He did it in The Gambia and did it abroad. His extraordinary performance in the kingdom of football has made him a household name in The Gambia.
Alhagie Momodou Njie, better known as Biri Biri, set off in his football career at the prime age of 16, after secondary school, when he started playing in the Gambia Football Association divisional league for such teams as White Phantoms, Augustinians and Wallidan.
He quickly saw the need to explore his new found career outside The Gambia and went to Sierra Leone, where he played for one of the remarkable and outstanding teams in that country – Mighty Black Pool, an archrival of East End Lions, synonymous to Real Madrid and Barcelona of today in Spain.
A star in football, Biri Biri also saw the need to make a move to higher heights and eventually made it to Denmark where he played for a team called B1901 and Herfolge before moving to Spain to play for Seville and led that European super club to its only FA Cup appearance in the 70s.
He later went to England and played for Derby County, but racism, then, could not allow the fine player to display much of his talent in the UK. He however had to come back home to continue his beautiful career with Wallidan but made another move to England where he continued to ply his professional football for years.
Biri Biri has since retired from putting a boot on the pitch, and went on training young Gambians in the beautiful sport.
Today he is an administrator attached to the capital city’s municipal council thanks to the recognition of his country’s dynamic leader, President Yahya Jammeh.
Njie Baldeh of Elegance Magazine made it a duty to speak with Biri Biri, to tell the world about this pacesetter in Gambian football. We reproduce excerpts of the interview.
Elegance Magazine: Biri Biri seems to be a household name in The Gambia, especially in the sports arena. Could you please give us a brief history of your life in sport both in The Gambia and abroad?
Biri Biri: Well, people know me as a football player but at the same time, I was an athlete too representing The Gambia in long jump; however people know me very well as a footballer.
I started my football career at Perseverance Street in Banjul. I started playing football since I was a young boy, then later I played for my school, St Mary Primary School. I later went to Craft Island Secondary School where I ended up playing in the GFA divisional football.
I started my football career with Black Star in The Gambia, and was later promoted to play for Black Diamonds. I was also selected to play for the national team where I was the youngest player representing The Gambia at the age of 16.
From there I was moved to White Phantoms and Aran in Banjul where I was given a job. I played for one year, then moved to Augustinians; from there I went to Wallidan, where I played for my professional career.
I also went to Freetown, Sierra Leone, where I was playing for Black Pool – that was my first professional team. I then came back to The Gambia.
In 1970 I went to England for a trial with Derby County, which was arranged by the late Matarr Sarr. When I came back from England in 1971, I continued to play for Wallidan.
In 1972, I played against a team from Denmark and I was offered for a professional team to go and play for B1901 in Denmark. When I left Denmark, I went to Spain but first of all I was on trial in Derby County, England. At that time I don’t think there was a coloured player in England; I was probably the first black playing professional football there. But unfortunately for me, racism in that country was a little bit high; so I had to come back.
EM: What are the most remarkable international matches you played in your active days in football?
BB: Anyway I can remember playing many remarkable matches, especially in Dakar, Senegal. I played wonderful football in that country and managed to score three goals at a particular match in Dakar, where they started calling me Biri Biri Bailae Gambia. For my professional career, I did extremely well during my career in football; that’s why I was the only foreign player that had a fans’ club in the whole of Spain with many world players with whom I was lucky to be in the same league. So I was lucky to be the most famous player because we had a lot of good players too.
EM: What are you presently doing after retiring from football?
BB: After retiring from football, I served as a coach training Wallidan Football Club. I was with Wallidan until His Excellency the President of the Republic of The Gambia [Alhaji Dr Yahya Jammeh] came into power in 1994; he appointed me as the Deputy Mayor of Banjul serving at the Banjul City Council. Presently I am working with the council as the marketing manager of the Royal Albert Market in Banjul.
EM: What is your perception of Gambian football?
BB: As I rightly said, for the President is the one who motivated the spirit of sport in the country, especially football. Because of him football is moving on well in this country. He is encouraging every Gambian youth in this country, he makes sure that youths involve one way or the other in sport. There was a time every Gambian during our childhood we used to play in the streets of Banjul. At that time there was only three mini-stadiums in Banjul. By then there was not enough cars; so we used to play for hours without cars passing. So we are really proud of President Jammeh, that he has taken sport to higher heights in this country.
Gambian football is growing; we have been setting good records in recent years by winning international trophies and competitions such the African U-17 Cup and did extremely well in the U-17 World Cup. We however have to do more to reach the highest height, a level our President wants us to achieve in football.
Elegance Flashback Interview Gambia 2015