Real de Banjul @ 50: The Perspective of an ex-Player, Coach

Real de Banjul @ 50: The Perspective of an ex-Player, Coach

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From the beginning I was there. I started following Real de Banjul at the age of nine. I was the official water boy for the club. I was training with the team everyday at ABC Tower behind the Christian cemetery. I will run with the team to mile four and back.

As I grew stronger I started to join in small sided games. Mam Sait Njie (Hank) the team manager encouraged me at the time to keep working hard. Kebba Diaz who was a reserve at the time encouraged me more and would hold my hand when I slacked behind to keep going during the footing. Real trained very hard at the time.

After training I will take some of the players to my house for some gas food (leftover lunch). Mammy Ndure (Njie) next door would also pass some leftover lunch and I would serve the players cold water from the two drums of water I kept in our fridge for the team. Real had a Serigne (Jujuman) living at Mammy’s compound, his name was Pa Tangana.

The team was based at 81 Lancaster Street. Mr. MB Faye (father to Serigne Faye first captain of the team) was the first father of the team and we camped and got dress for matches at his house. I camped with the team every time before a big match. I recalled walking around Banjul with Hank to collect the players to get them to camp nights before the matches. It was a big challenge for us to collect them. The players were getting popular with the girls and they wanted to spend time with their girlfriends on Saturday nights or go clubbing. I am of the opinion that without Hank the team would not have survived and attain all the glory it got. He was so hard working and dedicated and growing up we all learnt from him. Dedication and hard work has epitomised Real from day one.

The most dedicated and hard working among the players was Serigne Saihou Sarr. He won all the balls in the midfield. I recalled one time he swept E Drammeh of his feet, a clean tackle. E got up and kicked Saihou in the rips and walked off before been given a red card. Dalasi did similar to Saihou. He was tackled by Saihou fairly, Saihou was on the ground. Dalasi was stamping Saihou like a soldier practicing his matching moves for independence celebrations. Saihou never retaliated or fought anyone. He just continued to tackle and win balls in the midfield without a word. We called him Gaindeh Park. He was well disciplined and to me has had the most influence in Gambian football.

Let me try and recall the team in those early days:-Saihou Njie, Teesus Faye, Ebou Joof, Tapha Conteh, Ablie Njie, Pindo, Muntaga Gillen, Saihou Sarr, Musa Njie, Yusupha Sibi, Nyanga Sallah, Badou Foon, Salieu Foon, Serign Faye, Kebba Diaz, Baba Mbowe, Sam Forster, Gassa, Garnnet Coker, Butut Faye, Alagi Cham, Jim Bittaye, Bala Jahumpa and Peggy Joof joined the team a bit later. Percy Coker was a trainer. I might have left one or two players out.

Everyone from Sam Jack Terrace, Lancaster, Gloucester, Perseverance and Primet all the way to Gambia High School supported Real de Banjul and the ‘meres’ would pray for us as we walked the streets leading to the stadium. All the children from the neighbourhood would come out supporting us as we pass by. All of us as children wanted to be affiliated with Real. Boy Conteh and Cherno Senghore were the team mascots. Off course Augustinians Football Club was at Pa Prom’s house just 100 meters from 81 Lancaster and they were the powerhouse team before Real emerged.

I was there when Captain Yusupha Sibi scored the winning goal in extra time. This was the signal that the City Boys have arrived. The changing of the guard in Gambian football has occurred. Pa Prom had to order three Senegalese internationals from Senegal to strengthen his team for this match. I remember the Senegalese going around the box bar pitch tossing salt and rice. One of them tossed an egg while warming up. The night before, the whole team went to Pirang village and we were all given a shower from some very cold potion including myself. Yes I was there. On the day of the match Hank (team manager) had asked me to get a whole bag of lemons with some sugar sprinkled on them for the players in the event we went into extra time and also to get an extra drum of water. Both became useful. The match went into extra time. We were well prepared to take over the mantle of Gambian football and we did. We beat Augustinians with imported international players from Senegal.

