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Monday, February 26, 2024

The versatile, erudite and energetic Malleh Wadda

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If Bye Malleh Wadda were to be born in England, Holland, Germany, USA, Brazil, Argentina or indeed anywhere other than his real birth place, The Gambia, he would have today been enjoying the cult status enjoyed by the likes of Pele, Johan Cryuf, David Beckham, Diego Maradona, and you name it. This is so because throughout his glorious sporting career, which cut across every disciplines and category, Malleh Wadda has touched every Gambian sporting heart with joy through his sheer brilliance and tenacity and versatility.


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Gamportsports: Who is Bye  Malleh Wadda?

Bye Malleh: Bye Malleh Wadda, born to Naffie Sallah and Mustapha Wadda, 22 October 1959 at 46 Buckle Street Half Die. I moved to New Perseverance Street in 1968. Attended Windley Primary for two years, then Muhameddan. One year at Crab Island, six  years at St Augustine’s, three years at Elmira College, New York; diploma courses, project planning and appraisal at Bradford University (UK), Harvard University (US), MBA (Finance) University of Bridgeport Connecticut (US).

Taught at St Augustine’s High School (1982 – 84), National Investment Board (1984-94), general manager Independence Stadium and Friendship Hotel (1994 -96), Entrepreneur 1996 to date; Coordinator Father Gough Sports Foundation.

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Married to Oley Dibba; 5 children (Ida, Omar, Katty,Mustapha and Samsu Wadda)

Gamsports: Tell us about your sports career, take us down memory lane, from Mohammedan Primary School to Accra Sports  Stadium in Ghana?

Bye Malleh: I don’t think I can state or explain everything here, but I would highlight some. Started at Muhamedan with Sait Mbye as my PE teacher; fought very had to get into the school football team as goal keeper, with Bro Gaye, Essa Fye, Lie Jobe, Gibou, Sang, Sheriff Jobe (they were older and a class ahead and wanted their classmates on the team, but I worked hard and got in); same with Long Jump; got Sait Mbye to do a pitch at the base of the school where I would do 20 or so jumps during lunch break. Worked on high jump too with Imam Muntaha Fye, then continued long jump and football at Crab Island with Cherno Touray. 

At Saints, I continued with the long jump, high jump, football, basketball and volley. (We had the facilities there and at the Banjul Tennis Lawn where we spent a lot of our time).

I played first international by default in 1975 in Bamako for Real de Banjul against Stade de Bamako. (My brother Jim was the keeper, he got sick when we arrived in Bamako and as his reserve I had to play. We lost 2-0). Same year I played for the junior squad.


I played in the African Nations Basketball Championship in Dakar in 1977. The Ghana saga was in 1978. We were bundled off to Ghana for a friendly with three days of training (Ghana were hosting The African Nations Cup that year). I was keeper, we were leading one nil after 30 minutes but I had the shortest defense ever with Kanjura and AC Conte as central defenders and Louise and Saloum Njie as half backs. My goal was like shooting practice. We ended up losing 7-1. (My last international as keeper).

I decided to be an attacker after that match. In 1977, I went to the World University Games in Sofia Bulgaria, participated in the Long and triple Jump and made both finals.  I competed against the World record holder in triple jump then a Brazilian called Oliviera. In 1978, I went to Elmira College where I played soccer and basketball. In 1982, I went back to Gambia and started playing striker for Young Africans and later, the national team. (I won leading Goal scorer trophy at the Zone Two in Mauritania.  I played in two Zone Two competitions and amassed the highest goals for Gambia in our Zone Two history (10 goals). I also played in African Tennis Championship in Libya (1985). In 1984 at the opening of Independence Stadium I scored the winning goal against Sierra Leone. We won the tourney. I also played volleyball against Guinea and some rugby matches against Senegalese teams. I had some bouts in table tennis and cricket but was never good at them, so I let them go. I won the double as coach of Real in 1998 and repeated the League in 1999.  I cannot say all but I guess this is a good highlight.

Gamsports online: You were a High, Long and Triple Jumper in high school and you dominated those events, as a matter of fact you won the Victor Ludorum trophy three times in a row, a record in secondary Schools Sports history, from 1977 to date. What secondary schools athletics was like then compared to now?

