By Lamin Cham
Legendary Gambian footballer Alhaji Njie ‘Biri-Biri’ died yesterday in a Dakar hospital. He was 72. Born on Perseverance Street Banjul, Biri was the first Gambian professional and the country’s all-time best player.
He was evacuated to Senegal two weeks ago for treatment.
During his career, Biri made a name for himself as a powerful master dribbler and formidable player whose skills have attracted admiration from many at home and abroad. He played for Black Diamonds among others and then Wallidan where was among the players who laid the golden egg in Wallidan’s unrivaled success in the domestic league. His consummating skills as a goal scorer made the Gambia national team one of the most feared in the region. Biri also played in Denmark for B1901 but it was at Seville in Spain that his fame reached the four corners of the world. He scored so many important goals for the team that they moved to top flight, making him a hero in that country. He was frequently invited back to the club and given a hero’s welcome.
When news of his death surfaced, the newly crowned Spanish champion and world giants Real Madrid tweeted:“Real Madrid C. F., its president and Board of Directors are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Sevilla F. C. legend Alhaji Momodou Njle, ‘Biri-Biri’. Real Madrid would like to extend their condolences to his family and friends, his club and all Sevilla F. C. fans. The iconic star, who has died today at 72 years of age, defined an era at Sevilla F. C., where he played for 5 seasons between 1973 and 1978.
Last night, Biri’s family and friends expressed gratitude to the Gambia government, the Gambia Football Federation and Gambians in the diaspora for standing by him during his illness. The Minister of Youth and Sports, Hadrammeh Sidibeh who played with Biri at Wallidan said he is personally saddened by the loss of Biri who he described as immensely skillful. He said Biri will get a national burial once his body arrives from Senegal. “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and our High Commission in Dakar are all engaged with the family and the nation would be informed about the funeral arrangements,” minister Sidibeh told The Standard.
Meanwhile, President Barrow last night sent condolences to the family of the late Biri while the Sports Journalists’ Association of the Gambia also paid glowing tribute. His former club Seville last night observed a minute’s silence in his memory before their match against Valencia.