Listeners to Radio Gambia in the 70s and early 80s would recalled a golden young voice that sporadically comes in between great Saul Njie's football commentaries. That voice belongs to a young St Augustine's High School student, who was aspiring to become like his mentor, Saul Njie. He is Tijan Massaneh Ceesay, undoubtedly the most talented youth broadcaster of his time. You see, those were the days when Radio Gambia was Radio Gambia. Every voice heard was a voice well tested and trusted for command and brilliant oratory of the English language.
That was the system that produced the likes of Bora Mboge, Maria Carvalho, Joy Coker, Bemba Tambedou, Jainaba Nyang, Nene Macdould, Peter Gomez and the Sam Jones, now Malick, to name a few. Saul Njie, who headed the sports team, epitomised the quality that existed in the English Language newsroom. Without any spot of jealousy in his heart, Saul Njie knew a good talent when he saw one and so he encouraged young Tijan to realise his talent to the fullest. I knew and cherished this time because this was the time, through listening to them, that I Lamin Cham too got my inspiration and carved my niche for Journalism.
On the same token, when we started www.Gamsports.com, I realised the Gambia's past sporting glory needs to be highlighted and after casting my eyes over the horizon, I naturally counted on Tijan Massaneh Cessay, to do just that for us.
Now Based in the United States, Tijan, the brain behind Gam Sports Online sports history, now reflects, in this much sought after interview, (I spent months trying to convince him) on his life as a young broadcast trainee and a teen age sports administrator and even a brief spell as a player. It is all here full of humour, nostalgia and an insight information of an unforgettable chapter in Gambian sports history. Read Part One.............
Gam Sports Online: How did you become a commentator?
Tijan: Very funny indeed but before I answer your question let me thank you and your staff for the work you do to promote Gambian sports, I think this is the major difference between then and today, technology. Back in the days we had none of these, however we managed with what we had, especially Pap Saine, the Dean of Gambian Sports Journalism who used his association with many French sports outlets that he worked for as a platform for promoting Gambian sports and He really did a phenomenal job. You guys keep up the great job.
Now coming to your question and mind you this answer is a funny one. Back in the 70's when the great Sidi Jammeh and Saul Njie will be calling games on Sundays which for me was like a ritual, I would listen and memorise the game. Then the next day I will proceed to No 8 Sam Jack Terrace where the Real De Banjul supporters and officials had their hang out every evening. There I would just spill it out and they loved it. For compensation I would be paid twenty five bututs and that was a lot of money for a ten/eleven year old then. One day, Koto Gibi Jallow, then Proprietor of Banjul Mother care said to me it was time that I meet Saul Njie, my idol and he took me to Saul on March 14th, 1977 and it was on that day that I was introduced to the whole nation as the school boy commentator, Young Tijan Ceesay and if my memory serves me right my first game was Real/Wallidan and to this day, even here in the States, people still call me Young Tijan Ceesay.
Gam Sports Online: History has it that you were the youngest Executive with the FA in the 70's and 80's, can you enlighten us?
Tijan: Well I founded Roots Football Club in 1979 through the leadership of Fr Joseph Gough. The team was a composition of high school players from high schools within the greater Banjul area but mostly St Augustine's High school especially for the younger ones that could not make it with Young Africans because of their size and here let me say that the first captain of Roots Football Club was Alieu Jobe, a Serrekunda native and Gambia High School product. This team made an immediate impact in the third division and many future internationals would have gone through my hands; namely, Boy Badou Nyang, James Freeman, Aziz Corr, Mustapha Minteh, Saul Faye, Sheikh Ndure, Gerry Gomez, Omar Jobe, Ardy Fofana, Eliman Lemon, Kojo Lusack, Ebou Njie, Badou Samba etc. There was Dagudan too from Bakau, pretty much around the same age group and they had a lot of great talent and were our nemesis all through the third and second divisions. They had young Executives too, may be just a few years older and they did a heck of a job to really advance football in Bakau at a time when the guard headed by Ndow Njie, Bashirou Awumee, Lie Jagne, Burama Jaiteh, Corporal Ceesay, Saul Faye, Peter Ndow was changing. These are just great memories man and I sure am getting goose bumps as I answer your questions.
Gam Sports Online: Tell us out the administration of Football at the time.
Tijan: Lamin, if I will without any questions, in my book these were the days of glory for Gambian Football and it was during this time that the game really climaxed to a different level and I guess we have never looked back. That FA may not have been given their due credit for their important role in developing the game but History will be their judge. It was during their time that Football made its way to the urban areas with teams like Sofanyama out of Sukuta, Santangba out of Brikama, Farimang out of Serrekunda, Saraba out of Brikama etc. these teams were very good teams by the way and they've left their marks on Gambian Football, who would forget Baboucarr Sillah's strike against mighty Wallidan from forty yards that eliminated the Blue boys as they are referred to as today. Then FA had teams travelling to the remotest places in The Gambia as was rightly mentioned by Mr Cherno Baba Jallow in his piece on Gam Sports Online. By the way he is a great writer and he wrote a great piece and I am proud to see people joining you to relive the history of Basse football. Fr Gough and I made a lot of trips to Basse with Young Africans and Roots and I will say this Lamin, I don't care how much talent you had, High Level Field was something else and away victories did not just come cheap...... you had to work for it before celebrating at Finches (laugh) that's memory lane..Mr Jallow. People in Basse were the kindest I ever met...We loved it out there.
