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Part Two: Encounter with Tijan Massaneh Ceesay

Sep 28, 2009, 5:18 AM | Article By: Lamin Cham

As expected, after the much anticipated Part One  interview with Tijan Massaneh Ceesay, we  received great and many many reviews and comments(see part two of What the Readers Say, coming soon), confirming our belief that people cherish and love  those great times in Gambian sports. To satisfy their desires and taste, we have committed ourselves to research and bring more of our sports history, cutting across all disciplines, including interviews with leading athletes or players, administrators and even fans with unique and touching memories of the time.

And already our files are full. In this Part Two of the eye witness  account of Journalist Tijan Massaneh Ceesay, he talks to our Managing Editor Lamin Cham about the formation, tactic and fortunes of the Gambia national football teams of the past as compared to today's ones; he also talks about coaches and referees, sports patrons  and more ; Enjoy more, only on www.gamsports.com Gam Sports Online: The million dollar question......You have had an opportunity to see the National teams of this era, the senior Scorpions and the Baby Scorpions as you named them, how would you compare today and back then in terms of talent?
Tijan: Damn you got some tough questions and I hope my answer will not be taken out of context. In answering your question one particular factor that must come to play is resources. There is more money being put into Football today both at Government level and the private sector which was not the case then. Back in the day that was non-existent and realistically it's a morale booster for players and it makes them motivated. So one thing I can say is football is more organized today in Gambia.

Coming to the nitty-gritty of your question, talent wise, you look at this under twenty team I am going to name and let the readers be the judge and maybe open up a debate through your pages.

The Gambian team that played and held the powerful Algerian team to a draw in Banjul in 1982 and a technical draw in Algiers is as follows,
Sang Ndong, Goalkeeper, Dodou Saine and Alagie Sarr (Central Defence) Malick Bittaye (Guarantee) and Abou Johnson (Half Backs) Midfield, Peter Prom, Ebou Dubois and Louis Thorpe, Upfront, Saul Samba, Aziz Corr and Kemo Fatajo. coming off the bench, Joe Sambou, Amidou Savage, Raymond Williams (Kujabi), Babou Touray etc.

The senior national team then had Garba Touray, Edakarr, Lamin Owens, Commy Owens, Laos, Saihou Sarr, Joe Tennis, Bai Malleh, Alagie Mada and Essa Faye. Let the fans make the comparison....I am taking the fifth on this one.
Gam Sports Online: What team would you say was the dominant one during your time?
Tijan: I would not call it dominant rather I would say there were prominent teams that dominated a particular period of Association Football. Foremost I think it is a consensus that Wallidan is the greatest team in Gambian Football. Since their inception in 1969 they have remained stellar and really they are the team of the century.

They have won both the FA Cup and league championships many times during that era alongside with other championships such as the Rothmans championship in 1978, Gambia national Insurance Championship, the Papa Njie Super Cup to name a few. From an organizational stand point they were also up there. Real De Banjul had their turn too, winning the League Championship five years consecutive from 1970 to 75. They played the finest football at the time but Adonis Football Club with the Samba brothers, Yusupha and Hala together with Yahou Sey and E.Drammeh had their way with Real.

With seven players, Adonis could beat Real any day anytime and to date I don't think there is an explanation for that but that's how it was. Also a young Starlight team emerged in the mid 70's and Man they were good Charlie Boy, Tony Joiner, Lie Colley, Boy Corr, Bill Badgie, Belai Prom, Alpha Jallow, Chucha Sambou, Kebba Njie, Massai etc....... they too had their portions of championships.

The Port Authority that was founded in 1975 also made some noise. Then came Young Africans to the scene, they were a joy to watch.

However Hawks catapulted to the top in 1982 and Lamin, these guys could play, they were young and full of talent...so you see there really was some balance. Kwame out of Serrekunda was also a powerhouse, they gave Lamin Owens to the nation, Assan Kujabi, Jim Bittaye, Eduard Manga, Malick Bittaye, Alieu and Yusupha Koroma, Lie Faal, Modou Seray, Jumai Saidy etc........that's what it was...no one team just dominated but all time Wallidan is the greatest team in Gambian Football.
Gam Sports Online:  How were you able to balance your role as a Journalist and Football Executive since you had a team?
Tijan: It really was never an issue; when Young Africans was playing, Saul did not allow me in the commentary box. So all I'd do on game day was get the line-ups and submit it before the game and I was done. I also tried to keep it balanced on the sports page of The Gambia news Bulletin for which I was sports editor.

