Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium
Name: Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium
Address: Mfandena district, Yaounde, Cameroon
Inauguration: 13 February 1972
Capacity: 50000 (there were 80000 spectators at the Cameroon-Morocco match in November 1981)
Home teams: National teams and 1st division clubs in Yaounde
Ahmadou Ahidjjo – Cameroon’s strongnold
On Sunday, 1 June 2008, the young players from Cameroon and Nigeria playing a qualifying match for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup had to access the pitch via the terraces because the torrential rain that fell on the town of Yaounde had flooded the players’ tunnel. But the problem seemed of little concern because, after all, it involved only the U-17 women’s side, and what’s more, the stadium was almost empty. It would surely have been quite a different story for the Indomitable Lions, who defeated Cape Verde the day before in the joint qualifiers for the Africa Cup of Nations and the 2010 FIFA World Cup™.
In any case, this anecdote illustrates the state of the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium, built in 1972 at the same time as the Reunification stadium in Douala on the occasion of the eighth Africa Cup of Nations, hosted by Cameroon. In 36 years, the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium, named after the first president of the Republic of Cameroon who inaugurated it himself on 13 February 1972, has already undergone almost a dozen renovations. The first improvements, carried out in 1981, increased capacity from 35,000 to 50,000. The most recent refurbishment work, carried out in 2007 with the support of Japan, involved laying a new pitch and fitting modern changing rooms and a presidential box.
And yet, this legendary stadium still retains an air of decay, most likely because it is not adequately maintained. The stadium has a long list of shortcomings: the electronic Scoreboard has been faulty for a number of years; at one point, it was not possible to schedule matches at night because of faulty electrics; no more than eight people can fit in the press box and there is no specific press stand; and finally, there are no retail outlets.
IT WAS CRAZY
Despite all of its shortcomings, the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium has been the scene of historic moments in Cameroonian football. Even the youngest supporters recall the memorable Sunday in November 1981 when the stadium was reopened after a year of renovations and the Indomitable Lions beat the Moroccan Atlas Lions 2-1 after a 2-0 first-leg victory in Kentira, thus qualifying for their first FIFA World Cup™ -Spain ’82. That achievement was down to a great generation of players that included Abega, Mbida, Milla, Nkono, Aoudou, Tokoto and Kaham. “It was crazy. I saw people perched on 60-metre high pylons,” recalls Abel Mbengue, a former reporter for the national radio station. Jacques Bendie, a photographer for the daily Cameroon Tribune did not see the match, despite having a ticket: “Even though I’d been selling firewood all week to make up the 1,000 CFA [just over 2 dollars] I needed to buy the ticket. The stadium was packed, and I was too small to push past to get a good place in the stands.” The first-aid teams were particularly busy that day, and they reported about fifty fainting incidents. More than five hours before kick-off, almost 80,000 spectators had already piled into the stadium, which had a capacity of only 50,000!
Cameroon’s hard-won qualification for the 1982 FIFA World Cup™ against an excellent Moroccan side earned them the renewed support of a country that was still smarting from the 1972 Africa Cup of Nations, when Cameroon were eliminated in the semi-finals by Congo at the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium. Several Cameroonian teams had, however, tried to set things right, such as Younde team Canon, who were African champions in 1971, 1978 and 1980, and achieved a fine 2-0 victory over Conakry side Hafia in the
1980 final of the African Champions Cup at the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium. That same performance earned Jean Manga Onguene the African Ballon d’Or that year.
THE END OF A LEGEND?
Since that Sunday in November 1981, the Indomitable Lions have played most of their matches to capacity crowds. Supporters have suffered further disappointments, however, such as the defeat in die final of the UDEAC Cup in December 1989, and on 8 October 2005 when Cameroon missed a penalty in extra time in the match against Egypt (1-1), and so failed to qualify for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™. Legend has it that the spirits of Mfandena, the neighbourhood where the stadium is located, were so upset by the result that day that they unleashed a violent wind that tore off the glass door of the presidential box, seriously injuring one spectator.
The Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium is not home only to the national team. Until 2007, all of the capital’s clubs played their national league matches there. In view of the number of matches being played — up to three on the same day — and the inevitable damage to the pitch and other facilities, the Minister for Sports decided that national league matches should be held at the smaller military stadium, which does not have tiered seating or changing rooms and has a grassless pitch.
Since other sporting events are also held at the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium, it is referred to locally as the “stade omnisports [omnisport stadium]“. In particular, the 1996 and December 2007 African athletics championships were held there, as was a WBF welterweight boxing world championship bout. The stadium has also hosted major concerts, including the famous West Indian zouk band Kassav in 1985 and Jimmy Cliff, James Brown and Fela Anikulapo Kuti in the 1970s.
Within five years, it seems likely that the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium will no longer be the nerve centre of Cameroonian football. With the support of China, the Cameroonian government recently adopted a major plan for the construction of sports infrastructure, including a major football stadium on the outskirts of Yaounde. Could this be die end of the road for the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium?