By Michael Kachitsa
Nowadays when we see football players dancing after scoring a goal or winning a game, we may take that for granted thinking it has always been like that since the game’s invention. This is far from the truth, such entertaining celebrations are as recent as the 1980’s ironically motivated trademark by one of Africa’s greatest players, Cameroonian Roger Milla.
Roger Milla, in full Albert Roger Milla, original name Albert Roger Miller, (born May 20, 1952, Yaoundé, Camer.), Cameroonian football (soccer) player, renowned for his impeccable technique and grace under pressure. A forward, he starred on the Cameroon national team that became the first African squad to reach the quarterfinals of the World Cup. He was twice named African Player of the Year (1976, 1990).
The young Milla’s skill and imagination drew the attention of the Éclair club of Douala, who signed him as an amateur in 1965. He later joined the Leopards of Douala (1970–72), with whom he won his first national championship in 1972. Having moved to Tonnerre of Yaoundé (1972–78), he had a terrific year in 1975, scoring the winning goal in the Cameroon Cup final and playing a leading role in the club’s victorious campaign in the first African Cup Winners’ Cup.
Milla moved to France and played with Valenciennes (1978–79), AS Monaco (1979–80), Bastia (1980–84), Saint-Étienne (1984–86), and Montpellier (1986–89). At Bastia he scored a fantastic goal in the team’s victory in the 1981 French Cup final; he also won a French Cup in 1980 with Monaco. He ended his club career in 1990 after a season with Saint-Pierre in Réunion.
In the 1980s and ’90s Milla and Cameroon’s national team, known as the Indomitable Lions, became world famous. He was the leading scorer in the two African Cup of Nations victories claimed by Cameroon in 1984 and 1988. He played in the 1982 World Cup finals, when Cameroon earned international respect after a superb performance in the tournament.
At the 1990 World Cup, 38-year-old Milla, playing as a substitute, scored four goals and led Cameroon to the quarterfinals. Milla’s celebration dance after his winning goal against Colombia—a kind of shimmy performed near the corner flag—inspired imitations by goal scorers throughout the football world. Coming out of retirement for the 1994 World Cup, Milla, then 42 years old, became the oldest player to score a goal in the World Cup finals.
Milla is mostly remembered for his trademark goal celebration of running to the corner flag and performing a dance. In the years that have followed, he has been recognised as a pioneer of the many unconventional and imaginative goal celebrations seen since then. In 2004 he was named by Pelé in the FIFA 100 list of the world’s greatest living players. In 2007, the Confederation of African Football named Milla the best African player of the previous 50 years. He is now an itinerant ambassador for African causes.