“We want to be champions!” Academy trains Cameroon’s next generation of female soccer players

As the Africa Cup of Nations draws to a close when Senegal face Egypt in the final on Sunday, Jowhar reports from the Rails Football Academy for girls in Cameroon’s capital Yaounde, where most of the football has taken place. The young football players dream of glory – but must fight against prejudice and lack of funds.

On a rugged, gravelly patch of land in Elig Edzoa, a workers’ district in Yaounde, 14-year-old Leslie begins to perform skills – juggling the ball with her foot and soon attracting a crowd of children. They will soon be playing the toro passing game.

It was right here in this part of Yaounde – nicknamed Rails because of the tracks that cross it – that former Cameroonian star Gaëlle Enganamouit started the country’s first women’s football academy. And that’s where Leslie’s skills have gone from clarity to clarity.

“I was born and raised on Rails; I started playing football on those streets “, Enganamouit said on the phone. “Every time I go back to Cameroon, I go back to the old quarter; I had to give something back to my young sisters. The academy also shows that it is not a bad district – that good things are happening there. ”

Leslie juggles the ball. © Romain Houeix, France 24 “I have never seen a good player come out of beautiful pitch” Leslie is one of many thriving talents who joined the academy. She goes to training twice a week – but that does not stop her from playing football in her spare time, and uses every opportunity she can get to hone her skills. “I’m always ready to play – just like that,” she said. and adds that she prefers to wear football clothes rather than dress “like a girl”.

“Even when she was little, you could see that she preferred footballs to dolls,” said Leslie’s father Jacques Manyo Bayard, pointing to two stones near the school that children still use as goal posts.

Leslie is a bit shy, of course, but she lights up when she plays in the Rails Football Academy area – an uneven rectangle, with shops on one side, railway tracks on the other and no sidelines or nets in the goals. It is difficult terrain to play on – but one where Enganamouit himself flourished.

“The thing about Africa is that you play in difficult terrain – so if you can dribble and make good passes here, as soon as you play on grass, you will find it easy,” said Enganamouit.

The trains pass the football academy. © Romain Houeix, France 24 “When a player really flourished, you have to look at where he or she comes from if you want to understand how it came about,” added Angeline Marie Christine Gondio A Mbang, the academy’s technical director and first team coach. “I have never seen a good player come out of beautiful pitches,” she continued.

Angeline runs the workout with an iron hand. The girls follow her orders as soon as she gives them – whether it is a movement exercise, pass or shooting. She encourages all her players to work hard and instill discipline in them.

“They know what to do as soon as they show up to play,” she said. “They get dressed, they wait for me, they start juggling the ball to warm up. I teach them the skills I can. When you have these young girls in front of you, you have to show them the right way to do it. You can not develop if you are not disciplined. ”

The girls follow Angeline’s instructions. © Romain Houeix, France 24 Angeline may be an iron fist in the ground, but she wears a velvet glove off the pitch. She is close to the players and encourages them to pursue their dream; to “be like Gaëlle” and make a career in women’s football.

“I wanted to join Gaelle’s academy because I’ve always been a fan of her as a player,” said 19-year-old Beatrice Ngo Nlend, who has played at the academy since it opened in 2019. “I really dream of a game. Career – I love football so much that I have no words to express it; this means everything to me right now. ”

“I want a career that lasts as long as possible; I want to win the Ballon d’Or, whether it is African or world – I want to prove that I can really do something in women’s football, says Michelle Ndjomo, 17, who imagines playing for PSG as another of her. idoler, Kadidiatou Diani.

“After the academy, I hope to reach the same level as the founder and win trophies; I would also like to create a school like her to train players, says Mélanie Eboa, also 17 years old.

Leslie talks to her dad before training. © Romain Houeix, France 24 Family skepticism. Having been passionate about football since they were little, all girls have had to fight against the prejudices that football is a sport exclusively for men, unsuitable for women. They had to convince their families before joining the academy.

“My mother was reluctant. She said it distorted girls’ bodies and was afraid I would not be able to start a family afterwards. I told her that football is my passion. I can play the sport and have children afterwards. I pointed to the example of it. American player Alex Morgan, who has a husband and a daughter, says Michelle Ndjomo.

Leslie’s father, a construction technician, was also skeptical for a time about his daughter’s all-consuming passion for football. “I do not like football; I think it’s not for women. A girl should go to school and become a doctor or a lawyer, “he said. “I was really hostile, but my cousin, my wife and my sister all told me to let her go on with it, because it’s in her blood.

Now Leslie’s father fully supports his daughter. He goes to her matches as much as he can and gives everything – cheers on her even in training. All thanks to Rails Academy: “There were several factors that motivated me. To begin with, it is close, so we did not have to pay for transportation. Secondly, the academy was created by a local player, so we are convinced that she will teach them the best way to play football.

“I prefer her to the academy than to play anywhere with boys,” Leslie’s father concluded.

Enganamouit hopes that her academy will prevent young girls from experiencing the same difficulties she went through when she started. She remembered that she sometimes felt embarrassed in the male world of football – for example, when there were no football shirts, so players on one of the two teams went shirtless to differentiate.

Gaëlle Enganamouit plays at World Cup 2015. © Andy Clark, AFP “You never feel completely comfortable,” Enganmouit said. “So the goal is to give the girls a framework so that they can express themselves to each other. I’m very happy to see them together. I was not surrounded by other women that way. ”

Leslie also experienced difficulty playing with boys. “The girls are more disciplined,” she said. “The boys here are pushing you to win – and you want to cry but you can not. So we try to work on our physique in training.

“Here in the neighborhood, the girls play better than the boys – we work harder than them; we want to be world champions! ”

Enganamouit and Angeline are well aware that women’s football has developed since they started. International bodies such as FIFA and the Confederation of African Football have plowed into it to increase their profile in recent years.

“The Cameroonian authorities took a real interest after our first participation in the World Cup” in 2015, Enganamouit pointed out.

Consequently, the girls at Rails Football Academy benefit from football jerseys and training equipment as well as funds to cover transports to matches.

“We got none of it; we played for fun, without money, said Angeline. “We try to explain to the girls that they have a great opportunity.”

All the girls hope to enjoy the same opportunity that their team captain flourished from – because her career took her to the USA, the women’s soccer El Dorado. But this underscores that Rails Football Academy is dependent on Gaëlle Enganamouit’s personal resources.

In fact, there is no shortage of projects at the academy. One is the creation of a boarding school so that girls can devote themselves equally to football and school – just as they do at Cameroon’s Brasserie’s football academy for boys. The two women behind Rails also hope that the Africa Cup of Nations, which takes place in Cameroon, will benefit local women’s football. They hope to use some refurbished training grounds at the moment – such as the nearby Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium. This would allow talented young girls from the academy to hone their skills on well-kept lawns far from the rough surfaces of their local neighborhood.

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