Marc-Vivien Foe – Remembered a decade on

by Neil Sherwin

Foe CityThis day ten years ago, Marc-Vivien Foe took to the field to represent his country for the 65th time in the semi finals of the Confederations Cup against Colombia.

Sadly, in the 72nd minute, he suffered a cardiac arrest and, despite efforts to restart his heart, passed away 45 minutes later.

Foe was just 28 years of age and left behind a wife and three young children.

I remember where I was on June 26, 2003. Standing in the kitchen of my parents’ house with the radio on in the background, I hadn’t paid much attention to the Confederations Cup that year and those were the days before smart phones and Livescore.

The sports news came on and led with news of events at the Stade de France. As a Manchester City fan I was immediately emotionally attached to the passing of a player who had made a good impression on the club, despite having joined less than 12 months previous.

One of ‘ours’ had been lost.

Foe’s playing career began in his homeland where he cut his teeth with Yaounde, but it was his strong showing at the 1994 World Cup that had scouts from Europe looking in his direction.

Gerard Houllier took him to Lens in France, and over five seasons the midfielder made a huge impression to the point of attracting interest from the Premier League and Manchester United in 1998.

There was talk of the Red Devils paying somewhere in the region of £3 million to secure his services, however a broken leg ended a chance of a move while also putting paid to his appearance at the 1998 World Cup.

Foe with West Ham team mate Paolo Di Canio

Foe with West Ham team mate Paolo Di Canio

It was West Ham United who finally took him to England in January 1999 as they paid £4.2 million to secure his services.

After less than 40 appearances for the Upton Park side, Foe returned to France with Lyon for £6 million but subsequently missed most of the 2000/01 season having contracted malaria.

He recovered to play a part in the club’s League Cup win in 2001 before being a key component of their title winning side of 2002.

After the heartache of missing the 1998 World Cup, Foe made it to Japan and South Korea in 2002 and played in all three of Cameroon’s games against Ireland, Germany and Saudi Arabia.

In the summer of that year, Manchester City showed a strong interest in bringing Foe back to the Premier League and they eventually put up £550,000 to sign him on a season long loan with a view to a permanent move.

“Marc is absolutely key to what we do and that is no disrespect to anybody else,” said then manager Kevin Keegan.

“That holding position in which he plays – and I am not saying he cannot do so alongside a similar type player – is vital. He is a quality player.”

Keegan continued to wax lyrical about his new midfielder, and saw him as a stand out acquisition in an off season where the club also picked up Nicolas Anelka and Sylvain Distin amongst others.

“I think he is a tremendously important signing for us,” he said.

“All the others are exciting but some signings you know are just right and this one is just right for Manchester City.”

And he was right as Foe performed very well in his first, and sadly last, season at the club, scoring nine times in 35 games.

Floral tributes outside Maine Road in 2003

Floral tributes outside Maine Road in 2003

He was an important figure in City’s first Manchester Derby win for 13 years when a Shaun Goater brace helped the Blues to a 3-1 win in November 2002.

Foe’s second goal against Sunderland at the end of April 2003 turned out to be the club’s last at Maine Road, their home for 80 years.

With City eager to make Foe’s move permanent, he left for the Confederations Cup and played a key role in the team’s run to that semi finals with Colombia.

Cameroon won the game 1-0, despite the loss of Foe, to set up a final with France, however neither side wanted to play the game in light of the tragedy.

FIFA insisted it went ahead with France taking out the trophy thanks to a Golden Goal from Thierry Henry and there were low key celebrations, while a runners up medal was hung on a photo of Foe held by team mates.

He posthumously finished third in the Player of the Tournament voting.

In the days that followed Foe’s death, tributes flowed in with Maine Road a sea of flowers, scarves and football shirts as fans mourned the loss of a man who had such a big impact on them in a short space of time.

“Marc was not only a special footballer but a very special person,” said Kevin Keegan.

“You only have to look at the range of tributes that have come in to realise the regard and respect in which his fellow professionals held him. We will all miss his smile and his personality.

“Nothing was ever too much trouble for him and he was the ultimate professional, loved by everyone. He never gave this club less than 100 per cent and was a big factor in us finishing ninth in the table. He only missed two games all season – and one of those was to be at the birth of his new baby – and won the fans over.”

City subsequently retired the number 23 which he wore while at the club.

Cameroon players mourn Foe's loss before the Confederations Cup Final

Cameroon players mourn the loss of their friend after the Confederations Cup Final

Foe was mourned by more than 3000 people who attended his state funeral at a sports complex he was constructing in Yaounde, with national team captain Rigobert Song and FIFA president Sepp Blatter amongst others offering eulogies.

Sadly, Foe wasn’t the last to professional footballer pass away in such horrible circumstances and just months later, Benfica’s Hungarian international Miklos Feher was also lost.

Other high profile deaths from cardiac arrest include those of Spaniards Antonio Puerta and Dani Jarque, whom Andres Iniesta paid tribute to with a t-shirt having scored the winning goal in the 2010 World Cup Final.

In 2009, Ligue 1 introduced the ‘Marc-Vivien Foe Prize’ to honour the best African footballer in the league with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of St. Etienne taking out the most recent award.

The ‘Marc-Vivien Foe Fund’ was set up in 2010 with the aim of financing research into cardiac arrest and the initiative was given the backing of Foe’s widow, Marie-Louise.

When City and West Ham locked horns in April of this year, there was a social media campaign for a minute’s applause in the 23rd minute and both sets of supporters dually obliged as Foe’s image was portrayed on the big screens around the City of Manchester Stadium.

Ten years on from his passing, Foe hasn’t been forgotten and those who loved him will make sure that he never is.

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