Not meaning to end an article on a sad note, but all of the players I have already featured were fortunate to have occupations after their initial chosen career path ended abruptly. This sadly wasn’t the case for former Manchester City and West Ham United player Marc Vivien Foe.
Foe was part of the Cameroon squad for the 2003 FIFA Confederations Cup, a tournament played between continental champions. He participated in victories against Brazil and Turkey, and then was rested for the match against the United States, with Cameroon having already qualified for the next phase. On June 26th 2003, Cameroon faced Colombia in the semi-final, held at the Stade de Gerland in Lyon, France. In the 72nd minute of the match, Foe completely unexpectedly collapsed in the centre circle, with no other players near him. After several attempts to resuscitate him on the pitch, he was stretchered off the field, where he received mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and oxygen in the player’s tunnel. Medics spent forty-five minutes attempting to restart his heart, and although he was still alive upon arrival at the stadium's medical centre he died shortly afterwards, in spite of the efforts to save his life.
A first autopsy did not determine an exact cause of death, but a second examination concluded that Foe's death was heart-related as it discovered evidence of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a hereditary condition known to increase the risk of sudden death during physical exercise. Foe's death caused profound shock throughout the entire world of sport, not just within Association Football. Numerous tributes to his joyous personality and infectious humour were expressed in the media. Also, French International Thierry Henry and other players pointed to the sky in tribute to Foe after Henry had opened the scoring against Turkey in France's Confederations Cup semi-final that evening, dedicating their strike to Foe.
It was suggested that the Confederations Cup and the Stade Gerland could have been renamed after him, and Foe’s English club manager at Manchester City, Kevin Keegan announced that the club would no longer use the number 23 shirt Foe wore during his successful time there. At Manchester City's now former ground, Maine Road, there is now a small memorial to him in the stadium's memorial garden, and on the walls of the players' tunnel are plaques paid for by supporters, with their names, dubbed the Walk of Pride. The first plaque on the wall is for Marc. His first club, Lens of France, gave his name to an avenue near the Félix Bollaert Stadium. Foe was given a full state funeral in his home country of Cameroon, equal to that of a statesman and much-loved leader.
Lens decided to withdraw the number seventeen shirt that Foe wore during his five years with the team. People in Lyon were more shocked than most, as he had received a warm welcome on his return to the stadium only a few hours before his untimely death. However, when Lyon signed fellow Cameroonian Jean II Makoun in the summer of 2008, the number seventeen shirt was used by Makoun, who stated on wearing the number: "In memory of Marc, for me and for the whole Cameroon, this will be for something." Prior to the kick-off of the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup final between United States and Brazil, his son, then fourteen years old, gave a brief speech in memory of his father.
It’s always been my dream to be a professional footballer myself since I was a little lad, playing centre half for my beloved Coventry City. I have always looked in awe and wonder at players in action, thinking how wonderful it must be, doing something you love – and getting paid for it too. All the men I have spoken about here achieved their dream (almost in Gordon Ramsay’s case), but none of them entered into it thinking of the risks, just the glory of lifting a trophy – in my case, I wanted to climb the steps at Wembley in a sky blue shirt, wipe the dirt and sweat off my hands, shake the elegant hand with the Duchess of Kent, and lift the FA Cup towards the heavens. All professions have ‘occupational hazards’, but none occur so publically as those of the professional footballer. This article is dedicated to the memory of Marc Vivien Foe, who died living his dreams to the full.