6th February is the sad anniversary of THE DAY THE BUSBY BABES DIED on a snow and slush covered runway at the old Munich Riem Airport as charter flight BEA 609 from Belgrade refueled and made 3 attemts to take off and the legend of Manchester United was created. I remember the date vividly, changing buses on Talbot Road in Blackpool on my way home from school, since it was too cold to ride my bicycle there and back. I saw the 'Evening Gazette' newspaper billboard and went home to listen to the radio.. I am often at Old Trafford, The Theatre of Dreams, showing visiting friends and teams around, through The Munich Tunnel under the main stand, to The Munich Clock, and the plaque on the wall of the South Stand.
While the 52st Super Bowl and the very first extra time result went The Patriots way and Lady Gaga put on an incredible one woman show at half-time in Houston, TX I was fast asleep ! However, another come from behind victory in Libreville, Gabon was shown much earlier to a worldwide audience. For the 5th time since 1982 THE INDOMITABLE LIONS of CAMEROON fought back to beat EGYPT in the AFCON 2017 final in the Gabonese capital. www.cafonline.com.
I first watched The Lions in late 1981 in Kinitra, Morocco when the unfancied West African team were not very well known. I has hitched a ride from some journalists at an Arabic language newspaper in the capital of Rabat where I had picked up a media pass at the Royal Moroccan Football Federation FRMF. office. I sat behind the Moroccan goal taking photos, and SURPRISE, SURPRISE, the LIONS won 2-0 and were on their way to ESPANA '82. www.frmf.ma.
They took me back to their office and developed my film since I had got both goals, while the Moroccan press was behind the Cameroon goal. I had a complimentary flight ticket from RAM (Royal Air Maroc) and flew Casablanca to Madrid and then to Munich for Oktoberfest. In the summer of 1982 I criss crossed Spain by bus and train from the opener at Camp Nou ; Argentina 0-Belgium 1, to Bilbao for England 3- France 1 and to Vallolidad, Gijon, Ovieda , Vigo, La Coruna, Madrid, Seville, Malaga. In fact 17 stadiums in 14 cities were used. I caught up with The Lions at the Estadio Balaidos in Vigo where they tied 1-1 with Italy. Before the match I met my old coach Dettmar Cramer who was a FIFA coaching analysist who took me under the stands to watch the teams warm up.
The match was controversial with Italy advancing to the next round under a bit of a cloud. There were other controversies including the West Germany v Austria FIX in Gijon (THE SHAME OF GIJON) which I attended, which resulted in a rule change for the future, with the final matches in group stages kicking off at the exact same time. This was the first FIFA World Cup with 24 rather than 16 teams. In 1990 I was in Stadio Meazza -San Siro Milan for the opener, World Champions Argentina v Cameroon. Francois Omam-Biyik won for The Lions to shock Maradona and team mates 1-0. We danced in the upper tiers and outside in the streets with the colorfully dressed fans from Africa, WHAT A MOMENT !. They became the first African team to advance to the next round and eventually were knocked out by England in rhe quarter final in Naples 3-2 after extra time,
Back to 2017. The Lions, coached bt Belgian HUGO BROOS . " I DON'T HAVE "23 PLAYERS, I HAVE 23 FRIENDS ". "Over the weeks we went from being a squad to becoming a family. It's unbelieving what all the guys did. It was tremendous". This without 7 eligible players including Joel Matip of Liverpool and Allan Nyom of West Brom opting to stay with their clubs instead of playing for their country--WHAT A MISTAKE ! .
Unlike many of the AFCON 2017 matches which had very poor attendances the final was a full house. and THE BEST MATCH SAVED FOR LAST. Vincent Aboubakr scored the very late winner 2-1. Their first championship for 15 years. Not only is Cameroon on the northern land border with Gabon, but many Cameroonians work and live in Libreville and other cities., and there were plenty of travelling fans supporting Egypt-THE PHARAOHS. The next AFCON is in 2019 and the host country will be CAMEROON. The two major cities of Yaounde and Douala and maybe a couple more.