N’Kono – Transfer To Canon
Although N’Kono recognises that he was well equipped by nature for a career in goal (an imposing physique, tremendous composure and magnificent handling skills), he says that his exceptional performances were mainly due to the work he put in: “I was lucky enough to play with the best strikers at Canon (Manga Onguene, Abega, Mbida, Emana, Nguea). I learned a lot from them in training because I came up through the reserve team, which enabled me to improve a lot.” His move to Canon Yaounde had taken place in a rather roundabout fashion, however. Canon’s chairman Koungou Edima had actually wanted to sign Cameroon international Aka from Leopard Douala, but the player had upped the stakes and demanded a motorbike, among other things, as part of the deal. It was at that point that vice-chairman Obouh Mfegue, backed by some of the players including Jean Manga Onguene, suggested that the club went for Eclair’s young keeper N’Kono. And the rest is history!
Tommy’s extraordinary talent did not fail to impress. In Kinshasa, a fan stole his gloves, thinking that he would find lucky charms in them, and N’Kono had to finish the match bare-handed, not that this prevented Canon from winning. In Benin City in Nigeria, he was searched with police dogs. In Valencia in Spain, he was unperturbed by the barrage of oranges and tomatoes that rained down from the stands. Some people even wondered if he had lucky charms hidden in the tracksuit bottoms he used to wear during matches, a look he helped to pioneer. It was a European journalist who put this to him during Cameroon’s preparations for the 1982 FIFA World Cup™ in Spain, to which he responded sardonically, “I wear these trousers, which were made here in Europe, to avoid injuries on our pitches in Africa, which do not always have the best surfaces. Why don’t you try them on to see if they turn you into a good goalkeeper?”
Barring a three-year spell in Bolivia at the end of his playing career where he nurtured the idea of becoming an adviser to young players interested in turning professional, he has lived in Barcelona with his wife and three daughters for the past 25 years. He only joins up with Cameroon when the squad gets together, as he is still a member of the Espanyol technical staff, where he coaches the young goalkeepers in the reserves and their colleagues in the first team.
Now 52, he still enjoys the occasional game with fellow veterans, albeit not in goal, but as a centre forward, the position he played in at the beginning of his career, because, despite being averse to conceding goals during his playing career, this imposing ex-goalkeeper has always enjoyed scoring them.