It was not easy because I also had to do my job as it should be done without taking sides and it was quite a challenging task...but I managed to at least act fairly and balance. Let me just take a moment and thank in a very special way as Saul Njie use to call them "our technical back up', Ousman Njie, Ebrima Sidibeh, Essa Beyai, Andrew Gofna and Tubab Jagne, these were the great Radio Gambia technicians who were part of Saul Njie's team who facilitated our live coverages from Box bar Stadium.

Gam Sports Online: With your knowledge on Gambian football, have you ever contemplated documenting it in book form.

Tijan: I really don't think it's a question of knowledge, I was just lucky to be an eyewitness. Well Fr Gough who has made available to me over 10,000 pictures of the past has been encouraging me to do so and I am sure at an appropriate time we'll take a look at the thought. For now I am comfortable sharing the very rich history of Gambian sports (during my time) through the pages of www.Gamsports.com
Gam Sports Online: The last time we spoke, you mentioned that during your time you had no facilities, can you share with us what it was like?
Tijan: I think what I said was that we did not have the facilities that you have today especially the technology but we managed with what we had as far as PRINT was concerned. If there is any credit, it has to go to Pap Saine, Gambian sports Journalism particularly print really revolved around him.

He was also a fierce competitor and always wanted the best product out. Like I said he used the French outlets he worked for as a platform to promote Gambian sports until the Senegambia Sun was launched and I guess he never looked back. Truth be told, Pap Saine is the Father of Gambian Sports Journalism and being Saul's understudy at the time, I was blessed to learn a lot from Pap.

Gam Sports Online: Now you mentioned that the late Husainou Njie, Ousman Bassi Conateh and Fr Gough were instrumental in the development of Gambian football, can you elaborate?

Tijan: Husainou MM Njie was one of a kind as far as the development of Sports in general. He did a lot for athletes and many other teams. If you will go back to my previous answer where I spoke about limited resources, Husainou and Fisco Conateh really stepped up to the plate. One example I can give you that there were times that these two gentlemen had to fund the camping of the national team, provide uniforms, equipment etc. Even my first official trip with the national team in 1983 was funded by one of them.

They just loved sports period and I call on The Gambia National Olympic Committee to enshrine both men to The Gambian Sports hall of fame if they have not done so already..that's where they belong. Fr Gough was sponsoring three teams in the GFA League and many more in Basketball, Volleyball and track and field. You had Baboucarr Barrow and OJ in Serrekunda and these gentlemen need a pat on the back for really promoting and sponsoring the game outside the capital thus enhancing its expansion.
Gam Sports Online: What was the coaching like back then?
Tijan: Well it was not as great as today given that there was no money to train coaches. If I can recall we only had two foreign trained coaches in Axi Gai and Saihou Sarr and there was only one coaches seminar in 1977 which was conducted by the president of FIFA Jao Havelenge  at St Augustine's High School.

The department of Sports at the time had an impact in training coaches with then Assistant Director Cherno Touray spearheading the initiative. However I still think that Makumba I Kabba Jallow is the best Football brain in The Gambia.

Together with Mass Axi Gai and kebba Njie Master, they brought Gambian Football to the top. Saihou Sarr also had a great impact in developing the game. Following his return from Norway, Saihou literally changed the pace of football in Gambia, to be precise, he modernised
the game. He introduced building the attacks from the back and eliminated what Saul use to refer to as "FESTIVAL OF BOMBERING AND THUNDERING'....BIM BAM. He himself showed everyone how to beat the off side trap and I can say this, the world over I have never seen anyone perfect this part of the game like Saihou Sarr.... He was quite instrumental in the advancement of football.

Gam Sports Online: Referees?

Tijan: Oh yes, we had some great Referees, as a matter of fact they were ranked number one in the sub region. There were many instances when our referees were called upon to officiate National championships by many FA's in the sub region. We had Dodou Njie Barracks who in 1982 was ranked in the top 15 in Africa. Alhagi Gailoub Faye was super, Osseh Obrien Coker, Seydou Sowe, Uncle Badou Jasseh, Mbye Dammeh and Saul Sinyan. Of course the Head referee then was Alhagi Mboob who retired from officiating FIFA games around 1982 but became Chair of the Referees committee and recruited many young ones including the current number one referee in Gambia Modou Sowe in the 1983.

Gam Sports Online: We interviewed Bai Malleh Wadda here and asked him about the Roots/Young Africans rivalry, now it's your turn.

Tijan: Lamin you know we were family and I want to leave it at that because when it mattered most, in the GFA, they beat us. So they have the bragging rights but one thing I can say we had greater talent and may I add without reservation that we made them a better team because we scrimmaged every day and yes we have more wins in those scrimmages than they do. I hope I've not just resurrected the rivalry...editor you are free to contact Fr Gough on this. Yes the idea was a "Farm" team so to speak, but Boy that changed quickly.

