth-watering names – Mbappe Lepe, Ebelle Moumi, Eleme Ricardo, Priso Kundz, Kotto Colbert, Epette Maurice, Moukoko Jean (de confiance) Dina and Essomba. Prisons fielded Jean Atangana “Remeteur”, Ewunkem, Monkam, Didi, Nche, Balla, Azung, Kinito, Jippe, Mbongo and Njoh. Of these Prisons’ players, only Atangana enjoyed national recognition.
Captained by Joseph Ewunkem, Prisons took an early lead and indeed dominated play through out the first half. Oryx leveled scores early into the second half and went ahead to lead 2 – 1. A few minutes to the end of “hostilities” Prisons equalized to make the score 2 – 2 at full time. As the game went into extra time, Oryx scored what to Prisons was an irregular goal. Prisons stopped play. Team captain, Ewunkem, picked up the ball and headed for the West stand where President Ahmadou Ahidjo was seated. In 2010 Ewunkem recalled the incident to Franklin Sone Bayen, Publisher of THIS IS SPORTS; THIS IS FOOTBALL:
They asked me to pick the ball and go protest in front of the President. It looks like they meant the FECAFOOT President, but I thought they meant the President of the Republic. So the President that came to my mind was President Ahidjo sitting in the grand stand. I kicked the ball out of the field (to avoid a handball offence), picked it and walked towards Ahidjo. As I approached Ahidjo, the Republican Guards encouraged me to move on but Jean Fochive and others asked me to go and see but the Minister of Sports (Mbombo Njoya) and the FECAFOOT President (Rene Essomba). I obliged. They (the Minister and FECAFOOT boss) told me they had understood my complaint and asked me to return to the field and continue the match.
Ewunkem and his Prisons team took the advice and continued the match. When the referee subsequently denied Prisons what looked like a valid penalty, the furious Prisons players refused to play on. The game was held up and later abandoned. Amidst the confusion that followed, Oryx were declared the winners and the Cup presented to Mbappe Leppe, the Oryx captain by President Ahmadou Ahidjo.
Fallout – FECAFOOT De-federalises Football
The guts of Ewunkem and the doggedness of Prisons were the greatest public acts of defiance by any Anglophone or group of Anglophones since reunification 1961. Taking that defiance to be insubordination, the authorities in Yaoundé sought to emasculate Anglophone teams for good. The best way to do so was to strip West Cameroon of its football sovereignty by de-federalising the two existing national football competitions (the Cup of Cameroon and the League Championship) as well as football administration in the country. Consequently, the following resolutions were adopted at a FECAFOOT congress that was convened in Yaounde in September 1968:
a) The “West Cameroon League Committee” that until then administered football in the State of West Cameroon was scrapped. Its activities were taken over by Federation Cameroonaise de Football (FECAFOOT) whose jurisdiction (hitherto limited to East Cameroon) was extended to West Cameroon. To give meaning to this resolution, Professor Rene Essomba, the National President of FECAFOOT appointed Eugene Ekitti, a West Cameroon educationist and member of the Economic and Social Council, to head the newly born West Cameroon FECAFOOT Bureau.
b) The “West Cameroon League Championship” was stripped of its parity with East Cameroon’s La Premiere Division and degraded to a Second Division League. On the other hand East Cameroon’s La Premiere Division was held out as a National Championship to which West Cameroon Second Division teams would (like their counterparts of East Cameroon) aspire. Then to give La premiere Division a national coloration, two West Cameroon teams, Prisons of Buea and P.W.D were absorbed into it.
c) The West Cameroon knock-out competition to obtain the State’s finalist for the cup of Cameroon was scrapped. This meant that henceforth the numerically inferior West Cameroon teams would have to contest for the Cup of Cameroon alongside the numerically superior East Cameroon teams in a centralized knock out competition to be supervised by Yaounde.
The subsequent deployment of an East Cameroonian, Isaac Mbette (of Caiman Douala and National team fame) to West Cameroon as the State coach gave the above resolutions the distinct flavour of East Cameroon’s assimilation brew.
West Cameroon Caves In
Remarkably, Eugene Ekitti who led the West Cameroon delegation to the FECAFOOT Congress in which those resolutions were taken raised arguments to forestall the assimilation of the two West Cameroon teams into La Premiere Division. Unfortunately, the numerical inferiority of the West Cameroon delegation and the determination of the Francophone delegates to push the resolutions through worked against West Cameroon’s cause. And so in the end, the resolutions were taken.
It was thus with a sullen heart and voice that Eugene Ekitti broke the news of West Cameroon’s loss of football sovereignty to the delegates at the 1968 Annual General Meeting of the West Cameroon Football League that held in one of the classrooms of Government School Buea Town on the 19th of October 1968:
Against our wishes, two of our teams, Prisons of Buea and PWD Bamenda were incorporated into the First Division Championship. Our arguments, which were more sentimental and political, could not stand much ground against a single argument of National Unity…My hope is that the two teams which are so incorporated into La Premiere Division (not upgraded) should retain their places when teams descend at the end of the season, so that at least one more team may climb next season...
Prior to the new dispensation, East Cameroon’s La Premier Division and the West Cameroon Championship each had 16 teams. The assimilation of Prisons Buea and PWD Bamenda into La Premier Division therefore took up the number of teams in that Championship from 16 to 18. Considering the demography and surface area of each of the two States, it would have been more equitable for the ratio of East Cameroon to West Cameroon representation in the “new” hybrid Championship to be 12: 6 or thereabout. That was not the case however. And so in one of the earliest acts of Anglophone marginalization, Yaoundé went in for a highly unbalanced 16:2 ratio of Francophone to Anglophone representation in the “new” Championship.
As this adulterated version of the East Cameroon elite Championship comprised teams from West and East Cameroon, West Cameroonians, in their fair-mindedness referred to the Championship in its early days as the Federal League Championship. Not surprisingly, the Francophones of East Cameroon did not see any change in the status-quo and continued with the appellation Championat National de Premiere Division for this hybrid Championship. This apparently vindicated proponents of the assimilation theory.
Following the persistent use of the appellation Championat National de Premier Division for the Championship by the majority East Cameroonians, West Cameroonians eventually succumbed to the law of osmosis and began referring to the Championship as “The National First Division Championship”, being a translation of its French appellation. Though it recently had its name changed to MTN Elite One, this Championship subsists unto this day.
*Ashuntantang Tanjong is a Buea-based Attorney and Football Historian. He is the author of a forthcoming book on 50 Years of Football in the Southwest Region & Anglophone Cameroon.