Kambiya / The Gambia
- Capital: Banjul
- Population: 2,173,999 (2020 Estimate)
- Official Language: English
- National Languages: 23 in total some of which include – Mandinka, Pulaar, Wolof, Serer, Jola and French
- Men’s Team Nicknames: The Scorpions
- Women’s Team Nicknames: The Scorpions
- Association: Gambia Football Federation (GFF)
- Top Male Domestic League: GFF League First Division
- Top Female Domestic League: GFF National Women League Division One
- FIFA Code: GAM
- Best World Cup Result (Men): Not Qualified
- Best World Cup Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Best AFCON Result (Men): Qualified (2021)
- Best AFCON Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Best WAFU Nations Cup Result (Men): Semi-Finals – Plate Competition (2019)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 65th (June 2009)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 104th (December 2020)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 179th March 2017
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 114th – April 2021
- Most Capped Player: Pa Modou Jagne – 37 caps [as of October 2021]
- Top Scorer: Assan Ceesay – 8 goals [as of October 2021]
Introduction & Brief History
The Gambia, officially The Republic of the Gambia is a small, thin country in West Africa. The Gambia is the smallest country in mainland Africa and is completely surrounded by Senegal except from it’s western coast on the Atlantic Ocean. The country is divided into two halves, a North Bank and South Bank Division, by the River Gambia which runs for 1,120 kilometres from the Fouta Djallon plateau in northern Guinea, westwards through Senegal and The Gambia, to the Atlantic Ocean at the capital city of the Gambia – Banjul. The name “Gambia” comes from either the Mandinka term Kambra/Kambaa, meaning Gambia River, or possibly from the sacred Serer, Gamba which is a unique type of calabash (a vine grown for it’s fruit) beaten when a elder from the Serer tribe dies.
The early history of The Gambia can be traced back to when Arab traders provided the first written accounts of the area during the ninth and tenth centuries. Like several other West African nations, The Gambia shares historical roots in the awful and inhumane slave trade, which was a major factor in the placing of a colony on the Gambia River, initially by the Portuguese. In 1765, The Gambia was made a part of the British Empire with the Gambia Colony and Protectorate being established in 1821. In 1965 The Gambia gained independence from British rule through the leadership of Dawda Jawara. Jawra was Prime Minister of The Gambia from 1962 to 1970 and then became the county’s first ever President, leading from 1970 to 1994.
The Gambia’s economy is completely dominated by farming, fishing, and, more so, by tourism. Speaking from my own personal experience, I was lucky enough to visit The Gambia twice in my early 20’s whilst helping out with some charity work in the country. During my two visits, I was fortunate to see quite a lot of the country and spent time in places such as Serekunda, Farafenni, Banjul, and most memorably a town called Medina Manneh, which is situated in the North Bank Division some 14 miles northeast of the capital city of Banjul. Several months before I travelled to The Gambia for the first time, I had arranged to send a full football kit to be used by a local football team in the town. When they received this, and they heard I was planning on visiting with the charity that I was working with at the time, they amazingly invited me to play in a football match. What a truly amazing experience that was and it still provides me with great memories. Talking of football in The Gambia, one of the other things that I can easily remember from my time in the country was that nearly everybody I met wanted to talk about ‘The World Game‘. There was, and there still is, a huge passion for football in the country.
The game of football has been played in The Gambia since the 1920’s beginning with people playing on the streets of Bathurst, now modern day Banjul. In 1940 a league was formed and it was named The Bathurst League, consisting of teams from the local area. Those teams were Augustinians, East End Lions, Dingareh Hotspur, School XI, Young Lions, Gambia United, RAF, Navy, MSU Heroes, and Black Diamonds. The Gambia Football Federation, formerly The Gambia Football Association was founded in 1952 and became affiliated to CAF (The Confederation of African Football) in 1966 and with FIFA just two years later.
Before The Gambia gained independence, a national team under the name British Gambia played their first ever game on 9th February 1953. The game was against near neighbours Sierra Leone and resulted in a 2-1 victory for British Gambia. The first recorded evidence of a Gambia national team competing in a tournament comes from April 1963 and was called the L’Amitié tournament, held in Senegal. This competition was one that saw mainly French speaking nations taking part. British Gambia, as they were still known as pre-1965, were drawn in a group alongside the French national amateur team, Upper Volta (now known as Burkina Faso), and Gabon. They lost their first group game 5-1 against the French national amateur team, and despite then going onto draw against both Upper Volta and Gabon, were eliminated from the competition.