Gam Sports Online: I was told you made Alagie Sillah a coach, can you elaborate?
Tijan: I did not make him a coach, I think Alagie is a natural leader and following Fr Gough's departure I think to maintain the stability and continuity of Roots football club we needed a leader and I reached out to him because I was very comfortable with his leadership qualities and his knowledge of the game so in August 1983 after returning from covering the Zone Two tournament in Mauritania, I together with my right hand at the time, BO Njie who was Secretary General of Roots decided  to appoint him as our Head Coach and I could not be prouder today because He went on to become one of Gambia's greatest and best coaches... so I probably would agree that I provided the opportunity for his first head coaching experience but did not make him one..the guy was full of knowledge on the game likewise everybody from Tally 8. Let me also add that we appointed , the late Alhagi Matarr Sillah, Coach Sillah's father as our Chairman because we needed a Sage to lead and Father figure to look to and I cannot be more grateful today to Master Sillah, may he rest in Peace.

With him at the helm, we did not miss a bit and all major decisions went through him including the famous Roots/GFA saga relating to granting Sheikh Ndure a transfer to go to Wallida. I also think it would be safe to say that the people of Banjul North took a cue from Roots Football Club given that Coach Sillah is their man in the law Implementation chamber of the Republic.
Gam Sports Online: Cabral Daily was the first daily football paper in Gambian football history, you were the founder and Managing Editor, what was the experience like?
Tijan: Very demanding indeed.

I had just returned from Freetown in 1984, December where I saw a similar thing. I gathered some people at the printing department whom I had been working with in the layout of The Gambia News Bulletin and we formed a team and we approached Mr OB Conateh who bought into the idea and single handily financed the project. Along with Saptieu Jobe, my Boss at the time, we hit the stands on February 11th, 1985 and produced the paper daily for the duration of the tournament and it sold like hot cake. In ten days we did 25,000 copies. It was quite a hectic ten day period but we demonstrated it could be done, I regret that's one thing missing from my sports collection. However the kudos for this project must go to Alhagi OB Conateh for trusting me in the first place and believing it could be done when no one thought so....but again that's his competitive nature.
Gam Sports Online: I had the opportunity of working with you on Gambian Television in 2003 prior to the Senegal/Gambia game and I watched you move and just united the whole nation behind your coined term, we can do it and it worked. How did you just come from nowhere and connected right away with the people?

Tijan: I am humbled Lamin, but I think we, You, Malick Jones, Pap Saine and a little bit of me did the magic. You guys knew the terrain and were more up to date on Gambian football than I was. I was just adding a little spice to what you guys laid. At the end of the day we held a Senegal team just from their world cup triumph to a nil all draw. The emphasis like you put it was we can do it, and the whole country bought into it, the boys bought into it and it got done proving MBOLLO MOI DOLLEH. It was really a thrilling experience for me because that experience connected me back to the whole country and  may I add that to date, I continue to hear from my fans all around The Gambia.
Gam Sports Online: Any predictions for your Baby Scorpions in Nigeria?

Tijan: I think they've come off age, when you win the nations Cup you are no more baby....laugh......... I don't have first hand information on the current team and their preparations like the last one that won in 2005. I was very attached to that team and knew their talent level. It seems this team is much better given their recent achievement in the CAF U 17 outside The Gambia. I pray and hope they will live up to the expectations of the fan base and put up a great performance in Nigeria and ultimately bring the FIFA trophy to Banjul but they do have their work cut out for them....It's going to be the best on Earth all vying for that piece of hardware...a daunting task given that they are African champions they have been scouted by all opponents; but anything is possible.

We wish them well and as a nation we commit them to the Almighty as they endeavour to make our country proud. Like The Gambia, a Scorpion may be small, but when it stings, it stings! Gam Sports Online: What do you think of the Gambian FA today?

Tijan: I think they do a pretty good job and they have results to show for it...Two continental championships is no easy feat. I don't think they could have faltered for they found the pieces in place when they succeeded the man that put his own properties up as collateral when the FA was in a real bad financial situation and that's Alhagi Gabbi Sosseh. Gabbi needs a much deserved pat on the back because he was responsible for resurrecting Association football.

