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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Celebrating heroes of Gambian football

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Therefore whenever the story of Gambian football is to be written, natural justice dictates that those people be given their fair due and recognition for what they have done in the service of the nation. This is exactly what my mentor Tijan Massaneh Ceesay has done in his ‘unputdownable’ book on Gambian football which would soon be available on sale in The Gambia.

In this excerpt from Chapter 13, Tijan paid a glowing tribute to these people he called his heroes; those men of substance and patriotism who contributed immensely to the promotion of  Gambian football. Read his thoughts here;


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During my time in Gambian football, there were indeed many who played a vital role in the development of the game. However, like the scriptures say, “many are called but few are chosen.” In this context, I want to take a moment and just briefly give credit to some among the many that I felt went above and beyond to bring the game where it is today.

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Alhaji Housainou MM Njie

First I begin with the London trained economist, Alhaji Houssainou MM Njie. Njie’s contribution to Gambian football cannot and never will be equalled. Jimmy, as he was affectionately known, was a principled man who was generous with the Gambian youth, the most important occupant of his heart. In addition to his Hawks Football Club, Housainou took care of a lot of teams financially. Given his humble nature, Housainou’s deeds went unmentioned because that was how he wanted it. When it came to the national team, his contributions were second to none. The man was a sports philanthropist and it is indeed a shame that his role in developing Gambian football and sports in general has been so easily overlooked. While a board member at The Gambia National Insurance Corporation, Housainou helped to secure one of the most lucrative sponsorship packages for the Gambia Football Association in the then annual Gambia National Insurance Corporation football championship. Much more so, the Gambia Commercial and Development Bank which he headed at the time was also an instrumental player in the development of Gambian football. HMM, as he was also known, was one for the ages and, indeed, history will document what he did for Gambian football and that, without Housainou MM Njie, Gambian football would never be where it is today. 


 Alhaji Ousman Bassi Conateh (Fisco)

If anyone is to be nicknamed Mr Football, it should be OB Conateh. In my lifetime, I have never seen anyone as passionate as he was for football and for his beloved Wallidan Football Club. It was this passion that took him to the pinnacle of West African Football through his appointment as Vice President of the West African Football Union. Mr Conateh gave all he had to the game and was instrumental in the development of our national teams. He went beyond the capital and sponsored teams in the rural areas. A businessman by profession with the biggest seafood company under his watch, OB always made time for football practices no matter how busy he was. If it was a second or third division game, Mr Football was always there. Some said that it was his way of scouting talent. Well, it worked out pretty well for him and his club. OB has done much for Gambian football.  He will be eternally engraved with the game in the country.


 Fr Joseph A Gough, Cssp,

Joe Gough was a young priest assigned to The Gambia by the Bishop of Banjul, Michael Maloney, Cssp, to open the first Catholic seminary at Fajara, some nine miles from Banjul. Fr Gough also taught at one of Gambia’s premier high schools, St Augustine’s, where he was also vice principal and in charge of all sporting activities. With the mantra that, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” this young Irish priest went on to put together the best school sports programme in Gambian history. He recruited the best athletes from other schools and brought them to St Augustine’s on scholarship. Over time, the school rose to become one of the best in both academics and sports throughout the Senegambia region. He later took over the Young Africans Football Club and put the structures in place that would later make them one of the best teams of all time. Roots Football Club was another of Fr Gough’s doing. He was a philanthropist who loved all of his students and football. He was a member of the technical committee of The Gambia Football Association until July 14th, 1983 when he left The Gambia prematurely. He is not just my hero, he is a hero to many a Gambian that walked into that front gate on Box Bar Road. What Fr Gough did for Gambian football will never be matched and it was most appropriate when The Gambia National Olympic Committee enshrined him in the Gambian Sports Hall of Fame a few years ago. 


