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Friday, September 18, 2020

On the current football hullabaloo

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The Gambia went into ‘normalisation’ twice in as many years. This is enough to say things are not going the right way. 2 March 2012 the Seedy Kinteh-led executive was axed and replaced by a normalisation committee led by Alhaji OB Conateh. Reasons for disbanding the Kinteh-led executive were that the game was retrogressing. Another reason was that the executive was accused of not utilising the monies granted to the GFA by Fifa thus leaving many to accuse the ousted executive of mismanaging football money. 

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With the above reasons the normalisation committee was tasked to restructure Gambian football, develop a good constitution that will represent the entire country and above all acquire sponsorship for our league. The NC was given few months to do all this. But after reviews and consultations, the NC realised that meeting their terms of reference was a far-fetched dream so they asked for an extension of their term. There were two more extensions within the eighteen months of normalisation but at the end it brought about what many people believed was a good constitution. It was not possible though for the normalisation committee to restructure the Gambian league or sign a sponsorship deal with any sponsor. 

Not only have the NC failed to restructure football or get a stand-in sponsor, the NC sacked or terminated the services of some employees of the then GFA. This left many unemployed for months. They struggled to feed their families and until today some of them could still not pick up another job. These alone created acrimony because friends and relatives of the sacked employees turned bitter against the NC. 

As if that was not enough to attract enmity, the NC in the run-up to the 2013 elective congress, banned Seedy Kinteh, Halla Samba and some staff of the GFA. The reason for banning these people among other things was that during their administration, the two gentlemen and others mismanaged funds meant to develop football. The news of the banning of the former executive raised mixed feelings as one group supported the ban while others cried foul and labelled it a witch-hunt. Knowing that the football fraternity is divided, Mustapha Kebbeh in his acceptance speech promised to bring the divided family into a well-bonded, one-hearted family in the interest of the game. Not only did he promise to unite the divided forces, he also promised to transform The Gambia into a model worth emulating. 

But what did The Gambia get from the Mustapha Kebbeh-led administration if not agony and shame? It is an open secret that The Gambia has been involved in flouting the rules and regulations governing the beautiful game especially when it comes to registering players at youth level. This was visible to an extent even the minster of youth and sports, Alieu Jammeh cited instances when we celebrated victory at youth level knowing very well that we have not used the right players. He made these citations when he was announcing the dissolution of the Kinteh-led administration in 2012. That should have been enough warning to any administrator coming into office and any coach tasked to put up junior or youth team. 

Under Kebbeh, The Gambia got herself into trouble for using five players over the required age for the U-20 competition. First, the Gambia was thrown out of the U-20 qualifiers, followed by the bomb that crushed all our national teams from all Caf-related competitions because the country was found to have used overaged players and as well falsified the age of one of the players claiming, the said player has two dates of birth. It was difficult to ascertain whether the decision to field in those overaged players was sheer clumsiness, inexperience or a deliberate attempt to cheat. Again the general public had mixed reactions. 

Some thought the act was deliberate, others believed there was a bit of undermining while others believe ignorance and inexperience was the reason for what was referred to in many quarters as ‘a schoolboy error’. This period of Gambian football left people accusing each other especially when the news of the infamous Caf circular broke. It was an open secret that the circular landed in the country and certainly into Football House. But why it did not pop up in the course of registering the U-20 in the qualifiers remain a mystery. The question though was, would the Kebbeh-led administration risk playing nonqualified players if they had seen the all-important circular?

It could be recalled that in the run-up to the 2013 elective congress, Mustapha Kebbeh and his sympathisers condemned normalisation committee for banning Kinteh and Samba from contesting the election noting that there was a hunting game somewhere. I always laugh-out-loud whenever I hear about such statements because you hardly know who is hunting who. Because Kebbeh and team condemned the ban, when he assumed office, his executive in collaboration with football stakeholders lifted the ban on Seedy and others at an extraordinary congress. Lifting the ban on these people seemed to have left some people celebrating like they had won the lottery, while it opened up some fresh wounds somewhere. 

