By Beng Emmanuel
It felt like an eternity, but Cameroon will finally host the 33rd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time in five decades. And although fans celebrate, many believe it is an opportunity to rewrite history after being robbed of the title during the first ever AFCON in 1972.
At 81, Jean Marie can still vividly remember the scenes of Cameroon’s exit during the 1972 Africa Cup of Nations. He recalls how the players of Cameroon national team trundled off the pitch with disbelief and how galling it was for his friends and himself to endure taunts and celebrations of their rival supporters in a raucous Ahmadou Ahidjou Stadium.
The Indomitable Lions lost to eventual winners Congo 1-0 in the semi-final. But settled for third place after a convincing 5-2 win against Zaire.
“I couldn’t bear the pain. It felt like it was slowly dying. I had placed a huge bet we were going to win and I felt absolutely disappointed and frustrated we didn’t,” he said.
“I watched the players return to the dressing rooms all in pain. But it was nothing compared to the agony I was going through that day. I cannot forget”. Jean Marie engulfed a glass of beer and nodded his head severally in dismay.
Interestingly, he says he isn’t sure if there’s anyone in Cameroon who has waited long enough to see another AFCON organised in Cameroon like him after that of 1972. His biggest hope is to see Cameroon atone to their mistake which will heal his grieving soul.
“If Cameroon wins the AFCON, I will be the happiest man on earth. It will be the happiest day of my life after my wedding with my wife and the birth of my children. This will be a perfect gift and the right time”.
There are many Cameroonians like Jean Marie Jean who were bitterly disappointed after losing to Congo. Like Jean Marie, the bout of pain was real; they haven’t completely gotten over that defeat.
But they feel a sense of optimism and a fitting reward after close to five decades of wait. And those moments are tantalisingly close although it promises to be full of twists and turns.
A Child’s dream now reality
Joshua’s mother had just gotten remarried to his step-father the same year Cameroon hosted their first ever Africa Cup of Nations in 1972.
As a kid, he always dreamt of the moment when his country will host the AFCON again. He has been a fervent supporter of the team and has been keeping records of their success and failures.
Besides expecting Cameroon to put up a good fight at the 24-nation tournament, Joshua is also eager to see the continent’s most prolific football stars grace the various pitches. These are footballers he only gets to watch on television on duty to their respective clubs.
“I’ve waited for it my whole life. My father keeps telling me about the historic moment and the disappointment of not winning the title on home soil. I knew one day I will get the opportunity to watch the AFCON in my beloved country and also get the chance to tell my children and grandchildren someday” the football enthusiast said.
“It feels like a dream. Having to watch Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, and other big names especially of the Premier League in Cameroon during the AFCON will be a great experience.”
He believes Cameroon was culpable of their own downfall in 2019 when they were stripped off the hosting rights by the Confederation of African Football. But a similar move after several months of works would have been a cruel decision.
“Postponing the AFCON would have been devastating to all Cameroonians. So many people were unhappy when they heard rumors the competition wouldn’t take place as planned. But after reassurance from the CAF president we were much relieved and can’t wait for the AFCON to begin.
A trophy to heal the wounds of fans
A lot has happened since Cameroon last hosted the Africa Cup of Nations in 1972.
And although the Indomitable Lions have won five (5) AFCON titles-none of them on home soil, fans believe claiming the continent’s most prestigious trophy at a time of social and economic despair will bring back joy of old times.
“It will be a remarkable exploit and I think it is possible. We are the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon. Hosting the AFCON means a lot for us, imagine how we would feel if we won it at this time. We have all what it takes to win the trophy; a good manager, talented players, and fans who are determined to roar them to victory throughout the competition”.
Football is more of a sport to Cameroonians. They may have their petty differences but are as well ready to settle them accordingly to embrace a common challenge and celebrate their victory.
“We would show the world what football means to us. We are going to support our team regardless of the circumstances. We want them to succeed and they can only do so, if we’re all united behind them during the competition”.