Bye Malleh: I think secondary school sports are now a picnic and an occasion for children to have a party. For us it was intense competition. We trained very hard for it and competed very hard and we were very serious about the results and bragging rights. I dominated the jumping events and was part of a very fast 4×100 meters team which scored the most points three years in a row. I think we had very dedicated PE teacher (Alpha Khan, Cherno Touray, Mr Conteh and of course our Father Gough). 

Am not sure if you have dedicated PE teachers anymore. I don’t think Gambia College offers PE teachers anymore. That needs to be examined.

Father Gough really pushed us to maximize our capabilities and provided us with the facilities to get to the front. His departure has been a big loss to Secondary schools sports.

Gamsports Online: You left the shores of Gambia in 1978 for Elmira College in upstate New York and made an immediate impact there as an athlete, what was it like coming to a new athletic programme far more advanced than what you were used to?

Bye Malleh: I had a hard time making it to the Basketball team because the coach had already recruited 14 players for his team before I got there. I also had some bad habits and it was really hard work to get on the team, but I was used to working hard to get to where I want to.  So I finally made it, which was gratifying. With the soccer also I had to transform myself from a goal keeper to a striker and had to work very hard to do that coupled with college and two sports it was very difficult. Some people told me I could not make it, but I did. It was gratifying in the end.

Gam Sports Online: You returned to The Gambia shortly after graduation and played a Nawettan game on that very day for Dai Ten and scored two goals, what was it like, how did you find the standard of football on your return?

Bye Malleh: As I said, I had worked very hard at being a striker and was a complete surprise when I returned to Gambia where I left as a goal keeper. I was much stronger and faster than most players, so I had an edge. I felt my standards were higher; I had gone to Montreal Manics training camp for two weeks in 1981.

Gam Sports Online: You are a founder member of Young Africans Football Club. Can you share with our readers the rich history of the club, dating to its inception to its recent achievement two weeks ago?

Bye Malleh: Young Africans started as a Nawettan team. Friends and classmates, like myself, Sheriff Njie, Albert Valentine, Paul Sarr, Ousman Jatta, Baboucarr Cham (petit) Futy Ceesay, etc…were friends and classmates and we wanted to showcase a young and talented group that was creeping in Gambian football. We had so much talent and skills. When I returned to the Gambia in 1982, Young Africans were in the first division and were being managed and financed by Father Gough. We were able to then set up a farm team, Roots. The idea was to have a second tier team to feed the senior team. Roots turned out to be so good that they made it the first division too. I think the team reached its peak between1982 to 84.

Gam Sports Online: In The Gambia Eleven of the 80’s, you were among the most vital components; tell us what it was like back in the days.

Bye Malleh: It was fun. We all wanted to play so much for our country and do well. We felt we had the talent to compete within the Zone Two and were very disappointed when we did not make it, especially between 1982 to 86. I use to be close to Saul Samba, a talented player, sometimes not in the mood, but when he was up to it, he could give defenders a hard time. Aziz was more that skilled and talented. Dodou Saine was smart, strong and fast. Louise was cunning but lack strength and pace which was his handicap. Sang Ndong was hard working in Goal. Essa Fye was fast and strong, moody also. Joe Tennis great shot, though did not like to work hard. Bill Badjie very hard working but lacked some confidence. Poachy Sarr was fast and talented. Sahou Sarr, a strong and hard worker. Biri was there towards the end of his career, but all you can say about Biri Biri is he was so good that you have to say his name twice. The Greatest African footballer ever in my book.

Gam Sports Online: In 1983, in Mauritania, you became the first Gambian to ever win the leading goal scorer trophy in the sub regional tourney, what was it like to come from an amateur league and play amongst the likes of African professionals at the time, example, Cherno Youm, Sheikh Seck, Fanta Madi Jarra, Roger Mendy, Bocande, Joseph Koto, and succeeded in beating them to that trophy?

Bye Malleh: I felt I could play professional, but it was not for me. I did not enjoy going to Montreal Manis in 1981. No comradeship and it was not fun for me. For me sports was for fun and not the professional aspect; I just enjoyed playing and was willing to play rather than being paid to play. I guess I had to prove to the doubters (there were a lot of people who doubted my ability). One thing people did not know was we played two matches before the Zone Two competition and in both matches I started on the bench. When we got to Mauritania I felt I had to prove to my doubters. So it was gratifying and it cemented my position as the best striker for the Gambia.

