A lion never dies.
Displaying this simple message was a banner hanging on the wall of Notre Dame des Victoires cathedral, in Yaounde, Cameroon, on 7th July 2003. The day that Cameroon footballer Marc Vivien Foe was laid to rest in his place of birth following his death 11 days previous, aged only 28.
- Tributes to Foe at both his funeral and a memorial at Maine Road
Cameroon were 1-0 up against Columbia during the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup. In the 72nd minute, Foe collapsed. After attempts to resuscitate him on field were unsuccessful, he was stretchered off the pitch. Suddenly, the outcome of the game was forgotten – the outcome of Foe’s injury becoming much more important. Despite receiving medical attention for 45 minutes, the midfielder died shortly after arriving at the Stade de Garland’s medical centre; a post mortem examination confirmed heart failure as the cause.
Foe may not have even been on the pitch at that moment had a different turn of events occurred. His wife, Marie-Louise Foe, described how the player had been suffering from dysentery in the build up to the game, but was determined to represent his country at the ground of his club, Lyon. Cameroon coach Winfred Schafer also revealed that he had wanted to substitute his player, as he appeared to be “running out of energy and slowing down,” but Foe reiterated his desire to stay on the field and ensure Cameroon reached the final. He dropped to the ground just minutes later.
Marc Vivien Foe was a prime example of a young boy achieving his dream. After starting his career with Second Division team Union Garoua, he moved to Canon Yaounde. With Foe’s help, they won the Cameroon Cup in 1993, with Foe earning his first cap for his country against Mexico the same year. His potential was noticed during the 1994 World Cup, and after interest from a variety of clubs, he joined RC Lens of the French Ligue 1.
After five successful seasons at Lens, he attracted the attention of Manchester United, but a broken leg ended his chances of joining the team, and of competing in the 1998 World Cup. Foe did, however, move to England after his recovery, joining West Ham United for £4.2 million in January 1999. During his time at Upton Park, he managed 38 appearances and 1 goal.
In 2000, Foe joined Lyon, Freddie Kanoute moving in the other direction. He missed part of his first season after suffering from malaria, but following his recovery, Foe was a key player in the French side’s League Cup and league title wins in 2001 and 2002 respectively. He was also an ever present in Cameroon’s 2002 World Cup side.
During the 2002-03 season, Kevin Keegan brought Foe to Manchester City on loan, where he immediately made an impact, making 38 appearances and scoring 9 goals. He was the last City player to score at Maine Road, and his number 23 shirt has since been retired.
Foe is not the only victim of football’s “silent killer.” Players who have since died on the pitch include Miklós Fehér and Phil O’Donnell, and there have been more still suffering fatal heart conditions. To see a player’s life ending right before our eyes is something no fan expects to see when attending a football match – it truly is unimaginable.
- Still in our thoughts – the son of Marc Vivien Foe gives a speech before the 2009 Confederations Cup final
The continuing respect for Foe was shown in 2008. Cameroonian Jean Makoun joined Lyon, and was given the number 17 shirt previously worn by Foe, stating, “In memory of Marc, for me and for the whole Cameroon, this will be for something.”
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