Senior Sports Editor
THE Indomitable Lions of Cameroon!
For the globe, they represent the first generation of African football stars to come of age, at the World Cup finals, when Roger Milla and his crew reached the quarter-finals at Italia ‘90.
Football’s ultimate Dancing King, the 38-year-old Milla scored four times at Italia ‘90, capturing the imagination of the globe with his unique corner flag “hips-don’t-lie’’ celebration.
A few months later, Milla won the 1990 African Footballer of the Year award.
For the Warriors, they represent the first African opponents they came across in a World Cup qualifier, 40 years ago in Douala, on October 12, 1980.
Jean Manga Onguene was the star of those Indomitable Lions, in that World Cup showdown against the Warriors, scoring twice in his team’s 2-0 victory.
A few months later, Onguene won the 1980 African Footballer of the Year award.
For Bruce Grobbelaar, who was in goal for the Warriors in that ‘82 World Cup qualifier, playing in Doula, provided a litmus test.
“There was the fiercest tropical rainstorm I have ever seen,’’ he told the Blizzard, a quarterly football journal available on a pay-for-what-you-like basis. “But, almost, as soon as it stopped, the pitch dried out to be sandy and dusty.
“The goal (by Onguene) produced one of the strangest experiences of my career. At first, the crowd started whistling, then the noise became just unbelievable.
“It was like a swarm of angry bees.
“It went on and on, ringing in my ears, until I thought it was going to drive me crazy. It seemed to affect our entire defence, we lost concentration.’’
The Indomitable Lions, for millions of Warriors’ fans, will also always be known as the side which eventually ended the Dream Team’s quest, for a place at the ‘94 World Cup finals, at the final hurdle.
Grobbelaar was in goal for the Dream Team, in that 1-3 defeat in Yaounde, in 1993.
He was also in goal when Vitalis Takawira scored a hattrick, in a 4-1 thrashing of the Indomitable Lions, in a ‘96 AFCON qualifier at the National Sports Stadium on January 22, 1995. This means the Indomitable Lions have always had a special place in Grobbelaar’s international career.
However, 25 years ago, the goalkeeper almost failed to play his final competitive match, against the West Africans, in Yaounde.
Grobbelaar arrived in Harare in July 1995, after having been drafted into the Warriors, for the ‘96 AFCON qualifier against the Indomitable Lions in Yaounde. Six months earlier, a makeshift Warriors side, deprived of virtually all its first-team players, had been hammered 0-5 in Kinshasa by the Democratic Republic of Congo, in the same qualifiers. With Ebola having hit some parts of the DRC, many of the regular members of the Warriors decided against travelling to Kinshasa, fearing they would be barred from entering their European bases.
This forced ZIFA leaders to put together a makeshift side which was soundly beaten by the rampant Congolese.
Under pressure to try and get a win, against the Indomitable Lions, and revive the faltering Nations Cup campaign, the Warriors turned to their usual big guns.
And, Grobbelaar flew into Harare ahead of the trip to Yaounde. However, the goalkeeper, soon found himself in trouble with the country’s immigration authorities, when he touched down in Harare, from London.
The immigration authorities wanted to establish whether Grobbelaar had been using both his Zimbabwean and British passports.
Back then, this had raised concerns over the goalkeeper’s legitimacy as a Zimbabwean citizen, who should be featuring for the Warriors.
Questions emerged when two passports, a Zimbabwean and British passport, were found at his home in England by police who were then investigating match-fixing allegations.
The allegations had been made by British tabloid, the Sun, with the newspaper claiming Grobbelaar had allegedly been part of a match-fixing syndicate during his time at Liverpool. The goalkeeper vehemently denied the charges. Had the local immigration authorities established Grobbelaar had been using his British passport, since surrendering it in 1992 to enable him to play for the Warriors, the goalkeeper would have been deemed ineligible to feature for the national team in that AFCON qualifier. Zimbabwe had banished dual citizenship in the early 1980s.
Shortly afterwards, Grobbelaar lost his claim to his Zimbabwean citizenship, after taking British citizenship, and he was unable to play for the Warriors again, for the remainder of that decade, despite having featured for the team in the ‘82 and ‘86 World Cup qualifiers.
The goalkeeper regained his Zimbabwean passport in 1992, which enabled him to play for the Dream Team, and he marked his return in the 4-1 thrashing of Bafana Bafana in a ‘94 AFCON qualifier at the National Sports Stadium on August 16, 1992.
Three years later, he found himself being quizzed by the local immigration authorities.
However, the then chief immigration officer, Elasto Mugwadi, later revealed they had established, after extensive investigations, Grobbelaar had never used his British passport, on any of his travels, since regaining his Zimbabwean citizenship. Mugwadi said they had established that, even though he had a British passport at his home, the goalkeeper had never used it from the time his Zimbabwean citizenship was restored. That decision enabled Grobbelaar to reunite, with his Warriors teammates, ahead of their trip to Yaounde for the showdown against the Indomitable Lions.
The goalkeeper played in that match which the Warriors, under the guidance of Swiss coach Marc Duvillard, lost 0-1.
The Jungleman’s romance with the Warriors continued, after that match in Yaounde, with Grobbelaar being named player/coach of the team for the opening ‘98 AFCON qualifier against Sudan in Khartoum.
The Warriors won that match 3-0 on October 6, 1996, but that huge result was nullified after the Sudanese pulled out of the qualifiers.
Grobbelaar still insists he wants one final dance, as coach of the Warriors, before retiring from football for good.
Twenty five years ago, his romance with the team almost ended in the office of immigration authorities.