Following the L’Amitié tournament, The Gambia did not play another game until after they became an independent nation. The game in question took place on 16th November 1968 and resulted in a 2-1 away defeat against Sierra Leone. In May 1972, The Gambia played an away game against Guinea which was a qualifying game for the 1973 African Games. The game ended in a heavy 8-0 defeat for The Gambia, a result that remains to this day as their record defeat. The Scorpions then entered qualifying for the 1976 Summer Olympics. Ironically, they were to again come up against Guinea, with the games taking place in June 1975, and just like the last time, it also ended in a heavy defeat – 7-0 on aggregate. Not long after their Olympics qualifying defeat to Guinea, The Gambia embarked on their first ever qualifying campaign for the Africa Cup of Nations with the aim being to reach the finals to be held in 1976 in Ethiopia. In a two-legged first round qualifier they came up against Morocco and sadly were soundly beaten by 6 goals to 0 on aggregate. Early into the next year there was history made for football in The Gambia when the national team played against a full European nation for the first time. The game in Banjul on 30th January 1977 ended in a 4-1 defeat for The Scorpions at the hands of Denmark.
Thankfully, happier times were ahead for the national team and in 2002 they recorded what is still their biggest international win to date. The game was against Lesotho and ended in a 6-0 win for The Gambia. Fast forward nearly 20 years and there was even more history made as The Gambia qualified for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, which is scheduled to be played in Cameroon from 9th January to 6th February 2022. This is the first time in the history of the national team that they have qualified for the continental tournament.
The Gambia National Team
Q. Who is The Gambia’s best player of all-time?
During my first visit to The Gambia in 2003, the player that most people talked about as being the best player from The Gambia was Ebrima Ebou Silah. The Bakau-born player started his career with Real de Banjul in his homeland before notably going onto sign for one of the giants of Belgian football, Club Brugge. Silah enjoyed a six year stay with the club from 1997 to 2003 and helped the club to win several Belgian First Division titles during his tenure with them. His next move was when he signed for FC Rubin Kazan in Russia, with whom he enjoyed a three year stay with from 2003 to 2006. The winger, who was also used as a striker, played nearly 50 league games in the Russian top flight and helped his club to enjoy some decent campaigns. Silah then spent some short spells with clubs in The Netherlands, Israel, and Belgium before ending his career in 2014. Silah also played 23 times and scored 3 times for The Gambia, making his debut in 1996 with his final international appearance for his country coming in 2008.
Although Ebrima Ebou Silah absolutely qualifies as one of the best Gambian players of all time, in my opinion the award for THE BEST must go to Alhaji Momodo Njie who was better known as “Biri Biri“. The Banjul-born right wing player started his career by playing amateur football in The Gambia for several clubs. His performances in The Gambia started to draw the attention of clubs from further afield and in 1970 he was invited by the English club, Derby County for a trial. At that time Derby County were than managed by the legendary Bryan Clough. Unfortunately for Biri, his trial did not prove to be successful and he returned back to The Gambia and signed for Walidan Banjul. Following a two year spell with Walidan, Biri was then signed by the Danish club Nykøbing FC and not only became the first Gambian player to play overseas, but was also the first player from the continent of Africa to play professionally in Denmark!
Biri impressed during his one season with the club and was then signed by the Spanish club Sevilla in 1973. Biri stayed at Sevilla until 1978 with those five years being the best of his career. He himself is quoted as saying in a 2005 interview with the BBC, “The best moment in my career was when I helped Sevilla to gain promotion to the Spanish First Division in my second year with the club“. Biri was a very popular player with the supporters of Sevilla, so much so, that a section of the club’s supporters named themselves after him! Biri is still regarded as one of the best players from Africa to grace the game in Europe. After his spell with Sevilla, he returned to Denmark and signed for Herfølge Boldklub, before ending his career back in his homeland with Walidan Banjul. As well as enjoying a fantastic club career, Biri also represented The Gambia on many occasions at international level.
To really explain what a great player Biri was, I think you need to look no further than the comments made by one of his former teammates, Alhaji Babou Sowe, who was once quoted as saying, “I class Biri Biri even above Maradona because he was a great goal scorer, dribbler and could play with both feet, Biri Biri is the best player Africa has ever produced!“
[EDITOR ADDITION: The Championship Manager legend, the forward Cherno Samba also played for Gambia between 2008 and 2010, making four appearances and scoring one goal. Although his real life persona could not claim to be the best player The Gambia has produced, his game equivalent was one of the game’s best ever strikers, with his reputation and standing amongst CM players being legendary!!]
Q. Who is currently the best player in the national side?
In my opinion, there are several players who could be labelled as the best player currently in the Gambian team. The first player I would consider would be the 31-year-old left-back, Pa Modou Jagne. He is the current captain of the national team and plays his club football for fifth-tier Swiss side FC Dietikon. He first moved to Switzerland in 2008, first joining FC Wil, before making a move to St. Gallen in 2009, and then FC Sion in 2013, making over 100 appearances for both Swiss clubs. Following his form at Sion, he moved to FC Zürich, one of the top clubs in Switzerland, in 2017, making 70 appearances for FCZ, before moving to his current club in 2021 after his Zürich contract was not renewed in July 2020.
