Young, affable, charismatic, down-to-earth and most importantly professional and fit, the man fondly called Papa launched his refereeing career in 2003 officiating virtually at every level; from Nawettan, the female league, second division games and subsequently to the very pinnacle of the beautiful game. The exploits of our man who I must state here, once upon a time had to contend with a barrage of verbal assaults in his line of duty, must serve as food for thought for every budding referee. The refereeing profession requires continous practice, perseverance and iron discipline. And for all those young Gambians aspiring to be the next Papa Gassama, it must be said that such a feat does not often come overnight. The penny might have dropped for Mr Gassama but the route he took has not been a shortcut to instant fame and success as most young folks would want to believe.
Since he shot to stardom in the refereeing world, Papa’s journey continues to take an upward trajectory. His CV includes refereeing in the 2012 London Olympics, 2013 Fifa Under- 20 World Cup in Turkey, the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and of course, a hat trick of African Cup of Nations from 2012, 2013 and the just concluded 2015 championship in Equitorial Guinea, where he presided over the opening game and the final itself between Ghana and eventual winners the Ivory Coast. The now familiar sight of Bakary Papa Gassama leading two sets of players into a football picth only leaves us all with nothing but sheer joy and pride. For many, he is that ambassador and national hero who keeps flying the Gambian flag admirably despite our lack of participation in major football tournaments in recent times.
Rewind to the Brazil 2014 World Cup when the Netherlands and Chile were locked in a fierce battle. In what was a very charged encounter that played out between two footballing powerhouses on this most grand of sporting stages, there was the man from the Smiling Coast feeling at home talking to Holland’s most potent attacker Arjen Robben as tempers began to flare. Football remains a very emotive affair not least helped by the arduous task of having to deal with ridiculously paid egostistical stars. Such tense moments can be daunting for referees but with the nous and cool head, Mr Gassama was able to conduct proceedings without cracking under pressure.
We in The Gambia are proud of the Memmeh native as can be alluded to the befitting reception accorded to him upon arrival from the oil rich Central African nation. From humble beginings spanning from the dusty fields of Nemakunku, Africa’s ‘numero uno’ referee has already blazed the trail for his up and coming peers. Step up to the plate guys.]]>