Eleven years ago, Cameroon footballer Marc Vivien Foé collapsed and died at the Stade Gerland in Lyon, France, during the Confederations Cup semi-final game between Cameroon and Columbia on June 26, 2003. Foé’s death was one of the major events in football that year as millions of TV viewers watched him die as the game was beamed live around the world.
A beloved athlete who began his career in his native Cameroon, he later moved to France where he won both the French league title and cup with Racing Club de Lens and Olympique Lyonnais respectively before ending up in England where he played for both West Ham United and Manchester City.
The 11th anniversary of his death was particularly poignant as it came barely days after the ignominious elimination of Foé’s cherished Indomitable Lions from the 2014 World Cup amidst accusations of greed and a lack of patriotism and fighting spirit that Foé embodied.
Incidentally, it was Samuel Eto’o, Foé’s former teammate and captain of Cameroon’s Indomitable Lions Captain, who was among the first to tweet about the anniversary:
Today, it's been 11 years that you left us for a better place, but you will never be forgotten. RIP Marc Vivien Foe. pic.twitter.com/GjQyhMVIje
— Samuel Eto'o (@setoo9) June 26, 2014
Luc Mbah a Moute, a Cameroon professional basketball player in the National Basketball Association (NBA), followed suit:
11 years ago, you went out of our sights but even closer to our hearts. We will never forget you. RIP Marc Vivien Foe pic.twitter.com/amgHdfBizP
— Luc Mbah a Moute (@mbahamoute) June 26, 2014
@thegingerwig tweeted a video tribute by Foé’s former club Manchester City:
— thegingerwigmcfc (@thegingerwig) June 26, 2014
To Cameroonians, Foé is a national hero who died at the service of his country. As Samuel Eto’o stressed in another message, this time on his Facebook page, Foé was:
Valeureux Lion Indomptable mort sur le champ d’honneur en défendant les couleurs de notre cher et beau Pays. Ta grandeur s’est imposée naturellement comme ta personnalité, ton talent et ton amour inconditionnel pour la Patrie… Tu resteras pour nous, à jamais, un Héros National, l’enfant bien-aimé de la Mère Afrique, un des plus grands talents qui aient jamais existé sur la Planète Football. Merci Marco. Repose en paix !
A valiant Indomitable Lion who died on the field of honor while defending the colors of our dear and beautiful country. Your greatness imposed itself naturally, just like your personality, your talent and your unconditional love for the fatherland… You will forever remain a National Hero, the beloved child of mother Africa, and one of the greatest talents ever in football. Thanks Marco. Rest in peace!
The theme of selfless and sacrifice was shared by Serge Mbarga Owona:
26 Juin 2003! Voilà aujourd'hui 11 ans que Marc Vivien Foé s'en est allé. Un exemple de courage, d'abnégation et de bravoure. Un lion! #rip
— Serge Mbarga Owona (@Manekang) June 26, 2014
June 26, 2003! It’s been 11 years since Marc Vivien Foé departed. An example of courage, self-sacrifice and bravery. A true lion! #rip
In spite of his status as a national hero who was given a state funeral in 2003, Cameroon has done very little to preserve Foé’s memory and legacy. Nowhere is this more evident than in Foé’s unfinished sports complex in Yaounde which the government had promised to complete. Today, the multimillion dollar complex is in ruins. As a 2013 CNN report revealed:
The paint is peeling, puddles litter the inside of the building, putrid water lies in what was supposed to be a swimming pool and even the statue of the man who had the vision to build the sports complex is cracked — a sad and inglorious tribute to Marc-Vivien Foe 10 years to the day after the Cameroonian's tragic death.
Once earmarked as a state-of-the-art $10 million sports academy, the only inhabitants today are not the next generation of Indomitable Lions but a handful of squatters and policemen — with Foe's father funding the latter because of the high risk of theft in this corner of Yaounde.
Although largely ignored and forgotten by his home country, Foé’s memory lives on elsewhere. In France, for example, the city of Lyon renamed the Jules Verne municipal stadium after him, while Radio France International and France 24 came together to establish the Marc-Vivien Foé Award for the best African player in the French Ligue 1 football championship. In England, Manchester City retired Foé’s Number 17 jersey following his death and put up a plaque in his honor at the City of Manchester Stadium.
Since Foé’s death, FIFA has initiated numerous programs to detect and reduce the occurrence of sudden cardiac arrest among footballers reduce its occurrence among footballers.
According to Tom Victor:
He may no longer be with us, but no figure can be put on the lives saved as a consequence of the actions taken after his death.
Thanks to these and many other initiatives, Foé will live on as the deluge of tributes on social media attest. As Emily Brady tweeted:
— EmilyBrady. (@EmilyJaneBrady) June 26, 2014