Gam Sports Online: In 1986, during the Zone Two Football Tournament you were in the UK studying. Prior to the tournament, the Gambian fans called for your recall for national service which never happened prompting “The Cabral Daily” The first daily Football paper in the history of Zone Two and The Gambia to run a story headlined, “WHO IS MISSING” .Evidently, no one could recall an explanation of why you did not come to Banjul. Well today we accorded you the space to tell the many disappointed Gambian fans of 1985. It is never too late?

Bye Malleh: Well it was winter in England and I was out training and playing in horrible weather in order to be able to make the tournament. I took permission from my programme and rescheduled my programme and had arranged a ticket and everything. I was calling Hallah Samba and OB Conateh daily, and but was devastated when I was told I was not registered for the tournament and it was unnecessary for me to come down. I was never so disappointed like that. I lost interest in my playing career after that. That was my second disappointment after the Senegal Zone Two saga. I loved playing in the Zone Two for it gave me an opportunity to showcase my talent around the region and missing that one was a terrible blow for me.


Gam Sports Online: After you retired from active football, you went into coaching and have been very successful, what was the transition like?

Bye Malleh: It was easy. I coached myself into being a striker. I also ran soccer camps in the United States before, plus my exposure it was a natural progression. I enjoyed coaching, it is like teaching. I enjoyed sharing my understanding of the game with others. I tried to establish a coaching staff also where I got other people to bring their experience and knowledge. I believe in team play. I love sports and sharing my knowledge and experience is always a pleasure.

Gam Sports Online: You have been quoted as saying that Biri is the greatest, elaborate on that for the benefit of those who never saw him play.

Bye Malleh: As I mentioned earlier, BIRI BIRI was the greatest African player I ever saw. He was fast, strong and very skilful. He had so much strength and talent he was unstoppable. I guess people in Seville, Spain would be the best to describe his greatness for we saw him when he was raw and playing under not too good surfaces, but when he got to Spain, they adored him and he took them to the first division where they stayed up to this moment. They are forever thankful to Biri Biri for it. Biri was a natural athlete and the traits he accumulated are insurmountable. I have seen Biri Biri score some impossible goals with defenders hanging on to him etc……

Gam Sports Online: If you were asked to choose one person who impacted your career as an athlete, who would that be and why?

Bye Malleh: It would have to be Father Gough. He gave me so much belief and encouragement. He made me feel capable of reaching a height not just in sports but in life. He has been an inspiration and support for all my life. I cannot express everything between me and Father Gough in this forum. He has been by far the greatest influence in my life.

Gam Sports Online: You are actively involved in the development of Gambian Sports in your capacity as the Coordinator of the Fr. Gough Sports Foundation, tell us about it..

Bye Malleh: The foundation is first of all to honour and acknowledge the work Father Gough has done in his life and the lives of others. The Foundation is involved the things Father Gough has done and continue to do in the Gambia, Human development. Giving scholarships, providing sporting facilities, providing sporting equipment for the development of the Gambia and Gambians through Education and sports.

The foundation has since its inception, in 2006/7 developed a top class football facility at the Father Gough Sports Complex; provided coaching, equipment and trophies and established a scholarship fund. This year we would be rehabilitating the Manneh Sillah Basketball Court in Banjul and constructing a basketball, volleyball and tennis courts at the Father Gough Sports Complex.


Gam Sports Online: You were raised by Real de Banjul, what was it like for you beating your older brothers all the time.

Bye Malleh: I am a Real fan and supporter for life. For me sport is pure and honest. When I compete I am not sentimental about it. I do my best to win. If not I don’t compete. I enjoyed beating my brother as I enjoyed beating other peoples’ brothers, it was a game and I wanted to win. They would have beaten me if they had the chance.

Gam Sports Online: Finally, your younger brothers, Roots football Club still talk a lot of trash; they claim they were better than Young Africans. You have the last word!

Bye Malleh: As I mentioned, Roots was suppose to be a “FARM” team, in the end they were competing with Young Africans. I still think Young Africans were better especially with Aziz Corr. Last word, thanks for the opportunity to talk a bit about myself. I think I have not mentioned some people I should have.  My apologies I don’t mean to marginalise anyone, it is just that I cannot remember everyone and might even be wrong with some of my info but  I don’t meant to give a false account of events. This is to the best of my memory. Once again thank you and good luck to www.gamsports.com. 

First published on Gamsports.com with questions by Tijan Masaneh Ceesay, author, ‘Insiders Review of Gambian Football 1975-1985.’


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