Yaounde, Cameroon – Cameroon’s most prominent football fan has his sights set on travelling to Qatar to cheer on his Indomitable Lions at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
For more than 40 years, Ngando Pickett has supported his team through good times and the bad, attending 16 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournaments and two world cups.
“I just love football and my country,” said Pickett, who stopped going by his real name Henri Mouyébé when friends nicknamed him after the late American soul singer Wilson Pickett because of his similar dance moves.
Pickett, who played amateur football in the 1970s, told Al Jazeera that he first started supporting the Indomitable Lions in 1982 when he was a student living in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast.
“Cameroon had come to play a university competition in Ivory Coast. We were just 10 Cameroonians in Yamoussoukro, but I mobilised them to go support the youth football team,” he said, adding that he was able to see his country win its first AFCON trophy two years later in Abidjan.
Years later, Pickett caught the eyes of Cameroonian officials attending the 1998 AFCON in Burkina Faso because he had covered his body and clothes with paint that matched the green, red and yellow of the country’s flag.
“I was the topic of discussion on the sidelines of the AFCON because nearly every media [outlet] that came to cover the competition took images of me, including most French outlets,” he said.
Joseph Owona, Cameroon’s minister of sports at the time, was so impressed with Pickett that he asked him to take on an important role for the club.
“He said he had met a wonderful Indomitable Lions supporter. He decided to make me the mascot of the team,” Pickett said, adding that Owona helped him go to the World Cup in France that year.
“I really enjoyed a cultural night we had around Notre-Dame Cathedral with seven other Cameroon fans,” he said. “We were in a mini-dance competition with some other nations’ fans and we beat them with our displays. We were given a big carton of champagne. From there, wherever we went, they knew the Cameroonians had come with their exciting dance moves.”
Dancing on the side
When Pickett isn’t cheering on his team at games, the father-of-two earns extra money entertaining at local events with Cameroun O Mulema, a dance group he founded in Cameroon’s economic capital, Douala.
“We perform at parties, marriages and official events, especially in Douala,” he said. “We travel to other parts of the country when invited. People know me, so I don’t find it difficult.”
He said the money he earns from performing goes to pay for his children’s education.
“I have to do this in periods when we don’t have football competitions,” Pickett said. “It is not easy, but I have been doing it for years now.”
Word Cup hopes
But football is Pickett’s true love, and he is anxiously waiting to hear from the Cameroonian Football Federation (Fecafoot) to see if he can attend the World Cup in Qatar.
“Fecafoot is very aware of our plan to go to Qatar. They have told us they are working on our travel, lodging and other things. I am very hopeful about it.”
Pickett is also hoping the fan group he founded, the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon Supporters Club, will also be able to make the journey to Qatar.
“There are 20 of us who will be taken care of by the Cameroon Football Federation for the World Cup,” Pickett said. “We already started daily practice about a month ago. We are sure of representing Cameroonian fans massively in Qatar.”
Pickett has high hopes for his team in this year’s World Cup.
Cameroon is in Group G and will start their campaign against Switzerland on November 24 before meeting Serbia four days later and wrapping up the group stage against five-time champions Brazil on December 2.
Pickett gave a thumbs-up to the job that Samuel Eto’o, president of Fecafoot, is doing and predicted his team will reach at least the knockout stage of the World Cup.
“I believe we’ll succeed in reaching at least the round of 16 because Eto’o is doing everything possible to get the right players,” he said.