By Leocadia Bongben
The Lionesses’ of Cameroon as the women national soccer team is called may not have stars like those in the men’s football, Roger Milla, Joseph Antoine Bell, Samuel Eto’o, but they have also created a beautiful page for themselves in the female football world.
The hasslehowever, is that less attention is accorded these football women compared to their male counterparts who for some time bring nothing but shame to the country.
Ignored during their qualification for the African Women Championship on June 8, promised meagre fees, the indomitable Lions were lavished attention during their farewell match against Moldova ahead of the 2014 World Cup only for them to flop in the competition, losing all their matches, existing with no point and only a goal scored.
Nonetheless, it is not late to write a consistent history of female football in Cameroon though from the eyes of a one-time player, former captain, now assistant coach of the national women team, Bernadette Anong.
Anong won countless medals but it is worth mentioning few, Silver medal at 2004 women championship, bronze at the All Africa Games 2003 and ranked first African team for the first time in 2003. She was among the privileged to be honoured by the head of state and first lady and the team was discerned encouragement medals by the President.
Playing from 1990 to 2009, Anong entered football without any idols, but because she was born near a football field, Anguissa at the Malien Stadium. She later discovered Canon girls, women version of the legendary club, Canon of Yaoundé.
Nonetheless, she cherishes memories of a former goalkeeper, Henriette Zepang whom she discovered during a Top Cup when Monte played against 33 girls.
“I found her superb and I told myself I could do this and this is one of the persons that ignited my passion and I eventually I got into playing football”.
Anong would have been a goalkeeper had it not been for her father who insisted she should not and she was used in different positions as the coaches deemed fit, lateral, offensive and defensive midfielder.
This female football star traces the history of women football in Cameroon, to Atangana Louis de Ngonzak and a certain Bella. As international referees they brought female football to Cameroon.
Atangana who invested all his life in women football spotted Anong play and introduced her to the game.
“Women football stars cannot be compared to men within the precincts of interests around the two versions, there is not much talk about people in female football though some merit being mentioned, Henriette Zepang, Mame Meyine, Mitende and Regine Voue who defended the national colours in Europe”, she recounts.
But, this story cannot be complete without allusion to the first female football President, Bale Maken who died last year, Anong says. She invested her money and scouted for sponsors for the women football to function.
In the generation of the 1990s, there are players like Bernadette Anong, Mike Ndoumou, Antoinette Anounga, Clarisse Ngomouko, Idelette Giadem, many who have followed their second choices in life, Kine-therapists, physical education teachers and business women, many in the police and army Abe Enam, Mbida.
The present generation of female footballer qualified the country under the leadership of Coach Enow Ngachu for the Olympic Games though did not perform well, ousted with no point losing all their matches.
These valiant women, among them, Bella Francoise, Mani Christine, Gabrielle Aboudi Onuene, Gaelle Enganamouit, Adrienne Iven Mihamle qualified the country recently for the African Women Championship, Namibia 2014.
What Attention does Female Football Get?
Anong thinks the federation can do better however she acknowledges what is done. “The federation is doing what it can, but there is need to look for more sponsors because financially, female football is not profitable and it is not possible to invest when there is no benefit”.
Many club presidents have invested all their lives; many do not have a roof to lay their heads and most continue to rent houses. If they had kept their money, they would have built houses, but if they remain in women football today it is because of the passion, she says.
Compared to her era, the champion of Canon of Yaounde, Cup of Cameroon, Lorema and Top Cup states that club presidents sweated to maintain the clubs to the extent of having problems with their families because they sponsor football forgetting their own children.
The Fifa subvention for female football with the growing number of teams is not enough, but it is for the federation strive to lighten the weight of club presidents, though the meagre subvention is already of great help on expenses but the federation can do better.
All is not blurred and there is a silver lining in the horizon. Former player of Pelican Stars of Calabar, Rivers Angels of Port Harcourt, Delta Queens of Delta State, FCT Abudja, Ibom Angels of Akwa Ibom says Cameroon would be organising the African Women Championship in 2016, this means there is an evolution, a positive sign.
“Initially I never could imagine this happening, I played in many championships outside Cameroon and I would have loved to play one in my country. But, there is hope that I will play as a coach in 2016”, Anong who started football in primary school says.
The prospects are good because young players now can play for clubs in Europe with a salary of about FCFA 1m which is not exorbitant but, good for them to survive. Many young Cameroonian women can eke a living from football, but this should go hand in hand with studies because it is hard to know if one would have a good career in football, she advises.
“It is better for girls to play and study, club presidents, federation and government should insist on this for the country to have athletes who are intelligent”.
Many players on retirement are miserable and have to stick to their second choices in life, but Anong thinks life after playing football has to be planned.
The Fecafoot and the national technical unit have come up with an initiative to bring back former international female footballers, encouraging them into areas like coaching, refereeing and many have been attending capacity building trainings.
“Passion drives the stay in female football, but it should also bring comfort to promoters, players and should be go hand in gloves with studies”, she concludes.
*This articles is produced for Discover Football Project.