How a football team from Cameroon’s conflict-stricken regions defied all odds to win a maiden national trophy

PWD Bamenda football team from Cameroon. Credit: PWD Bamenda media, used with permission.

In 2016, PWD Bamenda, a football club from Cameroon’s embattled northwest region, gained promotion into the country’s national division two championship known as the Elite Two.

That same year protests broke out in the northwest and southwest regions, paralyzing football activities in the two Anglophone regions. Protesters’ demands included the use of English as the official language in Anglophone courts and schools and equal distribution of economic resources.

These protests turned violent, leading to a bloody, nearly four-year conflict between primarily French-speaking government forces and English-speaking separatist militias.

Meanwhile, PWD Bamenda has been in the mix — gaining promotion to the national division one, Elite One, and being crowned champions of a disrupted season caused by the coronavirus, with only a few games remaining.

The club has withstood the test of time — surviving threats related to the coronavirus and ongoing separatist conflict — to reach the highest levels.

At the start of the just-ended football season, club president Abunde Pascal told CBS Radio he would like the team to play a pivotal role in the championship, having escaped relegation in the previous season.

“The objectives of this season have not yet been properly defined but we think that we should play a key role in the championship this season. We don’t want to be in that relegation battle that we were last season,” club president Abunde said last October.

PWD Bamenda had barely survived relegation from the previous season when its former coach, Augustin Choupo, was kidnapped by suspected Anglophone separatists and repeatedly faced threats while hosting its matches in Bamenda, the regional headquarters of the northwest region.

“There were persistent negotiations with security forces to protect the playground of the team,” Kouamo Arnold, a Bamenda-based reporter who covers the club told Global Voices on May 16, 2020. “The team has Francophone players, so most of them were afraid of being kidnapped while in the northwest because the former coach Augustin Choupo was abducted.”

The team suffered a series of defeats in the initial stage of the 2020 season and nearly got to the relegation zone, but picked up before the first phase could wrap up – raking in 29 points and finishing second.

“Many people criticized coach [David] Pagou’s [the new coach] playing formation of 3-5-2. But he took the risk, diverting from the previous coach’s philosophy and it started paying off,” Kouamo said.

PWD nudged to the second spot with 40 points after a 1-0 win over legendary club Tonnere Kalara Club in a day 24 fixture. The club had dropped points in a few matches in the early stage of the second phase in their initial quest to avoid relegation in the top-flight.

“The spirit of winning the championship never really occurred to the club,” Giovanni Wanneh, a football writer in Cameroon, told Global Voices. According to Giovanni, PWD’s turning point came on the 28th day of the competition, when they claimed a decisive win to move to the top of the league.

“Winning against Union Sportive of Douala made the team and the fans to believe they could actually win the league. The fans started pushing,” said Wanneh.

The win took the team to the top of the Elite One table with 47 points — a point away from Cameroonian giants, Coton Sport, who unfortunately drew against their opponents. A win would have taken Coton Sport to the top spot; however, things stayed that way and the league was suspended in March because of the coronavirus.

Cameroon has recorded some of the highest numbers of coronavirus patients during this period in the region.

Eventually, the Cameroon Football Federation (Fecafoot) that runs the league wrapped up the championship and declared PWD winners with six days remaining in the championship.

The team, created 58 years ago in the then-Southern Cameroons will now represent Cameroon in next season’s CAF Champions League – their first-ever appearance.

“We are very happy because practicing the game in this part of the country [northwest] is not easy, with the challenges that you know,” PWD Bamenda president Abunde Pascal told Global Voices on May 16.

Journalist Afeseh Apong, who traveled with the team for matches throughout this season, concurs.

“We had a game in Bamenda and Dragon Yaounde — the opponent — went to the field earlier before us. They were stopped at the entrance of the field by suspected separatist fighters.  The players were traumatized and they never wanted to continue the game. We needed extra effort to convince them to play,” he told Global Voices on May 17.

“With all those negative factors, I think PWD broke all odds.”

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