Cameroon: ‘The day Marc-Vivien Foé died on the field’, in the words of Roger Milla

On 26 June 2003, Cameroon played Colombia in the semi-final of the Confederations Cup at the Gerland Stadium in Lyon. The “Lions Indomptables” were on the verge of victory when midfielder Marc-Vivien Foé collapsed on the pitch. Former Cameroonian international football star Roger Milla looks back over that sad day.

We were nearing the end of the game and leading one goal to zero. Cameroon was about to reach the final of the Confederations Cup, so there was great excitement. There were less than 20 minutes left in the game against Colombia. Since I was part of the delegation, I was obviously there, sitting in the stands. I was sitting next to a Cameroonian minister who had also made the trip, whose name I have forgotten. These are distant and painful memories. Talking about them brings tears to my eyes.

Unimaginable

When I saw Marc-Vivien Foé fall, I immediately thought that he had simply been injured. He had just been battling it out with a Colombian player, and I thought that the confrontation had been a bit physical and so he must have hurt himself. Or maybe he was just tired – after all, it was the end of the competition. At the time, I didn’t think it could possibly be anything serious, as Foé was so young.

But he stayed down. I don’t know for how long, but those moments seemed endless. People started to wonder, we were all waiting for the referee to call the medical team. Foé did not get up. The minister beside me was anxious, and I was even more worried. I started to ask myself some serious questions.

It was very confusing: the referee stopped the match, and nobody understood what was going on. But when the doctors took Foé off the pitch on a stretcher and we saw his arm hanging off to the side, I knew it was more serious than we had thought. I let the minister know I was going to go see what was going on and went down to the changing rooms.

Like a son

On the way, I met the doctor from Olympique Lyonnais. He immediately told me that Foé was dead, that they had not been able to resuscitate him. It was a terrible shock. But I had to go and see him, and almost 20 years later, it’s still very difficult to talk about it.

The doctor took me to the dressing room. Foé was inside, alone. He was lying down, his body covered with a sheet. It was very hard. I thought that the Lord had decided that this had to happen. And that it had happened.

On the pitch, the match was over, and Cameroon had won. The players did not know what had happened. First I delivered the news to the minister. Then I went to see the team. Everyone was looking for answers, they didn’t know where Foé was or how he was doing. The dressing room was very quiet, everyone was waiting for news. When they saw me arrive, I think they immediately understood that what I had to tell them was serious.

It was a shock for them. They got dressed in silence, no one had the strength to speak. The team went back to the hotel and I went to the hospital where Foé had been taken to the morgue. His wife was already there, the doctors had warned her.

We then went back to see the players, as there was nothing more to wait for. The team was supposed to train the next day as they were due to play France in the final, but no one had the heart to do it.

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