The day before the final we had a set play training session with Cherno Touray at the second division pitch in Box Bar Stadium. The winning goal was from a corner from the police lines end. Cherno would come to Lancaster and talk to the players on strategy and tactic few hours before matches. He helped the team in the background.

I was there when Nyanga Sallah avoided a tackle from Moses Trinn, jumped and landed on his leg and broke his leg. Moses was captain of the national team at the time. It occurred at the left flank end toward police lines. Nyanga was so scared he had to be substituted. I went to my house and got my dad who came and escorted him home. Nyanga once volleyed a ball on to the chest of Jarpa mu Deeh and he was out for few minutes. Alagi Mboob the referee administered some help to the keeper that day. The match was against freezing.

I was in hospital when Real played Wallidan in the Gold Cup (Saho Trophy) in 1971. Wallidan had become the second best team after Real. They had Biri the best player to have ever played football in The Gambia. I was listening to the match on the radio and when the commentator said goal by Nyanga Sallah in the 84th minute, I jumped out of my hospital bed to celebrate and passed out. After the match the whole team came to visit me in hospital. When I asked why they did not bring the trophy with them? They told me the goal was disallowed for offside. That match was never replayed and was the end of that competition in the GFA calendar. Wallidan has become a competitor to Real. They were formed from players that left Augustinians and Arrance, the two top teams in The Gambia before Real arrived.

I was there when B1901, a professional team came to play in The Gambia. They won all the games they played except against Real. The game ended four all. They had recruited Biri for the game against Real and Biri scored a hat-trick in the game. They signed Biri after that game. That was the start of Biri’s professional football career.

I was there, at a meeting at 81 Lancaster when Ousainou Njie, Babou Ceesay and Omar Sey left the club taking with them all our jerseys. The players and a few other teams wanted to break away from the association. MC Cham was president of the GFA. At the time Babou Ceesay was president of the team. When they could not convince the players not to boycott the GFA, Babou resigned. (Ousainou Njie formed Hawks FC after he left Real to try and replicate the Real de Banjul story). He recruited some of the best young players at the time.  He invited me to join Hawks, I turned him down. I wanted to play for Real de Banjul only at the time. Real had some very stubborn and hard headed characters at the time and very independent minded.

The next match Real played we did not have jerseys. We wore white singlets bought from Albert Market. The match was against Augustinians, they beat us three nil under heavy showers. After that Musa Faal Bata took over as major sponsor for the team and we started camping at his house at number 4 Perseverance.

I was there when Biri head-butted Ebou Joof and was sent off. Ebou was one of the quietest heroes on the team. Slow but very efficient and Biri took his frustration out on him. Ebou was a very good defender and would take on strikers while Tapha Conteh was fast and did the covering. They were a formidable central pair. We had problems in defence on the outside especially left half back position and tried many options there at the time. Gillen stabilised the position followed by Jeremiah Sock and later Commy Owens.

Then Kebba Ceesay joined the club. He took over the goalkeeping from Saihou Njie who was having eyesight issues. We started camping at Kebba’s house at 62 Perseverance. (Fatta Betts owned the house; Biri bought it after). Kebba was keeper for Arrance and Adonis before joining Real. Adonis became the bogie team for Real. I was there when Real was leading Adonis two nil within the first 20 minutes of the game. The match was halted for five minutes to allow Mr. Robinson to enter the pitch to take his son Lakku off the pitch. Adonis came from two nil down to win the game four goals to two. When the fourth goal was scored by Yaahu (Master Hook), Kebba told the manager (Baba Mbowe) -Hank had left for Norway- he was coming out and Baba refused. The match was halted again for minutes while the dilemma ensued with Kebba crying after the game. That was the dammagainadoorhgaineh story.