Alhaji Momodou Njie ‘Biri’

If Biri was born, say in Brazil or Europe, he could have easily been the Pele of the world. To this day, a lot of Gambian football fans and pundits argue that there was no player better than Biri and, even the great Diego Maradona, who succeeded him at Spanish powerhouse, Sevilla, is on the record as calling Biri the greatest. Biri is, by far, the greatest Gambian football player that ever suited for our country. The many heroics and spectacular performances he put up for The Gambia speak for themselves. He has sacrificed like no other for the cause of our football development. A few years ago, I joined a group of Gambian football fans calling for the national stadium to be named for Biri. Apparently, it fell on deaf ears, but the call, which is clarion one, is still on and, indeed, if heeded, it will be a fitting tribute to the greatest Gambian footballer of all time. There never ever will be another Biri.


The 1979 Gambia National Football Team

Babou Saho and Lie Ndure were the goalkeepers, Commy Owens, Bill Badjie, Garba Touray, Ayo Jobe, Lamin Owens, AC Conteh, Baboucarr Bah (Edakarr),Bladder Sibi and Saloum Njie were the backfield, Saihou Sarr, Sherrif Jobe, Baboucarr Sowe Laos, Ebou Kah (EK) and Abdoulie Star Jallow (Captain) were the formidable midfield, while Biri, Young Saul Samba, Ndow Njie, Tony Joiner, Salimong Nyassi (Dalasi), Charlie Boy and Alagie Nyan were the goal scoring machines upfront. This Gambia national team, the idols of spectators, went into Monrovia, Liberia in 1979 and put Gambian football on the map. This was a resilient bunch that vowed never to let the Gambian fans down again and from that day on, Gambian football has never looked back in terms of the talent level. The William Tolbert Fraternity Tournament was a defining moment for the members of this team. As Saul Njie said from the Liberian airwaves into Banjul, “They poured every ounce of Gambian sweat and blood.” Indeed they did. It’s a national disgrace that most of these people are nobodies in today’s Gambia. What a shame? For me, they are my heroes, I grew up seeing these men in the traditional Gambian Ifangbondi red going to war for our country on the football field, and whether it was a win or a loss, they left it all on the field for a proud people. While they can never be repaid for their heroics and what they did for the country, it is my hope, that someday down the line, these heroes of impeccable dispositions will be given the honour they deserve from The Gambia.


 Saul Njie

Posterity will teach that Saul Njie is the best football commentator in the history of The Gambia. No man has done it like him and the many who played back in his day will tell you today that Saul was indeed their motivation. For generations to come, Saul has left eternal one liners with Gambian football fans from Banjul to Koina, who were glued to their radio handsets listening to him every Sunday. With phrases like, “The big men go up”, “Box Bar Stadium is being rocked to its very foundation”, “Here comes Abdoulie Jagne, standing hands akimbo waiting to clear his lines,” “This game has changed to a festival of bombering and thundering, known as bim bam in our local language”. He was set apart from the rest. He was unique on spot calling games and he brought people to football like never before. Outside of the football commentary box, Saul Njie was the best all round broadcaster in Gambian history. To this day, Gambians can recall when our democracy was hijacked in 1981, save for Senegalese intervention. When every broadcaster was unavailable for that tense moment, most remembered for the sound of gun shots; it was Saul Njie who manned Radio Syd by himself, reassuring the nation that all was well. Indeed, democracy was restored. While he may have been passed by for a well deserved press secretary position at the Office of the President in 1982, no one comes close to Saul Njie and what he has meant to Gambian broadcasting.  Saul is a football hero in every sense of the word.


Pap Saine

In his own way, Pap contributed to the development of football like no other. Pap Saine was multi-lingual and was the Reuters correspondent in Banjul. He had access to the international media and to a lot of French media outlets. He wrote extensively about Gambian football. Pap always made it a point that to see that Gambian footballers were serenaded in the international media.  He once told me, “We don’t have a whole lot to expose these players, this is one way it could be done.” He was as instrumental in the development of the game in The Gambia as any other.   He was the “walking Gambian sports encyclopedia.” I nicknamed him that for his knack of quickly bringing up historical facts during games. I cannot recall how many times on those Sundays, Pap would slip a note to Saul, reminding him that ten years ago or so, it was Saul Samba who scored for The Gambia against, say, Mali. The man was a unique sports journalist and he is a legend in his own right. He is a hero of mine!