Guess I am straying away from your question but let me get back to the point, Mr BO Fiofana was President of the FA at the time and Momodou M Dibba was Secretary General and I can say with authority the best Secretary General there was and will ever be hands down. This man was a gifted leader and he brought those skills to the FA and Football just flourished. The Technical committee at the time went out throughout The Gambia in search of talent and promoted regional leagues and torneys etc.The league was primarily based in the greater Banjul area, including Serrekunda, Sukuta, Brikama etc and this was really dictated by resources at hand, given that sports in general had very limited budgetary allocation back in the day so the FA had to work with what they had, but thanks to the likes of Ousainou Njie, OB Conateh, Fr Joe Gough, Omar Amadou Jallow (OJ) and the Port Authority.
Gambian Football really made the headlines in the sub region in 1978 following our impressive Guinea Bissau performance at the Zone Two tournament where lamin Lor Def Bahna Owens was recruited to come to Cosmos of New York for try outs. That really was the bang that put the sub region on notice and sent a message to press houses in West Africa and that never ever will there be a front page story in West African capitals with the headline, "A BAG FULL OF GOALS," as was the case with the Accra Daily Graphic in 1977 following our six one defeat, 'annahilation and dejection' as Saul Njie would have said, at the hands of the Ghana Black Stars.
Then came the William Tolbert Fraternity tournament in Monrovia and really, that tournament was the "SPARK PLUG." Ever since we have not looked back. The FA at the time did a great job. Of course there were differences and lots of fights but they got the job done and I just hope that someday they will have their chance to enter the Gambian Hall of Fame.
Gam Sports Online: What was it like sitting next to Saul Njie in the commentary box?
Tijan: Rewarding! The man is beyond brilliant and is full of knowledge. Saul was always prepared no matter what game. He had specifically assigned me to compile the history of all the first division teams and that would serve as his reference guide during game days. I also had to keep statistics of key players and games. Having sat next to him for all those years, I can say I have never seen someone who is a perfectionist and loved what He was doing like He did. The guy is unbelievable. I remember, we had Pap Saine, the late Deyda Hydara, Silas Jones and Remi Joiner and myself on that original team of commentators and everyone had a role. Pap did wollof, Deyda did French, Remi and Silas did the game analysis and I did the statistics at half time with some ball to ball commentary to give Saul a breather. Let me tell you Lamin, there is no better site, than seeing and hearing; with a Benson cigarette on one hand and the microphone on the other; the following, "Thank you very much indeed Christiana Thomas as we come over to the Box Bar Stadium here in Banjul as the capital is being rocked to its very foundation for this Real Vs Wallidan, gigantic and titanic tussle. Everything is at equilibrium, the yelling and the panting, the Sabarr and yes the Geseh Geseh is in full force and minutes from now we shall be on our way, Pap Saine!" Of course Pap comes in Wollof and we will be on our way. I don't think that there ever will be another broadcaster like Saul Njie to whom I am eternally grateful. You really did not know the might of this man until you travelled outside The Gambia and you literally see people adoring him. A case in point is Sierra Leone in 1984 where he went to School. The man is something special to those fans, add in the unique and peculiar voice, its tears all the way down Syke Street.
Gam Sports Online: You were Goalkeeper and you are remembered for your divings, now why did you not play in the Roots team
Tijan: Laugh. Yes I was a Goalie and played on three great St Augustine's High School teams and in my final year I became the Captain of the team maybe because I was the most senior being that I was in the fifth Form but really I was not a great talent so to speak. Omar Mao Jobe was my counterpart from Muslim High School and was a way better Goalie so it was time to hang it up and become President of Roots Football Club a position I held until I left the shores of The Gambia. In a nutshell, I can say I held my own but one goal conceded in the Secondary Schools Final against Muslim High School still stand fresh in my memory because I still get teased about it. But on the same the author of that goal, it was from say forty yards, Saloum Jobarteh was a heck of a talent. That's it for my goalkeeping and besides I could not have made a great one because people like Louis Thorpe were hating...just kidding!
Gam Sports Online: If you were asked to name the three greatest Footballers when you covered Gambian Football, which three would you have in mind?
Tijan: That's a tough one but I'll try, maybe I'll add one more.. First the greatest that ever played in The Gambia and for me Africa, Alhagie Mada...Biri Biri...Ma la ko wah!. I saw some great heroics from this legend and Icon. Biri was the complete player that could just suit up for any position including goalkeeper. He was also a fighter and could just score at will, there will never ever be a Biri Biri in Africa period. The most versatile was Bai Malleh Wadda, he was smart and made everyone around him look good. Peter Prom was the most intelligent player that ever played in Gambia in my books. The guy was cunning, intelligent and created in the space better than anybody I have seen. Of course Aziz Corr, School Boy International, is by far the most skilful player to ever play in Gambia. He could disgrace and beat you anytime in any fashion. I am sure there were many others, Yusupha Sibi, Nyanga Sallah, Saihou Sarr, Essa Faye, Baboucarr Sowe Laos, Leon Prom, Tony Joiner, Victor Gabbidon, AC Conteh, Lamin Owens, Pa Coker, Joe Sambou, Joe Tennis, Sherrif Jobe, Salimong Nyassi Dalasi, I mean there were many, a tough one but I guess my four will pass given the supporting arguments and I am sure our football experts and tacticians at the time, Tally 8 will agree with me.