After that Kebba Ceesay left the team taking half the starting team with him to set up the Gambia Ports Authority FC. Real was the best team in the Gambia with nine players starting for the national team. Nine players left the team that year bringing the team to its knees. This was the biggest exodus of players from any team in Gambian football; bigger than when five or six players left Augustinians to form Wallidan. Real survived the exodus.

I recalled Willy, the present president of the Real de Banjul coming to matches with his uncle Charbel Elhajj as young as three years. Charbel was a big supporter and would stake with anyone that Real would win. One instant Willy wanted to use the toilet, his uncle told me to take him to the B Bell’s at New Primet. When I returned with him the left side of the pavilion was very quiet and I knew Wallidan had scored us. The left upper side of the pavilion was the Real section. All teams had their supporters’ area around the stadium. We ended up winning the game two goals to one. After the game Chef Carrous (die heart Wallidan supporter) said their marabout had told them not to score first against Real. What a travesty I thought.  I recalled series of matches when real came from a goal down to beat Wallidan. I guess the marabout was right lol.

I did not and still do not believe Njeery our jujus had any effect on the game except in a psychological way. I never used or applied any form of juju throughout my footballing career and refused to shower with the potions. One particular time I recalled an FA Cup final against Wallidan        and Biri came to the game with jujus braided in his hair with a red head band filled with jujus in it, jujus around his legs and waist. Jujus and njeery was a big part of the game then. For that match I was tasked with heating two tins on the charcoal fire pot, which I did with venom. One pot was for the team Wallidan and another pot specifically for biri. It did not work. 15 minutes into the game, Biri went passed Sam Forster by the left flank and beat Kebba Ceesay on his first post. I said to myself what a waste. I spent most of the afternoon overheating Biri and there he goes scoring a goal I felt I could have saved. We ended up winning the match two goals to one. There were many instances that I had seen teams lose and blamed some serigne or jujuman. I recall when we lost to Adonis four to two, Bobbo Senghor was blamed for it that he pissed in the juju or his sheep ate the juju. It is all psychological and those that believe in it can continue with it. I reserve my refusal to join in or listen to convincing evidence. I believe that you become a good team by working hard and having talented players. Not through njeery. I discouraged it when I coached the team, we won everything.

Oko Drammeh kept his vuuvuzella at our house. Yes Real used vuuvuzella before the South Africans. His brother Pindoo played for Real. Oko would be making nice sounds and the supporters would be taunting the opponents to encourage the players. Alhaji Sheikh Tijan Nyang was the rattle man. Real had a strong supporter base and the stadium was full every time they played.

Real de Banjul ventured into having a basketball team (male and female).  Everyone wanted to be associated with Real de Banjul. The teams dominated in basketball too. The Real basketball team had Dupeh Joiner as captain, Felix Gomez, Charbel Elhaj, Ousman Sabally, Sonny Joiner to name a few. I joined the team later on with Remi Joiner and Jim Wadda to name a few. We dominated in basketball too. The female team had Caroline and Nana Aikens (sisters), Mam Kumba Njie (Enthing), Eli Eunson, Ramou Sarge, Fat Ceesay and Bassin Ceesay to name a few. The Real de Banjul teams were the best in basketball in the Gambia; they had serious rivals in Foyer though.

The team briefly moved to dressing up at New Perseverance at Pa Ebou Conteh’s house before returning to 81 Lancaster. Pa Ebou kicked us out of his house when we had a meeting there and Baba Mbowe cautioned him. He continued to support the team with his friend Pa Jarra to the end of their lives. He would be ready to fight anyone that tried to bully the boys.

Actually that brought the start of the second era of Real players like Jim Wadda, Jim Mahoney, Jim Bittaye, Alaji Cham, (from Kwame in Serekunda) Ebou Limba Faye, Patrick Njie, Jerimiah Sock, Gabba Touray and others came into the team. I became the reserve goal keeper of the team at age 15. Less than a year after I had the chance to play my first international for the team in Bamako against Njoliba. We lost two goals to one in Bamako and drew one all in Banjul. That was Real’s first international competition.

