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The Couch Potato As Football Philosopher, by L. Ndogkoti

AFAX, 29 January - Now, before our crucial date with Zimbabwe a mere 8 hours away, I reckon the time is just about perfect to talk about the type of football we want. Let’s see if we can talk this thing through, if we can reach a consensus over what is good for football back home, who should be running it and where our beloved Lions should stand on the global stage.

Le 29 janvier 2004

We are 16 million plus Cameroonians who are all football coaches and football players in our own right. If they had their way, the pundits and the old jocks who played the game at any level would have us silenced for ever. Since most of us never entered a soccer pitch, you see, they believe that we don’t know any better and should therefore just shut up.

That, I am afraid, will never happen. We know the game, and most of all, we care about it. We are going to make sure that our voice is heard loud and clear.

Let’s dwell for a moment on our Lions. They are on top of the world, but the feeling is that we are looking backwards rather than forward. The pundits are telling us that we should rejoice for making the cut in the 16-team CAN Finals. They are telling us that is a feat of unparalleled greatness to be part of the 5 African teams to represent the continent in the World Cup tournament. They are telling us that we are better than Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon and Mali.

Well they should know better, shouldn’t they ? We felt bad when we could not make it to the World Cup Finals when only one African team was selected. Then, we made the cut when 2 teams were allowed to go. We have become part and parcel of the global football scene. We take a dim view of any attemps to convince us that parochial challenges like the CAN or any regional tournament are more than mere ego boosters. Comparing the Lions to puny and unimaginative sides like Algeria or Bénin is insulting. We are not amused.

Let me stress something that you certainly feel and they certainly know. At this tournament in Tunisia, after a few games, there is no comparison with any other team as far as overall talent and skill is concerned. We should breeze through the Tunisian CAN.

We believe that we will win it. But with tears and pain, because of this scourge that weighs on all things Cameroonian : manque de rigueur. When rigueur is absent, we all appear incompetent.

Let’s go back to the home front. Kumbo Strikers, Tarzan d’Obala and AS Babimbi. What’s wrong with this picture ? Nothing and everything at the same time. These are representative of football playing the game in unique conditions. Forget for a while the sorry state of facilities -the lack of them, I mean- and let’s do some old bean counting here. The Fécafoot alloows teams to have 33 players. Let’s take a second division team with 24 players and 3 coaches. Training takes place 5 times a week. The management of the team gives each player 500 CFA francs and 1,000 CFA francs to each coach per training day. The tab reaches 15,000 CFA. The grand total for the week is therefore 75,000 CFA francs. And the team has not played any official game yet.

This is true for Kumbo, Epervier or Serpent. Where does the money come from ? The President usually foots most of the bill. Some team presidents are lucky enough to get help from local supporters, but most do not. Now, I ask you : if you were the President of Couleuvre de Makak playing their games around Eséka and Edéa at a cost of 75 to 85,000 CFA francs per week, how would you feel about your team getting promoted to the elite division where you would have to travel to Garoua and Bamenda ?

You would do all you can to prevent your team from getting promoted. Unless you had access to tons of money. Financing the development of football is a joint endeavour of the Fécafoot and the fans. I do not think that Fécafoot has much money or directs any funding to teams in lower divisions. The main source of funds for the Fécafoot should be the intake at the gate. This is not encouraging considering that they charge 200 CFA francs for a seat at the National Cup Final in Yaoundé. 200 francs, people ! That’s what they feel the quality of the game commands. It is depressing.

If the Fécafoot cannot, or does not want to, fund football teams, how about the fans and private corporations ? Two main reasons. Back home, you just do not trust your hard-earned money to anybody because of our shameful accountability record. It is as simple as that. We have given money, only to find out that it never served the purpose initially advocated.

Second reason : the extreme sense of the clan by fans who have never been known to be tribally blind. We support the team of the clan. Bigger clans have relatively more affluent teams. Smaller clans have cash-strapped teams. Case in point : AS Babimbi. They play their local games in Edéa, which is no Babimbi country. There is almost not a single non-Babimbi Edéa resident who supports the local team, and the ratio of Babimbi natives is not overwhelmingly great.

You can therefore imagine that if it is so hard to find a supporter of AS Babimbi in Edéa, you are not very likely to find one who would support the Bamenda Stingers. That is the depressing reality.

Here on our couch we feel a sense of urgency as far as the development of football in Cameroon is concerned. We do not believe that our good fortunes will persist for ever without strong measures at the crucial levels of funding league football and strategic management of our beloved Lions.

L. Ndogkoti, from Sfax



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