Ben Bola Forcha, former PWD Bamenda and Indomitable Lions player, in an exclusive interview granted Lions4life, talks about how PWD Bamenda signed him for FCFA 1000 in 1977, his time with the club from 1977 to 1994 and how this humble beginning earned him a place in the national team from 1982 to 1985. The Physical Education Teacher also compares football in contemporary times with that of the 1980s and said players have strayed away from the initial passion of the game to money. He also gives tips on how the past glory of Cameroon football can be restored. Read on:
How did you become a footballer?
I started playing football at the age of 15 with Mankon United during the 1976-77 football season. I did not sign any formal contract with the club because it did not exist at the time. I later on joined PWD Bamenda the next season, where I played my first national Interpool during the 1977-1978 football season. I played with PWD until I retired in 1994, as a result of a serious knee injury.
How much was your transfer fee from Mankon United to PWD Bamenda?
Back then we were playing football because we loved the game and not because of money. PWD signed me for FCFA 1,000. I had to board a taxi from Old Town to Up Station and back for FCFA 50 from the FCFA 1,000. So, actually, I was signed for FCFA 950. The process of signing players at PWD was organised in such a way that after a period of two years, the players had to sign a permanent contract with the High Ways for a negotiable salary of FCFA 60,000 for a start, after that, the player will be offered a permanent job with the Public Works Department. I refused to sign a permanent contract with the High Ways because I wanted to go to school.
What motivated you to sign for PWD Bamenda?
I was motivated by a number of factors; firstly, the team was very famous and made up of only senior and talented players like late Dr. Ekwa, Peter Essoka, Frankline Ngoh, Zacharie Kwo, among others. When I was first contacted, I immediately accepted because, very few of us, especially of my age, could gain a place in the team.
You played a key role in PWD’s journey to the 1979 Cup of Cameroon finals, emerging man of the match in games against top clubs like Tonnerre and Canon. What was your driving force?
Talking about playing a key role in that Canon and Tonnerre games, when Frankline Ngo came back from Yaounde, I was playing as a lead striker then. It was only when Ngo wasn’t around that I played a key role. My driving force was just the passion for the game.
Did your performance woo clubs from other parts of the country to acquire your signature?
Yes, it attracted a lot of clubs because, by 1982, I was playing in the junior national team. Clubs like Tonnerre, Canon, Union and Racing Bafoussam all wanted to sign me. I had a lot of pressure from PWD to stay. My parents and my Principal at Longla Comprehensive College, Mr. Abraham, wanted me to take my academics seriously. They both outlined the importance of education to me, beside football. According to Mr. Abraham, education should come first and football second. I had to make a choice and that choice was to stay at PWD and continue my education in Longla, which today remains the best ever decision I made.
How was it like to play for the junior national team as an Anglophone?
In 1982, I was selected to play for the junior national team. Then it was a great pleasure and honour, given that, I was coming from an Anglophone Province. My football shirt number was 14. My first game with the junior national team was in Yaounde against Ivory Coast. This game propelled me to the intermediate team or “probable” as it was called then. I was one of the first Anglophones to play in this team. We won the UDEAC Cup which is today called the CEMAC Cup.
How did you become a national team player in 1984 under Coach Claude Le Roy?
When we played against Ivory Coast under late Coach Nzelezen, Le Roy noticed me during that encounter because I was one of the best players on the pitch on hat day. So, after the game, I was called up for pre-selection into the national team. Again, Claude Le Roy had seen my talent during the UDEAC Cup competition and decided to give me a chance in the national team. So, three of us from the junior team were selected including Sunday Nji and I as the only Anglophones. After our selection, we travelled to Germany and Brazil.
How were you treated by your French speaking teammates?
There were no major problems because most of us knew ourselves during the National Division One Championship.
Are there any fond memories you shared with your teammates?
Yes, there are a lot of them. We have people like Theophile Abega, Roger Milla, Omam Biyik and Ndip Akem, who were all my close collaborators in the national team. While in the national team, the population affectionately called me “Bebe” because I was really small and many fans thought that I will eventually take over from late Thoephile Abega.
It is bantered around that you were dismissed from the national team because you spat on the referee’s face. What really happened?
People are just talking because they want to. But I am educated and can’t do such a thing. That is indecency. The last time I was asked this same question on CRTV, I explained that they can verify from the Coach himself or my colleagues then. I was supposed to be the best player in the country’s Division One Championship at that time, but it was manipulated and given to Abega because I had a red card in Bafang. So the officials had to defend their action by saying that I spat on the referee’s face. How can I be playing in the national team and be so stupid to spit on a referee? Those are fictitious stories.
How was it like to play for the Indomitable Lions?
Back then, we played for prestige and love for the game. But today, the players play for money. During our days in the national team, when you were called up to play for the Indomitable Lions, it was an honour and prestige because you knew that you were defending the colours of your fatherland. Today, the players are not willing to sacrifice. In those days we played for nothing. Our match allowances were FCFA 2,000 and same amount for Olympic bonuses. Players who were workers or employed by Government institutions and had a pay slip had an increment of FCFA 15,000. These amounts were fixed both at the junior and senior levels and had no fixed date or time which the money was supposed to be paid.
You played against many great players, who was your toughest opponent?
I think Rene Njieya was. It was very difficult for strikers to go past him at the defence. Others include Isaac Singord, Robert Dang who played for Canon of Yaounde, Buteva of Camark and Benjamin Masing. You know most attackers don’t like aggressive defenders. The aforementioned persons were really aggressive defenders.
What is your appraisal of the Indomitable Lions today?
Their performances have been fluctuating because, up to this moment we do not know our starting 11. The team is a very young and talented squad, but the only problem is selecting the right players, since the Coach is trying to give everybody a chance. The Coach also needs to have confidence in the likes of Clinton Njie and the rest. I am not saying this because Clinton Njie is an Anglophone. We all saw what he did during the qualifiers and what he is doing in his club. Our players need that constant game time together and not the random rotation of the team.
In your opinion, what can be done to make Cameroon football better?
Talking as the FECAFOOT Technical Adviser for Mezam, we have to lay more emphases on youth football. Youth football is not promoted and when the older players retire, we have difficulties replacing them.
In 1998, you coached and propelled PWD Bamenda into Division One and finished second in the Championship. The club represented Cameroon in the CAF Champions League. Do you still nurse plans of returning to coaching?
Naturally, I am a Coach. Two years back I was taking care of PWD, I went round trying to raise funds for the club to keep it afloat. I am still participating in the affairs of the club. Besides that, I am a Physical Education Teacher, so it is something I was birthed with. As the FECAFOOT Technical Adviser for Mezam, appointed some four years ago, I am in charge of selecting players in Mezam youth football. So, I am still in the field of coaching.
What advice can you give to aspiring footballers?
First and foremost, they should be disciplined, hard-working, abstain from excessive drinking, womanising and be respectful.
Interviewed By Basil K. Mbuye