Peter Louis Prom (Machu)

Today, he is the secretary general of The Gambia National Olympic Committee, but many years ago, Peter Louis Prom was the captain of the most successful Gambian Under-23 National Team. That team held the Algerian Desert Fox to a nil all draw in Banjul in 1982. He was the man that made sure I was a great soccer fan. Whether it was playing for Juffureh in Bakau or Dai-Ten at Bayeh Afdie, Peter was as instrumental as anybody in bringing me to the game. I held his boots and commuted with him all over the country as he did what he was best at, the best midfield player ever. This rare talent brought fans to their knees with his versatility in the midfield. His skills were unmatched and, for many years, until he departed for Washington DC’s Howard University, Peter Prom was the best at what he did. He has my admiration and highest respect, not only as a national soccer captain, but as the elder brother I did not have growing up. Prom Ak Eleerr, sang Ma Cha Bordeaux, I salute you and thank you for all you were and are, as a star and as a human being.


Omar Amadou Jallow

Serekunda’s favourite son, Omar Amadou Jallow, alias OJ, was a cabinet minister under the first Republic. People still argue that OJ was known more for his involvement in football compared to his high level cabinet appointment as minister responsible for water resources and the environment. A St Augustine’s High school alumni and a veteran phantoms football club player, OJ was as instrumental as anybody in bringing football to Serekunda. He ran Kwame Football Club alongside his close friend, Baboucar Barrow, a trained engineer. Together, these two men defined football in the Kombos and brought it to the same level as that of Banjul. While they may have come short on capturing the league championships, they left an indelible mark in zonal football with Serekunda winning many championships. OJ, as a state minister, was answering the national call, but he never let that portfolio come between him and his football for which he was most appreciated. He stood strong and fought for the clubs that were powerless and on no occasion did he compromise his ideals; a mantra with which he lives to this day. The people of Serekunda will forever be grateful to Omar Amadou Jallow for what he did for football in that region. He gave his time, resources and, of course, his family to develop the game eight miles away from the capital and, yes, he did it with honor and grace.



Tom King

I called him the Prince of Bakau because of his love for football and his stance at the time to see that the game progressed in Bakau. A hardworking medical dispenser by day and a football manager by evening, Tom King singlehandedly promoted the game in Bakau. He ran Dagudan Football Club alone and was never short of results. He was a very humble fellow who loved people and stood to ensure that all around him were happy. He gave as much to the game in Bakau and ensured they moved on to the top tier of Gambian football. From afar, I admired this man for all he did for the game and the people of Bakau, yet I was reluctant to have my Roots play against Dagudan. Anytime you go out of your way for the cause of people, you are indeed my hero and Tom King is one, in sum, “cogito ego sum.”



Dingareh Sports Shop at Hagan Street

Whether anyone likes it or not, I care less that football policies were made at this store and it worked. This is where all great football players met every day to map out the way forward. As a matter of fact, it also served as the unofficial headquarters of the football association at one time, because this is where every team picked up their official mail. Ebou Ndure entertained just about everybody who talked football, of course with a lot of bias towards his favorite, Real de Banjul. What this sports shop contributed towards football development is immeasurable and indeed, even though it is now defunct, it belongs to any Gambian hall of fame.


My fans

Well before March 14, 1977, I was a freelance sports writer for The Gambia Outlook and I fully recall that, after reporting on Bai Malleh Wadda’s trip to the World University Games in Bulgaria, Editor SMB Jones wrote an editor’s note informing his reading audience that one day, Tijan will celebrate being a sports journalist.  He built for me a fan base and the great people of The Gambia accepted me and loved me. They made me a celebrity and anywhere I went they treated as such. It was because of their love and support that I persevered in the profession and this was renewed again, when I returned home in 2003. I love each and every one of them and wish to thank them for this work because, without their love and support, I probably would never have thought of putting this work together. Jarama, Jerre Len Jef, Gachegalama!


 Note.’ Tijan’Massaneh Ceesay’s book on Gambian Football is available on Amazon and would soon be on sale in The Gambia. 

Author: Lamin Cham


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