A second player worth considering for this accolade would be forward Yusupha Njie, who is currently playing for the Portuguese club Boavista, and is the son of the great Biri Biri. At the time of writing, Njie has only played twice for Gambia, but the player has been instrumental in the success of two of his former clubs. Firstly, with Real de Banjul in The Gambia, where his goals led the club to the 2012 GFA League First Division title. That title win meant Real de Banjul would play in the following season’s CAF Champions League where in the preliminary round they met FUS Rabat from Morocco. Njie produced a dazzling display in the second leg which was enough to persuade, the then coach of Rabat and former Moroccan international, Jamal Sellami to sign the player. Njie enjoyed a wonderful few seasons with Rabat before Sellami was announced as the manager of Boavista where Njie then followed him too. At the age of 27, Yusupha Njie is probably in the prime of his career, and with Gambia qualifying for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, the stage could be set for him to show the world what he can produce on the field.
Other notable mentions for the best player in the current Gambian team must also go to Omar Colley [28-year-old centre-back currently with Italian club Sampdoria], Bubacarr Saneh [26-year-old centre-back currently with Belgian side Anderlecht, but currently on loan at Danish side AGF], Modou Barrow [29-year-old winger/forward currently at South Korean K League side Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors], and to Musa Barrow [22-year-old forward currently at Italian side Bologna], but my choice for the best player goes too Ebrima Darboe.
The Serekunda-born, 20-year-old midfielder currently plays for AS Roma in Italy. His journey to playing in Italy is an extraordinary one! He left The Gambia at the tender age of 14 and travelled to Libya, before sailing to Sicily, where he arrived as a refugee after a six-month journey at sea! Once in Italy, Darboe was taken into charge by the Italian ministry of the interior as an unaccompanied underage refugee and ended up in Rieti, where he started playing for the local club, Young Rieti. Whilst playing for Young Rieti, he was spotted by AS Roma and he duly signed for the club. He has seen his chances to play for Roma dwindle of late since the arrival of Jose Mourinho as manager of the club. However, that does not get away from the fact that when he first joined Roma in 2017, he was hailed as one of the hottest prospects in Italy! Darboe made his debut for the club on 2nd May 2021, coming on as a second half substitute in a Serie A game against Sampdoria. Only four days later, he also played in the second leg of the UEFA Europa League semi-final against Manchester United. To date, the midfielder has played twice for the Gambian national team, making his debut earlier this year in a 2-0 win over Niger. Although he looks to have maybe played his last game for Roma, this has not stopped the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal showing their interest in the youngster.
Q. Who could be considered as the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?
The aforementioned Ebrima Darboe can still be considered as an up-and-coming talent as he is after all still only 20 years of age, and will surely only continue to improve throughout his career. However for this question I have decided to take a look at a recent squad for the Gambia under 20’s national team, and after much deliberation, I have chosen the forward Musa Juwara to be in my opinion the most exciting up and coming talent from The Gambia.
Juwara, who doesn’t turn 20 until the 26th December 2021, was born in The Gambia and ended up in Italy in 2016 as a migrant. He started playing for Virtus Avigliano, and after impressing greatly, he was signed by the Serie B club Chievo Verona in 2019. He was then signed by Bologna later in 2019, initially to play in the clubs under 19’s team, but he quickly fell into the plans of the first team coach Siniša Mihajlović and made his debut for the first team in a Coppa Italia defeat against Udinese. Since his debut, he has played several more times for Bologna and is currently on loan at Serie B side Crotone. As well as representing The Gambia at under 20’s level, he has also played once for the full national team, making his international debut on 9th October 2020 in a 1-0 win over Congo. There are high hopes for Juwara to become an important player for The Gambia in years to come, and who’s to say he won’t do just that.
Q. What is the current state/performance of the national team?
In a word, EXCELLENT, having earlier on this year qualified for their first ever Africa Cup of Nations! If we take a look at their qualifying campaign for the tournament to be held in Cameroon early next year then I think that will provide a fair assessment.
The Gambia were drawn in a difficult looking qualifying group alongside Gabon, DR Congo, and Angola, as the bottom seeds after having to initially overcome Djibouti on penalties in the two-legged preliminary round. The first game of their group campaign was away in Angola and despite going a goal down early on, they recovered to record an excellent 3-1 victory. A home game followed at the Independence Stadium in Bakau against DR Congo, and despite falling a goal behind for the second game in a row, they recovered to take a share of the spoils with a 2-2 draw. The Gambia then played away in Gabon and suffered the first defeat of their qualifying campaign being on the wrong end of a 2-1 defeat. However, just four days later, they hosted Gabon back in The Gambia and exacted revenge by beating their opponents by 2 goals to 1. A further victory by a goal to nil against Angola came next, and despite losing their final group game against DR Congo, The Scorpions had done enough to seal a safe passage through the the finals in Cameroon. A great achievement and a moment of history for the game in The Gambia!
