The qualification of this team from the war-torn North West Region of Cameroon is already giving nightmares to the Cameroon political and football authorities
That PWD Social Club of Bamenda is winner of Cameroons Elite One top flight championship may sound as a fairy tail on three fronts. First the team barely survived relegation to the lower league last season by a stroke of luck. Secondly, the team has no playing field that meets international standards by any consideration. And lastly and even more especially is that fact that the team is from the North West Region of Cameroon. The Regions has practically been in war for the past three years. Ambazonia separatists have been clamouring for the independence of the English speaking part of Cameroon since 2017.
A decision by the Cameroon Football Federation (FECAFOOT) Executive Committee opted to end its domestic football season with immediate effect in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The federation has been significantly affected during the health crisis, losing its administrative and financial director, Ebeneser Nzonila; Bernard Momo, the former president of Aigle Royal de la Menoua; and Racing Club de Bafoussam chairman Samuel Wembe to the illness since the Pandemic reached Cameroon.
Football in Cameroon, host of the next Africa Cup of Nations was suspended on March 17, following health measures taken by the Government of Cameroon. The decision orderd the « definitive stopping of the professional leagues Elite One and Elite Two, of the first division of the national women’s championship, and of the national championships of youth football for the 2019-20 season.
The “Abakwa Boys” as PWD Bamenda is fondly known led the table with 47 points after 28 matches with six matched not played. As champions they will represent Cameroon in the Confederation of African Football, CAF Champions League.
Created in 1962 this is the first time 58 years after, the Abakwa boys of Bamenda have been crowned champions of Cameroon thus landing their first piece of Silverware. The club becomes the first from the North West English speaking Region of Cameroon to win Cameroon Elite One championship. They are the second from the Anglophone Regions after Tiko United from the South West Region in 2009.
Champions without a stadium
The North West Region of Cameroon has no stadium that meets any football standards. At the start of the football season, authorities of the Cameroon Football Federation attempted to persuade the two elites clubs of the North West Region – PWD and Yong Sports Academy of Bamenda to play their matches in neighbouring French speaking West Region of Cameroon.
This met a stone wall from the team who came under threats from the Anglophone Ambazonian separatist fighters. They argued that playing out of the Region would constitute a betrayal to their course for playing in “enemy” land. (The separatist consider French speaking Cameroon as a foreign country)
The teams were thus forced to play at the dilapidated Yong Sports Academy Center in the Nkwen neighbourhood on the outskirts of Bamemda, Regional capital of the North West Region.
Now that PWD going continental for the CAF Champions League, more questions are now on the table. Where would they play their games given that there is no stadium of CAF Standard in the North West Region? The team may certainly be forced to play their home games out of the Region, as was the case with sister club, Yong Sports Academy some years back, when they hosted their CAF Confederation cup games at the Douala Reunification Stadium. But times have changed. And already some unapologitic Anglophones are already swearing that over “dead bodies” would they accept such an alternative. This is the dilemma that club and Cameroon football managers are already pondering over.
… And the Anglophone crisis too
Since 2017 the English speaking Regions of Cameroon have been in a deep socio-political crisis. In September 2017, separatists in the Anglophone territories of Northwest Region and Southwest Region declared the independence of Ambazonia and began fighting against the Government of Cameroon. The war has killed approximately 3,000 people and forced more than half a million people to flee their homes.
Due to the prevailing insecurity in these two Regions, it has been declared a “Red zone”by most countries and limited travels to the area to essential services.
In fact the teams that came for matches againts PWD had to be put under tight security during matches. A former coach of Yong Sports Academy, another Bamenda-based team was kidnapped and the convoy of Dragon Yaounde attacked. The Ambazonian separatist fighters on both instances were accused of perpetrating tha acts.
The security situation is not getting any better as calls for dialogue between that warring parties has been limping. What happens if the security remains disturbing when the CAF Champions League resumes? Would African teams whose countries have declared the Anglophone Regions a danger zone accept to play under such uncertain conditions? Worries that are giving the Cameroon football authorities sleepless nights.
“ We would want to play in Bamenda ”
What does it represent being champions of Cameroon ?
Abunde Pascal : Well, it represents everything to us. It’s a very huge milestone especially taking into consideration the fact that it is our first silverware in 58 years. So priding ourselves in this position is a dream come true. We think that it’s the pinacle of our existence as PWD Bamenda. So for us, it represents everything.
Can you talk to us about some of the challenges that you went through in the course of the just ended season ?
Abunde Pascal : The season started on a very extremely challenging way because we had litigations at the level of the FA and we were not quite sure if we were not quite sure if we will take part in the championship or otherwise play the elite two championship. Fortunately for us, we won the court case at the level of the appeal’s commission of the FA and that decision kept us in the top flight championship.
Secondly, we are plying our trade here in the North West with the socio-political situation that we have been witnessing for the past years, it’s always difficult to recruit players coming from outside. So it’s not very attractive for us.
That not withstanding, we were able to put in place a group of young and ambitious players who had as one goal to make a better performance than what we had last season. So as the competition went on, we realized we could do even better.
Where would PWD play its CAF Champions League matches ?
Abunde Pascal : Ideally, we would want to play in Bamenda. It’s not our fault that we don’t have a stadium that has the international standard. We have four professional teams here and we have been clamouring for a playground. For the past years we have been playing on a private property and I want to really appreciate the owner of that property for his largesse. But again we can’t continue like that. We were supposed to have been expectant. We are in an era now where teams have to benefit from their home support. We must not qualify a team and go start playing in Douala, it doesn’t make any difference from an opponent that comes from outside and then we are playing on neutral grounds in Cameroon. So ideally, we would have wanted to play here in Bamenda. We think that there’s still time for something to be done about the stadium, we feel that it is our right to play on our home turf. We have had YOSA going continental and now PWD, and there’s every reason to think that we should have better sporting facilities. Otherwise, we would have to make the decision on the other available options. Now we really feel that the government and the FA should do something extremely fast so that we have our own playground that can be able to welcome international matches. But however, we have a couple of options if we can’t play in Bamenda. There’s is Limbe, Bafoussam, Yaounde and Douala. Personally, I have a soft spot for Limbe but all the options are on the table.
Have you receive threats from Anglophone separatists not to play out of Bamenda ?
Abunde Pascal : We have not received any threats. Our supporters generally feel that and it’s but logical that we should play our matches at home (Bamenda). For now we have not received any threats. But we hope it’s not going to be the case.