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BY Mildred Europa Taylor, 1:30pm June 10, 2022,

27 years ago, Stephen Tawtaw became the first African to play in Japan

Stephen Tataw was captain of Cameroon. Getty Images

Stephen Tataw is no more but he is always remembered in Cameroon and beyond for his many achievements including being the first African footballer to play in Japan and the first captain to lead an African team to the quarter-finals of a FIFA World Cup tournament.

The former captain of the Indomitable Lions passed away in Yaounde, Cameroon on Friday, July 31, 2020, at the age of 57 following a protracted illness. He was a staff at the Technical Directorate of the Cameroon Football Federation (FECAFOOT) at the time of his death.

The football legend had played as a right-back and for Cameroonian sides Tonnerre Yaounde and Olympic Mvolyé between 1988 and 1994. The following year, he featured for Tosu Futures, making history as the first African footballer to play for a professional Japanese club.

For eight years, Tataw was with the national team of Cameroon, leading the squad to the 1990 World Cup in Italy where they became the first African side to qualify for the quarterfinals of the competition after beating Argentina, Romania and Colombia. Tataw was again the captain of the team during the 1994 World Cup in the USA. Sadly, he and his team were kicked out at the group stage. All in all, Tataw played 63 games with the Indomitable Lions and scored three goals.

It is significant to note that he was also part of Cameroon’s 1988 African Cup of Nations winning team in Morocco. He played in all five games of that competition. By 1997, he had retired and was attempting coaching. 

Tataw’s journey to becoming one of Cameroon’s greatest footballers started from school, just like some other football stars. Born in Yaounde in 1963 to a father who was a driver and a mother who was a trader, Tataw obtained his First School Leaving Certificate with Government School Ekona-yard, where he was already playing amazing football during school games. He continued to Baptist Boys Secondary School and then to CCAST Bambili. Then a midfielder, Tataw was playing for Cammack of Kumba when he was invited to play for Cameroon’s junior national team. There, he converted from a midfielder to a defender and fully joined the Indomitable Lions later.

Two years before his death, he was among 77 people who applied for the vacant job of Cameroon national team coach. He was also a part of the Cameroon delegation at the 2019 AFCON tournament in Egypt. One of his last public appearances was during the official draw of the final tournament of the Total African Nations Championship (CHAN) Cameroon 2020 held in February 2020 in Yaounde.

In 2020 when the football world lost the iconic player, Cameroon coach Rigobert Song described him as an “emblematic captain” who made a huge impact on his life.

“He was modest and very present in the field of play and when I became captain I think I had the same spirit. He gave reason to spectators to want to watch matches. He was reserved yet very efficient. This is a major loss,” said the former Indomitable Lions captain.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: June 10, 2022


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