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Located at the western/central crossroads of the African continent, Cameroon is often referred to as “Africa in miniature” due to the diverse range of landscapes and environments found within its borders, ranging from dense jungle to dry savannah, from coastal plains to majestic mountains and from traditional mud villages where visitors are greeted with open arms to rough and ready urban centres where they’re more likely to be greeted with open gunfire. Getting between any of these areas isn’t exactly going to be a picnic mind you. Cameroonian roads – only about 10% of which are actually paved – are in a glorious state of disrepair, constantly saturated by one of the world’s wettest climates and prone to collapsing in on themselves during the rainy season, as well as during the drizzly season, the soggy season and the “fuck me, is it STILL raining?” season.
Rush hour in Cameroon.
The name “Cameroon” has some fairly inauspicious origins. Unlike neighbouring countries named for imposing geographic features such as a lake (Chad) or river (Congo and Nigeria), Cameroon derives from the Portuguese word “Camoroes” meaning “shrimp” after explorers found local rivers to be chock full of the tasty little blighters. Despite Portugal not hanging around long enough to actually colonise the place, the name stuck with the country subsequently going through several variations depending on the European power in charge including “Kamerun” (German), “Cameroun” (French) and the bafflingly plural “Cameroons”, (drunk, bleary-eyed British cartographers seeing double whilst attempting to map the continent at three in the morning.)
Even my Orbis Italia 90 collection refers to “The Cameroons” so presumably they were all pissed as well, especially as they’ve also managed to put the flag back to front.
Cameroon is also one of Africa’s most biodiverse nations, featuring rare species aplenty including chimps, elephants, black rhino as well as unlikely sounding creatures such as the bushbaby, moustached monkey and the arrogant shrew. Sadly many of these animals are teetering on the brink of extinction, none more so than the critically endangered Cross River Gorilla (although it’s not entirely clear whether they’re cross because they’re endangered or vice versa), a subspecies that evolved via interbreeding between the “Peeved River Gorilla” and the “Slightly Miffed River Gorilla.” In terms of its human residents, Cameroon is home to over 250 tribal groups and, most notably, a high concentration of Pygmies, although if you’re expecting a load of cheap gags regarding perceived vertical shortcomings then you’ve come to the wrong place, especially as said jokes would doubtless go straight over their heads. Sorry.
Cameroon’s national team, aka the “Indomitable Lions”, are perhaps African football’s most historically significant side. Having captured a fifth Cup of Nations title in February (just two behind record holders Egypt) the country also boasts, as of July 2017, a continental record of seven trips to the World Cup finals with appearances in 1982, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2010 and 2014. Of course they’re famous almost exclusively for their exploits at Italia 90 where, fuelled by the goals of 38 year old corner flag botherer Roger Milla – the oldest man ever to find the net at the finals* – Cameroon became the first ever African side to reach the tournament quarter-finals and, at 2-1 up against England, found themselves just eight minutes away from the semis before a pair of reckless challenges allowed Gary Lineker to first equalise with a penalty before tucking away the winner, also from the spot, in extra time. However the Lions’ most famous result came in that tournament’s opening game, a stunning 1-0 victory over reigning world champions Argentina in Milan achieved through a heady blend of strength, skill and attempting to murder Caludio Caniggia.
Love how Benjamin Massing – perpetrator of that last foul – is still feigning innocence despite his boot having flown off from the force of the challenge.
Discipline, unsurprisingly, has long been Cameroon’s Achilles heel with eight red cards received across just 23 World Cup games. Ex Liverpool and West Ham defender Rigobert Song was an especially naughty sausage in this regard having gotten himself dismissed at two separate tournaments, including against Brazil during USA 94 at an age (17) almost as tender as his opponent’s ankles. Also, in a depressingly familiar tale for anyone who follows African football, the team have on more than one occasion arrived at a tournament whilst deeply entangled in a player bonus dispute which, couple with their tendency to brutally dismember opposition strikers, might help explain why they’ve recorded just one World Cup victory outside of 1990.
*Milla would go on to break his own record four years later at the sprightly age of 42 when he netted against Russia at USA 94, albeit in an embarrassing 6-1 defeat that saw opposing striker Oleg Salenko claim a record of his own in racking up five of his team’s six goals.
Cameroon are certainly no strangers to some shirt-related shenanigans. In 2002 the team rocked up at the Africa Cup of Nations wearing sleeveless tops and looking like a group of errant school children who, having forgotten their P.E. kit, were now being made to play in their vests. FIFA, who are normally reasonably receptive to stupid kit ideas (think Blatter and his desire to see female players kitted out in skimpier shorts. Muppet.) baulked at the idea and threatened the team with suspension unless they sewed on some sleeves for the World Cup later that year. They did. Two years later the Indomitable Lions unveiled their latest polyester atrocity at the 2004, which was essentially a prototype onesie with shirt and shorts coming as a one piece. Unsurprisingly FIFA again took a dim view.
Anyway, on to my shirt which arrives from a simpler time. Well, 1998 anyway. The template isn’t particularly original (My Austria shirt from the same tournament is basically the same in a different colour) but for some reason it just seems to compliment the striking green and yellow colour scheme. Watching France 98 I recall a chap named Pierre Njanka scoring an absolute belter against the Austrians whilst wearing this kit and, to be honest, that was my entire basis for choosing this Cameroon shirt for my collection, although the fact it has sleeves is always a bonus.