Even the bustling world of football seemed to stand still on 26 June 2003. After 75 minutes of the FIFA Confederations Cup semi-final against Colombia at Stade Gerland, Cameroon's Marc-Vivien Foe collapsed on the field and died a short time later. Today, 26 June 2013, is the tenth anniversary of the tragedy.
“I have very precise but also very sad memories of the game in Lyon. Marc was taken to hospital, and we weren't aware he was in such a bad way. When we were informed of his death immediately after the final whistle we were totally shocked," recalled Mohamadou Idrissou, who played the full 90 minutes on the night, in a conversation with FIFA.com.
Francisco Maturana, Colombia coach at the time, still retains emotional memories of what happened: “This day will remain for ever in the memory of everyone involved. I can remember the situation exactly: Marc lost the ball during a Cameroon attack, and his attempt to win back possession failed. He started to track back but fell to the ground, and our player Jairo Patino was at his side straightaway, trying to help. He immediately realised it was serious and called for help. When Marc was on the stretcher, you sensed everyone was concerned. And when we eventually became aware he had died, we were all very sad and some of us cried. A moment like that stays with you all the time."
The referee, Germany's Markus Merk, confessed when he ended his career in 2008 that it was the most difficult moment of his career by far. In subsequent matches, the respected official said, he had an uneasy feeling the minute he entered a stadium.
Even a decade later, then Indomitable Lions coach Winfried Schaefer is still struggling to accept the tragedy, as he admitted to FIFA.com: “It was a devastating day for all of us, naturally for his family above all. His wife, his kids and his mother were at the stadium. Marc was a big personality, not only as a player, but also as a wonderful person. I've been in the game many long years now, but I've never experienced anything else like this. After the match I was in no position to help my players, because I needed help myself. When we heard the news, we broke down and cried.”
Foe was only 28 but had represented a number of clubs as a professional, starting with Canon Yaounde in his home country, Lens and Lyon in France, and West Ham United and Manchester City in England. The 1.94m midfielder was respected and admired by his team-mates, and was a gifted player out on the field. In 64 full international appearances, Foe scored eight goals and represented the Indomitable Lions at the 1994 FIFA World Cup™ in the USA and the 2002 edition in Korea and Japan. A broken leg meant he missed out on the 1998 tournament in France.
The news of his sudden and wholly unexpected death in 2003 shocked the world of football and relegated events on the field to a peripheral role. Just an hour after the match in Lyon, hosts France faced Turkey in Paris in the second semi-final, but the thoughts of many were with Cameroon's lost son. In unprecedented scenes on a football field, the crowd and viewers saw the players console and encourage each other as they struggled to hold back tears. When Thierry Henry scored the opening goal, the France star declined to celebrate, instead pointing to the heavens and dedicating the goal to his deceased colleague.
Foe’s presence in spirit was tangible at the final, as the Cameroon and France players came together behind a huge photograph of the much-loved player and observed a minute’s silence. “Just coming out for the final was very difficult, but the French honoured the tragic death of our friend and colleague when both captains lifted the trophy together for Marc," observed Idrissou, recalling the magnificent gesture of France captain Marcel Desailly, who called Cameroon skipper Rigobert Song to him at the trophy presentation so the pair could raise the trophy together. Many banners paid tribute to Foe, one of them bearing this poignant message: “A lion never dies, he only sleeps.”
His death triggered a general awareness of the absolute necessity to intensify efforts to prevent sudden cardiac arrests from occurring when playing football.
“The tragic death of Marc-Vivien Foe came as a genuine shock to me. I felt great sorrow in thinking of him, his family, his loved ones and his team-mates. The overriding feeling, however, was one of powerlessness in the face of fate, mixed with a sense of anger that death had chosen to make its presence felt in our sport, where it has no place. Sport is happiness, plenitude and well-being. Sport is life. It is not death.
"I visited the Cameroon team in Lyon, where we prayed together, and I went to the funeral. It was a time of profound reflection, intense emotions and togetherness, paying our respects to a remarkable and highly respected young man who suffered a tragic fate. His death triggered a general awareness of the absolute necessity to intensify efforts to prevent sudden cardiac arrests from occurring when playing football. Today, 26 June 2013, ten years after his death, Marc-Vivien Foe remains very much in our memories. On my own behalf and on behalf of the international football community, I would like once again to pay heartfelt tribute to him," said FIFA President Joseph S Blatter.
Ten years on, Foe’s tragic and untimely death has again come into focus at the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013. Gerard Houllier, a member of the FIFA Technical Study Group (TSG) and Liverpool manager at the time, spoke to the Cameroon star shortly before the tournament. “Before he flew to France, we sat next to each other on a plane. Naturally, I was shocked by his death. I knew him really well, especially because I once tried to bring him to Liverpool while he was still with Lens, so I'd frequently been in touch with him and his wife. I think of him every year at this time. For me personally, it's one of the saddest events in football history."
Tahiti's Marama Vahirua, who played for Nantes at the time, frequently came up against Foe as an opponent. “I was in France at the time, and naturally I was shaken by his death. We were all asking the same question: why did he have to die? How could it happen? I find I always think of him at every Confederations Cup. Sadly, his name is inextricably linked with this footballing event.”
John Obi Mikel, one of the leading members of the current Nigeria team, remembers Foe as a magnificent player: “Everyone knows his name and respects his memory. We mustn't stop thinking of him, and it won't be any different at this tournament."
The lost Cameroon star will indeed be remembered in a number of ways at tonight’s first semi-final between Brazil and Uruguay, including a period of applause. The message is clear: Marc-Vivien Foe: Football will never forget you!