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How competitive are Cameroonian football competitions?

by Lesley Ngwa
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Back in the days when domestic football was arguably one of the biggest Cameroonian exports, a derby between Union and Canon could easily dominate public debate and could also transform beer parlours into veritable meeting points for supporters and fans.

The nuks, the crannies and cravices of the country were always anxiously on the wait for such epic games, as supporters of these historic clubs divided this football-obsessed nation in half, regardless of where people lived.

The scintillating football produced by these clubs influenced the quality of their support and enabled Cameroon to command an unprecedented respect on the African continent. It wasn’t just the star studded national team that imposed such respect, but even if it were so, a majority of the players was drafted from the Canons, the Tonneres, the Union Sportive, the Kumba Lakers, the Oryx, the Dynamos, the Caimans and the Leopards, to name but this few.

For 90 minutes, the country stood still as Cameroonians enjoyed good club football, a football whose trademark  brought honour and glory to the nation when Cameroon won its first major continental title, the African club championship in 1965 through Oryx of Douala.

That generation had a constellation of enigmatic football players notably Samuel Mbappé Leppe, Jean Atangana Ottou, Akono Adolphe and Moukoko Jean De Confiance. This group of players would go ahead to dominate both the domestic and continental scenes winning back-to-back top-flight titles first in 1961, before winning three times in succession from 1963 and then 1967.

The likes of Canon Sportive, Tonnere and Union Sportive were also a force to reckon with on the continent thanks to the competitive nature of the domestic championship. A Yaounde derby between Tonnere and Canon sent shock waves down the spines of many, the country caught cold whenever Prisons social club of Buea played against Leopards Sportive in a Cameroon championship that had all its splendour, colours and glory.

Thanks to the stiff competition that existed amongst all these elite clubs, Canon and Union would go ahead to dominate the African football scene, when Mekok Mengonda won the CAF champions league three times notably in 1971, 1978 and 1980.

They also won the African club winners cup in 1979 thanks to the imposing and majestic performances of players like Theophile Abega, Thomas Nkono, Jean Manga Onguene, Charles Leya Eyoum and Mbom Ephraim. They all played in and made the Cameroon domestic championship click and thick, all this to the glory of our country.

The likes of Eugene Ekoule alias Samangwana, Joseph Antoine Bell, Njeya Rene, Joseph Enanga, Paul Kamga and Ndoume Leya François followed in the foot-steps of the glorious galaxy of Canon stars when they dominated Africa in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They notably won the African champions league in 1979 and took the entire continent by storm when they won the African club winners cup in 1981.

But today, Cameroonian clubs are experiencing a dwindling fortress in continental football, their performances are nothing to go by and their names; a mere formality. Since Coton Sport last appeared in the final of the CAF champions league in 2008, no Cameroonian club has repeated that feat and for the past 15 years.

The country has lost two places in CAF club competitions. It is increasingly becoming difficult for any Cameroonian club to even qualify for the group stages, and this year, the champions of Cameroon, Coton Sport, were brutally eliminated from the preliminary phase of the CAF champions league. Bamboutos FC of Mbouda who were due to represent Cameroon in the CAF Confederation Cup were unable to do so as a result of chronic misunderstanding with the FA.

From insufficient funding to lack of infrastructure and a polluted championship marked by corruption and match fixing scandals, the problems are visible and wide ranging. For example, the budget of Egyptian club Al Ahly alone is over 89 billion FRS CFA whereas that of Coton Sports, the Cameroon champions is seven hundred and twenty millions FRS. The difference is clear as Al Ahly stand a better chance of luring the best players in and out of the continent.

Hence their perennial performance in the CAF club football. Another good example for African club football is Tanzania. Tanzanian clubs collectively raise billions of dollars selling television rights to broadcasters, signing sponsorship deals and selling merchandise. They then use a portion of this income to scout for and sign up talented players and develop the next generation of top-level athletes.

The majority of Cameroonian clubs cannot even boast of an enviable annual budget, talk-less of respecting their financial engagements with players and coaches.

Many do not even have a sponsor and a majority rely on subvention from the federation and government. This explains why players often go on sit-down strikes.

Also, the Cameroon football industry needs reliable and functioning infrastructure, major financial investment and a strong commitment to cultivating new players and fans. These are essential for long-term success of any football ecosystem.

The situation of clubs from the North West, South and East regions quickly comes to mind here. PWD of Bamenda who recently lost 2-0 in the final of the Cameroon to Fovu of Baham trained on a deplorable pitch in the country’s North West Regional capital Bamenda prior to Sunday’s game.

Moreover, no Cameroonian club can boast of a befitting stadium while very few can beat their chests of training facilities and reliable transportation.

Worst still, corruption is a pressing concern for our local football, with regular allegations of match-fixing, favouratism and bribery.

These, has led to a lack of trust and transparency within the football ecosystem, which can deter fans, investors and sponsors from getting involved. There is therefore no gainsaying that something is wrong somewhere, somehow as there is an urgent need to take Cameroonian football back to its promised land.

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