It’s hard to believe that it has been ten years this month since the tragic death of Cameroon midfielder Marc Vivien Foe from a heart attack. The former Lens, Lyon, West Ham and Manchester City player collapsed on the pitch in the 73rd minute of the Confederation Cup semi final match in France between Cameroon and Colombia and never recovered. He suffered Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, a rare genetic disease that causes the muscle walls of the heart to thicken that eventually led to the massive heart failure that killed him. When he fell to the ground almost at the centre circle, no one knew what had happen or expected the worse. But after valiant attempts to resuscitate the player on the pitch and then off it within the inner workings of Lyon’s Stade de Gerland, the news began to break that Foe was gone.
Foe’s death shocked the footballing world but was felt hardest by his colleagues on the pitch and those who knew him closely off of it. His teammate’s had been celebrating in their dressing room after their 1-0 victory over Colombia when they heard the latest on Foe. Captain Rigobert Song came into the room crying and proclaiming that Marcus (Foe’s nickname) had died. The news devastated the team who all wept for their fallen brother. Cameroon’s manager at the time, German Winfried Schafer is still to this day haunted by that moment. After hearing the news, he made his way out of the dressing room and to where Foe was lying, with his mother and wife beside him. He touched the player on the leg before heading to the pitch and breaking down in tears himself.
Cameroon was in shock after losing one of their most gifted players, and could not understand how such a fit man like Foe, known for his professionalism and focus on fitness, could have met such an untimely end. At the time little was known about his condition and indeed screenings for heart conditions were not common in football, with very few players every having undergone one. But as a direct result of Foe’s tragic death, improvements in both the testing for heart problems and the treatment given on the pitch for players who are unfortunate to suffer from this have happen but still more could be done. At the time, medical staffs at the ground were unsure what to do and instead of immediately beginning resuscitation instead poured water over Foe’s head, presumably thinking it was heat stroke. By no means is it their fault that Foe didn’t survive as the chances were slim but looking towards a modern day event and the collapse of Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba, if the right treatment had been given quicker than it was, Foe could have stood a better chance. In Muamba’s case, he was saved by the combined medical teams of Bolton and Tottenham as well as Dr Andrew Deaner, a cardiologist and Spurs fan who noticed the way the player collapsed and rush from his seat in the stands to help the player. Knowledge and expertise helped to save Muamba that day, who has since made a full recovery and now works as a club ambassador for Bolton.
As a legend in Cameroon, Foe was given a state funeral with the entire country plunged into mourning. Prime Minister Peter Musonge and FIFA president Sepp Blatter along with Foe’s family and Cameroon teammates led the procession of 3,000 mourners to Foe’s final resting place, a sporting complex he was building in his home town of outskirts of Yaoundé in Biteng. Outside the Cathedral where the service took place, hung a banner that simply said “’a lion never dies, he just sleeps”. The statement was not lost then on anyone and still stands true today. Foe was a lion on the pitch, dominating games with his physical presence and commanding nature and that’s how he will always be remembered. As a mark of respect, Foe’s club side Manchester City retired the number 23 shirt whilst one of his former teams had a street renamed after him to protect his legacy.
Foe’s death, as well as the deaths of Italian midfielder Piermario Morosini, Nigerian striker Al Mereik and Spanish defender Antonio Puerta, all from heart related illnesses has helped to raise awareness and the need for action. Technology has improved dramatically over the past ten years with most clubs now carrying a mobile defibrillator machine as part of their match day medical preparations. Screenings before major tournaments as well as regular club by club checks have begun but have been criticized for being slow moving. Indeed the training needed for all medical staff at pitch side as well as the volunteer staff at the ground has been done when budgets are available to the clubs. Success stories like Muamba and of Spanish midfielder Miguel Ángel García Tébar showcase the effectiveness of being prepared fully so that if an incident occurs, the staff are giving the player the best chance of survival. Foe’s death acted as a trigger for this revolution of medical enhancements so as we pass over the ten year anniversary of his life, players across the globe will say a prayer of thanks to their fallen colleague.