Welcome to my blog, the insane ramblings of a man with far too much time on his hands to think about football. If you want to know a little about myself, the following three facts will give you some idea of what to expect –
1. I danced on a bar and covered an Irishman in lager when England beat Germany 5-1.
2. When Steve Guppy got an England cap, part of me died.
3. When Manchester United equalized in the 1999 Champions League final, I claimed they would get hammered in extra-time.
So brief introduction to my ignorance out the way, who was Cyrille Makanaky?
In my horrifically blinkered world it is almost inconceivable that some won’t immediately recognise the reference to the Cameroon’s ever-present attacking midfielder from Italia ’90. Whilst a few will see it as an attempt to be ‘cool’ by using an obscure reference, I'm here to reassure you it’s not. Those that know me will happily tell you I have never been, and most probably never will be, ‘cool’. So those particular illusions shattered, why Makanaky?
Well, picture the scene if you will.
It’s 1990 and an eleven year old me loves just three things in life – baked beans with little sausages in, the twins from Pat Sharp’s Funhouse, and most of all, football.
The beautiful game fills my school days, sticker albums, magazines, and conversation with just about everyone I like. Even my mother develops a rudimentary knowledge of the English game and who Paul Gascoigne and Gary Lineker are. My room is awash with posters of the great, the good, and the mildly successful.
The most important thing in my life is undoubtedly my place in Hangleton Junior School’s football team. I play up front, ride my luck, and finish as top-scorer. Our manager Derek Vine is blessed to be able to pick the Maradona-esque Tim Proudlock in midfield, the Bryan Robson like tackling of Jonathan Mitchell, and the tenacious defence of David Hutson and Jamie Stockwell amongst others. We have walked our league and won the Stearman Cup.
We are in short, one of the greatest teams of all time.
My days are filled with epic playground games and an abandon for wearing through shoes that sees my mother despair. I am happy, devoted to my sport, and destined to marry two women from a children’s television program. Things could simply not get any better.
So I thought.
In the summer of 1990 a World Cup takes place in Italy. Whilst I was aware of Mexico ’86 and Euro ’88, this is the first time I have been able to concentrate on a major international tournament without being distracted by Optimus Prime or Luke Skywalker. My attention span can now manage ninety minutes of football; I am capable of putting away toys and frivolous things to concentrate on a World Cup experience.
England begin badly and boringly, the tournament is short on goals, but one team has captured the imagination. One team is now shaping the playground games in Hangleton and one team dominates who you are as you play.
Now I was always Gary Lineker up until this point. Gazza was always exciting but he didn’t play in my position. I always harbored a secret desire to move into an attacking midfield berth but the lure of scoring goals was just too irresistible. England have started with a hard-fought draw with the Republic of Ireland, a 0-0 draw with Holland, and an unconvincing 1-0 win over Egypt. Gazza has looked good, Lineker has scored one. In a festival of football, my own national team has yet to really spark this eleven-year olds interest.
But someone has.
Colourful, exotic, exciting, and unexpected Cameroon.
After beating World Cup holder’s Argentina in one of the biggest shocks in football history, they have qualified for the second round by virtue of another unexpected but wonderful victory over Romania. Even a spanking by the Soviet Union in their final group game cannot dampen interest in the Indomitable Lions. The fact they have topped their group with a negative goal difference only adds to the joyous naivety that has endeared them to the world.
In Hangleton we have new names in the playground to play under. Roger Milla goes early and his celebration is universally taken by everyone for any goal scored. François Omam-Biyik is also taken quickly, his goal against Argentina meaning that everyone knows who he is and assumes he's brilliant. Even defender Benjamin Massing goes, taken by anyone with a fancy for taking out an opposing forward in the manner he dealt with Claudio Caniggia.
But there is only one name for me, only one player has swept me away despite his team mates more notable contributions.
Cyrille Thomas Makanaky.
An attacking midfielder with a propensity to roam and join Omam-Biyik up front, the dreadlocked Makanaky immediately catches my eye. Constantly involved, named like something that should taste like a Wham bar, me and Makanaky just seem to click. I had never heard of Makanaky before but I instantly love his pace and willingness to shoot from anywhere.
To be honest in these pre-internet days and with a growing interest in girls other than just those who choose to hang out with Pat Sharp, I never really hear of him again. Wikipedia says he retired at 32 after a mildly successful career mostly in the French and Spanish leagues. The before and after is not important. What counts is that for three weeks, we're linked every time I take the pitch. Every goal is scored in his name, every completed pass accompanied by a 'Great ball from Makanaky' in the imagined commentary.
As the tournament progresses England and Cameroon’s standings grow, culminating in the best game of the tournament. A pulsating quarter-final between the two sides sees me slightly torn. I want England to win desperately of course but I want Makanaky to score. It would be the crowning glory for my favorite non-English player. Makanaky is characteristically all over the place, every mention of his name in Barry Davies's commentary thrilling. Despite a small boy in Brighton’s urging it is just not to be. England win 3-2, Cameroon’s goals coming from Kundé and Ekéké and Makanaky’s time on the world stage is over. By the following morning I am once again Gary Lineker, a better player for my Makanaky worship but now busily preparing for a semi-final against West Germany.
I have never forgotten Makanaky and after watching some of Cameroon’s performances again on ESPN recently, even my eleven-year old mind had been spot on in valuing his contribution. I name this blog in his honour, as he has become a benchmark for football knowledge in my admittedly limited mind. The average football fan will remember the name but might not place it straight away – that’s fine as eventually they will remember him with the huge smile any Cameroon player from that World Cup brings. The fanatic like myself can tell you he played in every Cameroon performance in 1990, was a constant thorn in defenders sides, and maybe his most telling contribution was flicking the ball up for Omam-Biyik’s goal against Argentina.
Even if you fall into neither camp I urge to revisit the Cameroon story and rejoice in a team who just loved playing football. Coached by a Russian and enriched by the Roger Milla story, the world fell in love with them. Even the wonderful unprofessionalism of the reaction to a ban on ice cream being lifted in the training camp, and the performance against the Russians being explained away by the fact they were drunk, cannot taint the memory.
Cameroon can rest assured that a small part of Hangleton Junior School’s playground wasn’t the only place they, and in particular Makanaky, had a lasting impact.