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Ewunkem, Legendary Footballer, Dies 

By Walter Wilson Nana — Joseph Ewunkem, short, stout and bowlegged-defender of the Prisons Club of Buea fame is no more.

Ewunkem, fondly referred to as GRAND JOE, died in the wee hours of Tuesday, July 10, 2012, at the Mount Mary Health Centre, Buea, after battling with diabetes.

This would-be almost unbeatable right full back player was born some 65 years ago, in the Bonaberi neighbourhood in Buea, to Bernard Ewunkem and Elizabeth Ewunkem, all deceased. He was the third child in a family of 11 children.

Ewunkem did his primary school at Roman Catholic Mission, RCM, Yobomba, Buea-Town. He then gained admission into St. Joseph College Sasse, Buea, in 1963.

Ewunkem will graduate from Sasse College and subsequently moved on to the Pan African Institute of Development, PAID, West Africa, which had just opened its doors in Buea, Cameroon.

From PAID-WA, Ewunkem, already working with the Community Development Office, then attached to the office of the Southwest Governor, was sent to England for further studies. After sometime, the Community Development Office was moved from the Governor’s Office to the then Ministry of Agriculture. While working in the Community Development Department in the Southwest Regional Delegation of Agriculture and now Agriculture & Rural Development, until he retired, Ewunkem simultaneously pursued an emblematic football career with Prisons Football Club of Buea and the Cameroon Military Football Team.

Grand Joe – The Footballer
Before Ewunkem started plying his professional football skills with Prisons Football Club of Buea, in 1967, he had been playing with the football teams of his primary school, RCM and that of St. Joseph College, Sasse.

According to Barrister Ashutantang Tanjong, described as a football encyclopaedia, Ewunkem began playing upfront but it was at the defence that he made his name. “Playing against Prisons, left-wingers abandoned their traditional positions to play in the middle in a bid to escape Ewunkem’s crunchy tackles. Attackers dreaded these tackles as they came in sudden burst with a lot of venom. If an attacker outpaced him, like lightening, he came from behind with a fierce tackle and the attacker will go down heavily. He subjected all attackers who passed him to this treatment, irrespective of their heights and sizes. It was amazing to see Ewunkem bring down giants like Mbappe Leppe and Jean Marie Tsebo,” Tanjong said.

Grand Joe distinguished himself with his hard shots, which seldom rose above chest level. A story goes that while playing for the Sasse College team, against Baptist Teachers Training College, BTTC, Soppo, Buea, the latter’s keeper abandoned his goal post when Ewunkem stepped forward to take a penalty kick.

Like his contemporaries, Jean Ottou Atangana (then keeper of the Cameroon national team) playing with Prisons, Humphrey Tande Mosenge, Stephen Ndiefi (aka 4-O-4), François Njipe, Martin Tanga, Fidelis Nkemji, Davidson Nangoh, Joseph Njuma, Walter Ashu and Dieudonne Monkam, Ewunkem was a cult figure. “Wherever Prisons played, fans jammed the stadium to see Ewunkem. A Prisons squad without Ewunkem was incomplete. He was Prisons and Prisons was him,” stated Tanjong.

While at Prisons, Ewunkem won many trophies. These included; the Beaufort Cup, the Lottery Cup and Radio Buea Cup.

In 1968, he led Prisons to the Cup of Cameroon final against an Oryx of Douala with the iconic player, Mbappe Leppe at the Hippodrome (Military) stadium in Yaoundé. During that final, Ewunkem is remembered to have picked the ball and walked up to President Ahmadou Ahidjo, who was the presiding officer, to protest what he (Ewunkem) considered an unjust penalty awarded to Oryx of Douala. He was stopped on his way by a certain Security Officer named Jean Forchivé, who advised Ewunkem to see the President of the Football Federation then, Ibrahim Mbombo Njoya and not the President of the Republic.

In 1975, he was conscripted into the Cameroon Military Football Team, where he played alongside big names like Albert Roger Milla, Thomas Nkono, Fouda Batchot, Nlend and Ayissi. In that selection, they had training camps in Congo, Algeria and West Germany before moving to Seoul, South Korea for the Military World Cup tourney.

When Prisons was relegated to Division II in 1977, Ewunkem stayed on. With his contributions, Prisons played the Inter-pools tournament in 1978, 1981 and 1982. He will quit competitive football after the 1982 Inter-pools, during which he led a strike action within the ranks of players and was suspended by the then President of the club, Chief Justice SML Endeley.  Thereafter, he will join the coaching staff of Prisons, where he was until he joined the Southwest Executive Bureau of FECAFOOT as the Treasurer. He held this position until his death.

Family Life
Ewunkem was married to Mary Ekangwo, his long time friend, for 36 years. They are blessed with six children; five boys and a girl.

According to family sources, the funeral and burial programmes will be made public in the weeks ahead.

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