We know it is nothing, but it is all we can do.
- Quote from Thierry Henry, Arsenal and France striker.
Professional footballers came under some heavy fire about their high salary scales from the media and the public in the late 1990s but 26 June, 2003, sombrely reminded the world that professional athletes test the limits of their physical fitness in order to entertain, and there is no price too high for that sort of commitment.
During the 72nd minute of the Confederations Cup semi-final between Cameroon and Colombia, with his wife and two children1 watching from the stands, Cameroonian midfielder Marc-Viven Foé2 (1975 - 2003) collapsed in the centre circle. No other player was within five yards of him. After being taken off on a stretcher, Foé was given oxygen. When this did not revive him, medical staff used mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and finally, in desperation, cardio-pulmonary respiration. All to no avail. Marc-Vivien Foé was pronounced dead at the medical centre at the Gerland Stadium in Lyon. A post-mortem examination revealed that he had died due to a disorder of his heart's electrical system. The whole event was witnessed on live transmission by one Researcher:
In the middle of the second half of the Confederations Cup semi-final (Cameroon 1 Colombia 0, by the way) Foé suddenly collapsed. It looked pretty bad - his eyes were rolling into the back of his head - and they stretchered him off. He died shortly afterwards - apparently they took him to first aid and his heart stopped there.
Then I had to play the pictures up to Manchester for their regional news, knowing that the body on the stretcher was exactly that. There's something of a sombre air around the sport newsroom at the moment. I've never known anything like it happen at a football match.
The news came particularly hard to the local football community, as Foé was registered as a player at Olympique Lyonnais at the time. However, Foé's death was equally saddening in Manchester, England, as he spent the previous season on loan to Manchester City, playing no small part in City's unexpected success during the 2002-03 season and scoring nine goals from midfield, including the last ever goal at the club's erstwhile home, Maine Road.
'Marco' first drew the attention of English fans during a highly successful 14-month stay at West Ham United, after a club-record £4.2m transfer from French club Lens. He immediately drew attention with his determined tackling and his natural flair in distribution. Above all, the qualities that shone through were his natural enthusiasm and enjoyment of the game of football; qualities that are too rare in the modern game. Tipped by many to be one of the 'Players of the Season' in the 2000-2001 season, he was instead sold for a not inconsiderable £6m to Olympique. There, he struggled to hold down a first-team place due to an unfortunate bout of malaria, but was well-respected by fans and players alike for his dedication to the club and his determination to regain his first-team place.
Foé was very much a regular for the Cameroon international team and, together with captain Rigobert Song, formed the backbone of Cameroon's 'indomitable lions', the team that vowed to take African football into the 21st Century and won the African Championships in 2002.
On a muted final weekend of the Confederations Cup, affection for Foé was widespread, from both club and country...
Manchester City retired Foé's number-23 shirt, and the fans' tributes were neatly encapsulated by manager Kevin Keegan, when he said:
We will all miss his smile and his personality. Nothing was ever too much trouble for him and he was the ultimate professional loved by everyone in the dressing room and the boardroom. He never gave this club less than 100 per cent and was a big factor in us finishing ninth in the table.
Olympique Lyonnais also retired Foé's shirt number and immediately posted a beautiful memorial on their website (translated from the original French):
Marc-Vivien Foé will leave us the memory of a charming boy, the incarnation of the joy in life. We will keep of him his bursts of laughter, the music which comes out of the changing room, and his kindness away from the ground. Marco, we will not forget you.
Cameroon, unaware of the off-field tragedy, beat Colombia 1-0, and the final was universally dedicated to Foé's memory. In the words of fellow midfielder and long-term friend, Geremi:
When we went to Marco's house, his wife told us to bring the trophy on behalf on Marco - the main thing is to play and to win the trophy for Marco.
The national team of France paid their respects too in the day's other semi-final; goalscorer Thierry Henry gesturing towards the heavens to dedicate his winner to Foé.
Cameroon all wore white shirts, discreetly bearing Marco's name in black, and all wore black armbands. Sadly, the Cameroon team could not capture the Cup, losing 1-0 to France in extra-time.
The Final Word
The summation of Marc-Vivien Foé's qualities was never expressed better than by the man himself who, during a BBC interview, imparted advice from which a large proportion of professional footballers would benefit:
My strength is my calmness. I believe you are at your best when you are discreet and calm.