But it was far from being honky dory with Gambian football. Instead the problems were to exacerbate and in due course, Fifa slapped Kebbeh and his top three with a suspension and yet again replaced them with a normalisation committee led by the parliamentarian Alhagie Sillah, a former national team coach. The reason advanced for their suspension was that some stakeholders had lost confidence in the Kebbeh-led administration and to restore that confidence, an election should be conducted. The Sillah-led NC in the run up to the election to restore confidence felt Kebbeh and Kinteh who had brought so much opprobrium to the game were not eligible to contest the coming GFF elections. Again the country went into schism with analyses of the approval and disapproval of candidates in the run-up to the September 20, 2014 election. 

In as much as Gambian football administrators are busy pulling each other down and flouting the rules and regulation of the game, a chunk of our problems has always been poor planning. As the saying goes, proper planning prevents poor performance. We could also say that failure to prepare is preparing to fail. Administrators should be good planners. But where administrators are more interested in short-term gains than long-term glories, only heartache will ensue. 

The Gambia should have been benefiting from the success of the 2005 U-17 team if the country had good football administrators. Gambian football has gone down the gutters like the gutters on the streets of New Town in Nana Grey Johnson’s Magic Calabash. Football administrators’ inability to maintain the junior team that stunned the world by beating Brazil in the 2005 U-17 championship in Peru and the constant violation of Caf and Fifa rules are responsible for the country’s failure in football. These two problems are among a barrage of problems that prompted the dissolution of two football associations. 

The Gambia could not build on the heroic performance of the 2005 U-17 because football administrators lacked the foresight and financial muscle to nurture and maintain the team like Sir Alex Ferguson did with Manchester United. The Gambia’s golden generation lasted for five years (2005-10) unlike Manchester United’s which lasted 20 years (1992-2012). Instead of spending on the 2005 crop of players to come of age, administrators were busy developing new crop of players who could not match the achievements of Ousman Jallow and Momodou ‘Zico’ Ceesay. Many people believe that a demanding coach such as Jose Mourinho – who Sir Alex Ferguson referred to in his autobiography as “a cheeky young sod” after Jose’ announced himself as “The Special One” – was what The Gambia needed. 

When Alieu Jammeh, the minister of youth and sports was dissolving the Seedy Kinteh executive, he noted that, “The Gambia in many instances celebrated victory in football knowing the players used are overaged”. This was confirmed in 2011, when almost a dozen of The Gambia U-17 failed the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) ahead of U-17 World Cup in Nigeria. Earlier this year, The Gambia was thrown out of the U-20 tournament and eventually all CAF competitions for fielding overage players. 

To remedy such situation, the country needed a strong and wise man like Tyrion Lannister in the movie, Game of Thrones. It also needs a rich man such like Christian Grey, a brilliant entrepreneur in EL James’s book, Fifty Shades.

As we go to the polls on in the next 24 hours to elect yet another executive to administer football in The Gambia for the next four years, it is about time we open our eyes and ears. We must also use our analytical skills to analyse what the want-to-be presidents and their lieutenants are promising us. We might be blaming the people in the top echelons of the GFF for failing us but sometimes we have to blame the people who vote them in in the first place. In fact, some people have drawn conclusions that voters never vote in people based on their competence. Some people vote putting the considerations of competence aside and resorting to voting based on tribal, regional and sectional line. 

Going into normalisation twice in two years is enough lesson for us. Therefore voters who are coming to vote, must take their time and not vote in someone because the person gave out a brown envelope or comes from the same region or the same tribe. Worst of all do not be intimidated to vote for anyone. If he is competent enough he will not resort to the intimidation strategies. Men and women with brains should always resist people who try to control their minds. Besides voting is going to be by secret ballot. 

Whosoever is voted into office come September 20 must know that Gambians are awake now. He must be on his toes knowing that we can no more make the same mistakes. He cannot repeat the mistake that has killed others. For the losers in the election, please rally behind the winning team in the interest of football. 

Remember, The Gambia used to beat Cape Verde, Sierra Leone, and many others in the sub-region but today, we are lagging way behind them.  Vote with your heads, not your hearts. 

Sang Mendy is a teaching assistant at the GPU School of Journalism and a sports producer and presenter at City Limits Radio.

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