Alhagie ‘Biri’ Njie, the legendary Gambiam footballer has described the emergence of camps among stakeholders in football as retrogressive and detrimental to the total development of the national game. Making a rare comment since the start of the present leadership crisis, Biri told The Standard that he has been following with “great dismay as Gambians tear themselves apart jostling for positions” in football administration and creating blocs based on regional or other backgrounds while other nations are progressing.
”This is shameful and unGambian. In our days no one ever cared where the other came from. I played alongside men whose origin and background has never been an issue. Why should things change now when we are a much older as nation”? he asked.
According to Biri the country must first fix the problem of poor image in governance of football which has now taken an international dimension with the suspension of the country by Caf over alleged age-cheating. “This is a serious issue that we have not been able to stop in the past and is haunting us now. So, this is the time we must come clean and take the right steps to redeem our name in the world,” he advised.
Biri therefore condemned all acts of corruption and selffish interest among officials and called for a collective effort at finding the right people who would not be there because they come from Banjul or Basse, but because they are competent and honest.
”I recalled back in 1992 when I was opportuned to be at meeting attended by former President Jawara where I impressed on him to consider creating a separate Ministry for Youth and Sports. That was done. It is 22 years now and maintained by President Jammeh who in fact has single-handedly done more for football than any other person or body. But can we say we have got much to show for in terms of achievement for all the huge investments? Even Cape Verde and Sierra Leone have managed to qualify for the Cup of Nations and we couldn’t,” he lamented. Biri observed that in the late ’60s and ’70s even Nigeria was not better than The Gambia, let alone those least known football nations.
“If someone tells me those days that I would grow old without seeing Gambia at CAN, I would not believe it. So what then has gone wrong for us?” Biri asked emotionally. He said it has to do with the running of the game and that must be fixed “once and for all”.
Biri, the first Gambian to play professional in Scandinavia and notably Spain with Seville is clearly the greatest African footballer during his time and remains the leading light in Gambian football history. His fame rest on solid personal achievement. As one of the few African players in Spain, he caught everyone’s attention by scoring vital goals that helped Seville to reach top flight football in that country for the first time. A wing in the stadium still bears his name.]]>