- CAF’s Highlights of Gambia vs. Gabon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i1IrxFq1-Zo
Since qualifying for AFCON 2021 the team have played four friendlies and have beaten Niger 2-0, Togo 1-0, and South Sudan 2-1, suffering just one defeat by a single goal against Kosovo.
The Gambia will take their place in Group F when AFCON 2021 starts in January 2022, and although they face some tough games against Tunisia, Mali, and Mauritania, hopes will be high that they can qualify for the next stage of the tournament.
Q. Looking at The Gambia’s international history, what has been the best game, result, or performance for the national team?
In terms of an all round performance I think one can look no further than their excellent achievement in qualifying for AFCON 2021. As previously mentioned this is a real moment of history for football in The Gambia!
In terms of a single result however, the game I have opted for is The Gambia’s 1-0 victory over Morocco in June 2019. This was the first time that The Gambia had beaten Morocco, and what is more they recorded the victory away from home too as the game was played at Stade de Marrakech, Morocco. The result is even more remarkable when you consider that at the time of the game, Morocco were 45th in the FIFA World Rankings, whereas The Gambia were ranked in 163rd place!
Q. What is your favourite shirt from The Gambia national team?
For my favourite Gambia shirt I have gone for this red and white stripes design that was worn by the team as a home shirt in 2015.
Gambian Domestic Football
Q. What is the Gambian football pyramid like?
At the time of writing, the Gambian football pyramid has three levels with promotion and relegation between them.
- Tier 1 – GFF League Division One
- Tier 2 – GFF League Division Two
- Tier 3 – GFF Regional Third Division
The Gambian Football Federation League First Division was first contested in the 1965-66 season with the first champions being Augustinians. The 2021 campaign ran from January to early August and saw 14 clubs contesting the First Division Championship. The winners of the league championship then go onto represent The Gambia in the following season’s CAF Champions League.
Q. Which Gambian teams are historically the most successful?
In terms of league titles won, two clubs in The Gambia really do stand head and shoulders above the rest. Those clubs are Real de Banjul with 12 titles and their fellow Banjul based club, Wallidan FC with 16 titles.
Wallidan were founded in 1969 and won their first league championship at the first time of asking in the 1969-70 season. Although they have won the most titles to date, their most recent triumph came way back in 2008! Added to their league titles haul are an amazing 23 Gambian Cup wins. Having won the most GFF titles, it comes as no surprise that they have appeared in the CAF Champions League the most times in Gambian football history, although the club have never made it past the first round of the competition. However, there best performance in terms of a continental competition came in the 1988 CAF Cup Winners’ Cup when they made it all the way to the quarter final stage. Unfortunately, and for a reason not known to me, they withdrew from the competition before a ball was kicked against their would be opponents CA Bizertin from Tunisia.
A list of all previous winners of The GFF League Division One championship are shown below:
- 16 titles: Wallidan FC
- 12 titles: Real de Banjul
- 6 titles: GPA FC
- 3 titles: Augustinians, GAF FC
- 2 titles: Adonis, Brikama United, GAMTEL FC, Hawks
- 1 title: White Phantoms, Starlight Banjul, Steve Biko, Fortune FC
Q. Who are currently the best teams in The Gambia?
The current champions of the GFF League Division One are Fortune FC who finished top of the league for this 2021 season, so in that respect, they must be the best team in The Gambia at the moment. The club began their life as Chanters FC, but in 2012 they became known as Fortune FC, named after the Fortune Petroleum Company. Since then they have seen a meteoric rise from starting out in the Farato Nawettan Village League. After progressing through the Farato Nawettan, and several other local leagues, they joined the GFF Regional Third Division in 2016 and won the Third Division title at their first attempt. They then progressed through the GFF League Division Two to take their place in the top flight of which they are now champions – a fantastic achievement!
Other note worthy mentions for best current teams go to Brikama United, who won the GFF League Division One title in the 2018/2019 season (2019/2020 season not competed for due to COVID), and GAMTEL who have won the title twice in fairly recent times, although both sides disappointingly finished in the bottom half of the table in the most recent Gambian season.
The links for the Gambia Football Federation official social media channels can be found below:
- Website: https://gambiaff.org/
- Twitter: @TheGambiaFF
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GambiaFootballFederation
So that completes the look at The Gambia national team and its domestic league. If you have any comments, suggestions, reactions, or even your own answers to the above questions, please write them in the comments box below. Likewise, you can either email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or send a message to the author @Gareth19801, or to the editor @The94thMin on Twitter.