Ten years after the team was formed, it almost went under. In 1976 we survived being relegated by beating Ports and White Phantoms in our last two games. I scored my first goal for the team in the game against Ports. I had moved from goalkeeper to an attacker. I scored my first goal for the team and a brace in that game. Kebba Ceesay was the keeper for Ports in that game. We won four goals to two. I felt redemption. After Kebba left with our best players, Ports beat Real four nil in their first match against the team. By then brother Jim was the keeper then. We though the team would not survive, but it did. Bambo and Ousman Ndure joined the club to try and keep it surviving, it was a difficult period for the club.

Real survived relegation in the 76/77 season. The team continued but I think got relegated the following year after I left. That was my last season playing for Real de Banjul, 76/77 season. I left for my studies to the US. Subsequently, in 1982 when I returned from my studies I played for Young Africans FC.

Ironically, my first cup final playing for Young Africans was versus Real and my team mates had doubts about my loyalty. They knew my affiliation with Real and my elder brother was the goal keeper for Real at the time. It was ironic that in that game I deliberately left an indirect free kick from Saihou Sarr entered the goal and placed it as a goal kick. The Real players celebrated and my teammates were stunned. The referee first signalled a goal and when I cautioned him, he reversed his decision. Real lost the match in penalties. I scored and saved two penalties for young Africans to win.

A lot of real supporter asked why I did not return to real. First I was a founding member of Young Africans and we won the Nawettan competition in Banjul as school boys. The team then registered for the second division and my friends on the team urged me to play with them. I told them I was the national team goalie at the time and cannot be playing fullback in the second division, which was the position I played on Young Africans Nawettan side. I promised them that I will join them when they make it into first division. When I returned they were in the first division, I kept my promise.  Secondly, Father Gough was the patron for Young Africans, he had hired me to teach at Saints. Naturally he asked me to play for the Young Africans and I agreed.

When Real played, all the girls would wear whites and come to the games. The team took over the sporting life of Gambians. The supporter base was overflowing. The team colour was white and when they played the whole town seemed to turn white.

Twenty years after I last played for Real de Banjul, I had the opportunity to coach the team from 1996 to 98. Both years we won the league. In 96/97 we did the double. For me it was paying my dues to the club I love all my life. It atoned the way I felt after denying them glory by beating them in a final. I had done my part and honour to the team. I had hoped that those die hard Real supporters that felt betrayed by my playing for another club and told me so, like Gassa and others would forgive me for whatever anger they held. Real was on top again under my tutelage. I was proud. I have contributed to get the club back on top of Gambian football. I was assisted by Peter Prom, Real players Pa mu Ndow, Saul Njie and Wandeh Njie. Baba Khan and Bamboo Fatty were team manager and trainer respectively.

I mentioned some names here and there. There are thousands that have contributed towards the success of this team. Mbye Njie supported and sponsored the team. It seemed that everyone that loved football embraced the impact the team has had in Gambian sports. A bunch of school boys started what has become the greatest football team in Gambian football. Their supporters were so dedicated some will not eat dinner when Real lost. The Ebou Gayes, Ebou Jagnes, Unda Ceesay, Sillah Bye, Sallah and later on, Njango, Nyokjeng, Franky Taal and thousands more. Real has always had very dedicated supporters and they did entertain their supporters.

It is also fitting to pay respect and honour to the present management and team. I have worked with them and they too have shown dedication and hard work in furthering the club. I have supported and continue to support Real de Banjul for the fifty years of its existence. I pray that the team continue to prosper and maintain a high standard of existence.

Happy fiftieth birthday to Real de Banjul. May your legacy and success continue. I look forward to celebrating many more successes with the team, the City Boys. I am proud to be called a Real de Banjul supporter. My first love.