By Rene Katche
Football Writer, kick442.com-Cameroon.
Football: Thomas Nkono a.k.a The Black Spider
Nkono seduces Espanyol Barcelona!
In 1982 immediately after the Spanish World Cup, a European club became the first football franchise to take the risk of the century when they signed a “black” goalkeeper. The myth in Europe at the time was that only “white” goalkeepers were fit and capable to stand between the sticks.
In fact, goalkeeping was a no goal area for “blacks” in European soccer at the time.
How Tommy was discovered!
In 1981, Cameroon captained by Thomas Nkono defeats Morocco twice; 2-0 first on November 15, 1981 in Rabat, and then 2-1 on November 29 in Yaounde, to qualify for the Spain World Cup.
Nkono gives them a lesson!
In Spain Nkono taught the white man that he (the white man) could also goal keep with a long trouser.
Uncle Zacks’ diary says many stood in shock and surprise and at the same time admired Nkono in a long black track suit pant on the goal. Note that it was a tradition in Europe for goalkeepers to catch with short suit pants. Nkono changed that mentality as many of his colleagues gradually embraced that “civilization”. After all, civilization started in Africa.
The Black Spider!
Thomas Nkono takes the entire footballing fraternity by storm with his breathtaking performance as goalkeeper and captain for the lions in Spain. He is eventually the revelation of the tournament, and will not follow his team mates back to Cameroon after their campaign. Reason; “He’s too good”, a English commentator, Hugh Johns cries out on the mic.
In Spain Cameroon are pooled along side very tough opponents in group A. Thomas Nkono and his contingent had to play against the famous Peru at the time, with a certain Tiofilo Cubillas. Mind you, Cubillas was a very dangerous striker who had scored four goals in the previous World cup in Argentina  . So, many book makers were already conjecturing on the number of goals Nkono would swallow against Cubillas’ Peru.
Cameroon also had to face Poland with another licensed dead ball specialist Boniek, who was Juventus’ goal machine along side a certain Michel Platini. In fact, the local press was also already calculating the number of goals before the contest began.
And last but not least, Nkono and co had to climb the steep Italian mountain with a certain football ‘god’ Paulo Rossi who was the best goal scorer for Italy, winner of the 1978 World Cup at home.
Uncle Zacks’ diary reveals that back at home [Cameroon] , there was very little or no hope. Many knew Nkono would “get it in baskets”.
Mind you that African football at the time was the least mediatized, and so Europe and the Americas knew absolutely nothing about Cameroonian football, and this greatly played to Nkono’s favour.
To cut the long story short; on June 15, Cameroon forced Peru to a 0-0 draw. Nkono was instrumental at the goal and deserved his clean sheet. However, the referee disallowed a Roger Milla goal that would have permitted Cameroon to beat Peru.
On June 19, same venue, Cameroon and Poland drew 0-0. An indelible performance from Roger Milla, Ibrahim Aoudou, Mbida Gregoire and Tokoto Jean Pierre was the highlight of that contest. Thomas Nkono knew how to position the four.
On June 23, at the Balaidos-Vigo stadium, Cameroon again demonstrates great fighting spirit. Italy’s Graziani takes advantage of a Thomas Nkono slip to open score. But while the Italian supporters are still celebrating, Mbida Arantes equalises with a low shot from a goal mouth tussle. Oh my God! It is Cameroon’s maiden World Cup goal.
But insufficient points would impede coach Jean Vincent and his men from continuing the expedition. Nonetheless, the Africans had succeeded to break the myth of white superiority.
Uncle Zack’s diary also reveals that throughout the tournament, Thomas Nkono is the main source of attraction with his jaw dropping reflex saves.
Nkono had a ” face to face” with all the above mentioned big names. In fact, during Cameroon’s inaugural match, he had a “face to face” with Tiofilo Cubillas twice, and twice he came out safe and dry.
White spectators at the Stade de Riazor are startled and frozen! They have never seen a black man this agile and “wicked” like Nkono. And like the saying goes “if you can’t beat them, join them”, some supporters of Peru and Spanish become diehard admirers of goalkeeper Nkono.
Handshakes and congratulations pour out from every angle. Scouts bustle their way to secure the Canon goalkeeper’s signature. The demands are too many and Tommy is unable to resist Espanyol Barcelona’s signature.
Nkono takes his footballing gospel to Europe.
At Espanyol, goalkeeper Nkono hit the crescendo of of his career. He was referred to as The Black Spider, a title fans conferred on him, thanks to his unimaginable and explicable saves. It was such saves that helped qualify Espanyol for the 1987-88 UEFA cup final. They lost to Bayer Leverkusen, unfortunately.
He was the only goalkeeper who kept a clean sheet for 496 minutes in Spain, winning best foreign ” player” of the Spanish league for two straight seasons. No foreigner goalkeeper, black or white, had ever done so.
Then comes the famous 1990 FIFA World Cup. Of course, Nkono cemented his place amongst goalkeeping elites of the game.
But the black spider also caught the World’s attention with his delay tactics. A football pundit, Azombi Azombi Effata, aptly describes it this way; “the role he played with his central defenders at 1990 World Cup, was a game changer”. ” The passing and catching game within the 18 yard prompted FIFA to revise some rules of the game”. This is absolutely correct, because it was thanks to the frequency of Nkono’s delay tactics that FIFA decided to rule out the passing and catching of the ball between an on-field team mate and his goalkeeper.
Aside that, he inspired a constellation of goalkeepers. One of such goalkeepers is Gianluigi Buffon who “confesses” the hours after Cameroon had beaten Argentina in the tournament’s opener that he does not only want to be a goalkeeper. He wants to be a goalkeeper like Thomas Nkono of Cameroon. You must note here that Buffon was a midfielder.
The Italian has never hidden his admiration for Nkono. One of his sons’ name is Thomas Nkono. It is a sign of respect and admiration for Tommy.
Again, there is an effigy of Nkono in Buffon’s room, as a sign of respect and immortalisation of his idol. Note that during his jubilee celebration in Yaoundé, Buffon travelled all the way from Italy to Yaoundé for that purpose. It is record that Nkono said when he becomes a grand father, he would ask one of his daughters to name her son “Gianluigi”.
In fact, It is said that the modernisation process of goalkeeping effectively took off immediately after the 1990 World Cup.
This is partly thanks to the Black Spider.
Retired from professional football in 1994 and moved into management where he is till date serving Espagnol Barcelona as a deputy coach.
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