Today, they have the comforts of some private sector participation which really gives them an edge. However, I must say they need more support now than ever especially when the league is sanctioned by the world governing body to go professional. They do have their plate full, but again I believe their leadership is solid.
Gam Sports Online: Most memorable goal!
Tijan: Alhagi Njie Biri Biri, Gambia Vs Bissau in 1980 against the tournaments best goalie, Brassia, from forty five yards with his back to the net, picked up a Star Jallow through pass, lifted the ball up with his right foot and turned with it, a bomb, it was nothing but NET!
Gam Sports Online: Most memorable game!
Tijan: Banjul South Vs Banjul Central played at Latrikunda Secondary School in the Serrekunda Youth Week 1982. I will remember that game, because for one, Saul Njie and I were calling that game from the top of a pick-up truck and that was the first time I met a young Lamin Cham then aspiring Sports Journalist and today in a class of his own. Secondly that game had all the requisite attributes of a classic that will be discussed for a long time. They were the two best teams in that tournament and it was a great show of talents. One I will never ever forget!
Gam Sports Online: Most underrated player during your time?
Tijan: Boy Corr was the most underrated player and to this day, I can't figure out how He could be left off the national team as a starter if He was averaging fifteen goals a season in the first division. This man was unstoppable, he had the natural wits of a center forward, quickness, power, speed, ball control and intelligence and I wondered why he was not partnered with Biri upfront at the time when Gambia played the best football in the region but GOAL ANAEMIC so to speak. In the 80's Boy Corr was the best "9" in  The Gambia. A lot of people at the time were making a case for him and i bet they would today.
Gam Sports Online: Greatest rivalry at the time?
Tijan: I guess even Ray Charles could answer this one..................... Real/Wallidan hands down. The trash talking begins on Monday and ends Sunday at the final whistle. Wallidan then had great ones like Sega Jobe, Alagie Jallow, (Tourist Boy), Koto Babou Sowe, Kasa Gillen, Chox Faal, Njock, Alagie Nyan, Biri, Manga Ngum, Pascal, Sandu,Dalasi, etc, while Real had ofcourse my brother kebba Masanneh Ceesay, the greatest goalie of all time, Tapha Conteh, Ebou Joof, Jerry Sock, Sam Forster, Saihou Sarr, Muntaga Gillen, Yusupha Sibi, Nyanga Sallah, kebba Diaz, Badou Foon, Musa Njie,Joof Butut Faye, (Beckenbuer) and who would ever forget Albert Coker, Garnett aka Last minute goal. You see those days we had a fence around the pitch and supporters like Sef Carew, Nyang, Alieu Sallah and Pa Ngoose would be walking it for Wallidan while Real had Pa Ebou Conteh, MO Njie, Gassa and man all hell use to break loose...it was so much fun and one song I still remember is SADA YADI MBAM, LEGEY BE DEH REAL NEKO TAELA... this was sang throughout the stadium when Real was winning accompanied by a loud flute that sounded like PO POPO PO PO PO and everyone will simultaneously say REAL! It was so much fun.  I cannot attest to who had more victories but I know both teams still claim to have had more victories than the other. Indeed great and memorable times especially when some of the names mentioned here have gone home to their Master...it makes it more sobering.
Gam Sports Online: Most memorable assignment!
Tijan: That would be Mali in 1984 when I was on assignment to cover the Zone 11 female basketball tournament...and for the record the trophy for that championship was donated by Gambian President, Alhagi Sir Dawda kairaba Jawara. A few days before Christmas the whole Gambian delegation had missed its outbound flight from Bamako to Dakar and then Coach Essa Gaye assigned me to
approach the Senegalese delegation so that we can catch a flight with them since they had a military plane on the way to pick them up.
I had many friends in the Senegalese team and delegation given St Augustine's relationship with College St Michel which really made it an easy task; but here is what makes it the most memorable, I secured twelve spots and the Gambian female team numbered twelve, they made it out and the officials and I remained stranded in Mali for four more days. We finally made it out to Dakar and caught a ride at 6.00 am and was at Barra at 11.00 am. Made it unto the Ferry and amidst foggy weather, the Ferry got lost and we were stranded on the choppy waters of the Atlantic for some time...What transpired on the ferry............ I will leave at that but ......That's memorable!
Gam Sports Online: As we end Part 2 of this Exclusive interview, can you do the readership a favour and take us down memory lane as Saul Njie called the goal you described. In the previous question?
Tijan: "From forty Five yards, The Gambia's soccer Ambassador Alagie Njie Biri has just has scored The Gambia's first goal with a hammer sledger, What a Goal, Incredible, unbelievable. I have seen him do it before and here we go again, but this time in front of the number one citizen, Alhagi Sir Dawada Kairaba Jawara. Yes indeed, goalkeeper Brassia stood transfixed like a statue as he watched that ball traverse the goal mouth into the net. One to The Gambia, nil to Bissau. Alagie Njie Biri, The Gambia's favorite son and Soccer Ambassador has brought this stadium down, spectators are on their feet panting and yelling, jubilating triumphantly as they celebrate this master tactician and pride of all Gambians."

Editors Note: In Part three we discussed other Sports and secondary schools sports at the time. We promise more Saul Njie one liners only from the person who sat next to him all those years...

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