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Monday, January 25, 2021

Scorpions: The history behind the name

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In this maiden article we retrace the story behind the name The Scorpions, the official name for all our national teams. 

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Many people know the name but few have an idea how it came about and this is why we sought the permission of the author of an Insider’s Review on Gambian Football 1975 -1985, Tijan Masanneh Ceesay, to run an excerpt on this issue along with the original Scorpions line-up of February 11th, 1985:

The campaign to find a name for all Gambian national teams came through efforts made by key stakeholders in Gambian football in particular in 1984 and just to name a few,  they were the then Sports Director, Alhagie Omar Sey; the late Housainou Momodou Musa Njie; Alhagie Ousman Bassi Conateh; Momodou M Dibba, GFA Secretary General at the time; Boukary Fofana, FA president at the time; and his vice president Mustapha Ngum; Mr. Edmonson Shonobi, Assistant GFA Secretary General; Alhagie Babou Cisse; Mr. Cherno Touray; Kwame’s Omar Amadou Jallow; and of course Radio Gambia great, Saul Njie. 

At the time, they had the full endorsement of the first Woman Education and Sports Minister, Louis Antoinette Njie, who was a regular at national team practices at the newly built Independence Stadium given the proximity of her residence to the Stadium.

It became imperative that the team then known as Gambia Eleven needed a name like those of its counterparts in the sub region. On many international outings, our team was referred to in not too pleasant names. For example, in 1979 in Liberia the team was nicknamed the Groundnut Boys by the home fans which really resonated in The Gambia given the fact that groundnut was our leading export and, to date, I think it was not a bad name, but some did not like it and others thought it was disrespectful.

 

In order to obtain a name like Sylli National, the nickname for the national team of Guinea Conakry which was derived from its national currency, the Sylli or Teranga Lions of Senegal named for the country’s traditional symbol of the Lion or The Leone Stars of Sierra Leone named for its national currency and the second word of the country’s identity, a public notice was put on the sports page of The Gambia News Bulletin, page 8 to be precise, for which I was in charge at the time as Sports Correspondent. Sports fans around the country were encouraged to send in suggestions. The response was extraordinarily great, thanks to then Director of Information Swaebou Conateh, who ensured the notice went out three times a week. Pap Saine, who was also the Reuters Banjul correspondent at the time, and a man who has contributed like no other towards the development of Gambian football through his association with French media outlets, was front and centre in this exercise. Pap was a key advocate for a name for our national teams. He used his Senegambia Sun newspaper and his many daily programmes on Radio Syd to call on Gambians throughout the country to send in their suggestions for a name.

 

Many names made it to the Bedford Place Building Offices of The Gambia Information News Agency (GINS). Alieu Sagnia made sure every mail was read. One particular suggestion came from a 14-year old from Georgetown who made what I thought was a clever suggestion. He suggested IFANGBONDI WARRIORS. He went on to make the case that the INFANGBONDI was in line with Gambian culture and that the name was already known worldwide because IFANGBONDI BAND, the founders of Afro Manding music, were permanently based in Europe at the time. Looking back, three decades later, I conclude that the kid from Georgetown made a lot of sense and, I think, INFANGBONDI would have been a perfect nom de guerre. Another suggestion was Katchikally referring to the sacred crocodile ponds at Bakau Katchikally.

Sally Lamin, a young girl, suggested the name Flying Doves which made reference to a national team tradition the team picked up from the Cote d’Ivoire, where all members of the team assembled at midfield before the game and a white dove was thrown into the air. Usually this white dove made a beeline for the stands where it would stay throughout the game. While many spectators thought there was some myth associated with it, today, I say there was none whatsoever, it was solely the idea of the team medic, Pa Mboob. It was quite interesting that when the team travelled to play away customs officials at opposing airports looked for the Dove, believing in the myth that the Dove was some spiritual or voodoo ritual. With all this going on, there was absolutely no chance for the Dove to be adopted as a name for our national teams.

 

After a good four weeks, all the names were tallied and the name BLACK SCORPIONS overwhelmed all other names submitted. BLACK SCORPIONS just slugged the other names out of the ball park. Black Scorpions was not a new name in Gambian football because, at one time, it was the nickname of a young Banjul team. The word “BLACK” had to be omitted because there were political and diplomatic implications involved. If anyone followed or studied the Nigerian Biafra war, a bitter period of Nigeria’s illustrious existence, one will remember how Colonel Benjamin Adekunle was referred to as BLACK SCORPION during that period. As always, Sir Dawda was the consummate diplomat and The Gambia took the high road, to the utter disappointment of many fans, and named all our national teams, THE SCORPIONS.

Many people asked then why “Scorpions?”  Scorpions had nothing to do with Gambia, and realistically, the last time I checked I found no scorpion anywhere within the confines of Gambian history, unlike Buuki ak Nyomborr, or sanimentereng. Well, as Louise Antoinette Njie, then Sports Minister and Gambia’s first female Minister, put it on February 11th, 1985,”Like The Gambia, the Scorpion is small, but when it stings, you know it’s no joke.” The British trained educationist was on spot.

 

Since 1985, the Scorpions have represented our country with integrity and class, winning two African U 17 championships, beating Brazil in Peru and winning many track championships in the sub region, but more remains to be done and it is my hope that the first line in our national pledge, “It is the combination of government and people,” will be put in perspective to build a better Scorpions Football team in the future.

 

Tijan Masanneh Ceesay is the author of An Insider’s Review of Gambian Football, 1975-85.

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