- To read more about Gambia’s national team and domestic league, the blog can be found HERE.
As you might have read recently on The 94th Minute, Gareth Thomas, from the excellent blogsite Gareth’s Football Travels, recently took an in-depth look at football in The Gambia as part of the ongoing ‘Around The Football World‘ blog series. He researched into their domestic league system and national team, looked at who their top players are, and what lies ahead for the Scorpions at next year’s AFCON tournament – the first tournament The Gambia have qualified for. Gareth was inspired to research about The Gambia after having visited the country previously doing charity work, and subsequently playing a football match with the locals during his time over in there.
Football writer Tim Hartley is another fortunate person to have visited the small African nation, and he has also written about his groundhopping game outside the Gambian capital city Banjul in his latest book ‘The World at Your Feet – In Search of the Soul of Football.’ Here’s a taster from his new book about his remarkable afternoon out in west Africa.
First Clear the Goats
When I managed my lad’s under 13’s team, the first thing I had to do was to clear the pitch of dog muck. In Gambia they clear the pitch of goats, not their muck, but the animals themselves, extended families of which seem to have the freedom to roam at will. Welcome to Serrekunda East Park, just a few kilometres outside of Gambia’s capital city, Banjul.
I paid the princely sum of 25 local dalasi, about 30p, for the privilege of sitting under the afternoon sun on bare but thankfully cold concrete. Today’s match of the day was supposed to be the Armed Forces against Banjul United in the Gambian League First Division.
I should also have guessed that you don’t travel to the smallest country on mainland Africa for the quality of the football. The game itself saw the white shirts put in a few hefty tackles, but the play was low on skill with long, directionless balls ending in a pointless race to the touchline.
I asked my new football friend Mordour about the game in Gambia. He thought for a little and then asked me if I’d seen a group of Belgians in my hotel. I had noticed six middle aged men drinking together by the pool speaking French and thought it a bit odd. The Gambia is not exactly the place for a 50th birthday party or a stag weekend. “They’re scouts looking for new and cheap talent,” he said. “Anyone who’s any good here goes straight to Senegal and from there, who knows? France, Belgium maybe. It’s a way out and every footballer here dreams of it.” There was no anger in Mordour’s eyes. He was probably thinking ‘good luck to them.’
Not that any of this mattered because the spectacle in Gambian football for me was not on the pitch but all around you, right there in the stand. It was a riot of colour and sound. From kick off to the final whistle there was a cacophony of music which didn’t let up. The whole show was orchestrated by a group of women who shook and danced on the dusty walkway in front of the stand. Every so often two lads would run out from the crowd and do an asymmetric dance-come-kung-fu move in what looked like a tribal dance.
For a few dalasi you could get a polythene bag of water or a twist of ground nuts. Mordour waved to one of the women and handed me a small orange which she sliced open. He laughed as I slurped the juice up through the hole she had just cut. Shaven headed kids and dreadlocked teenagers, Muslim girls with their heads covered, others wearing baseball hats, were all enjoying their day out. Young and old stood, danced and shouted together. So this is what they mean by family friendly football. The music did stop, at the final whistle of the most glorious, low quality, goalless draw I have witnessed. The football had been secondary to having a good day out – which maybe as it should be.
I took one last look at the stadium. “Er, why are the players still on the pitch?” I asked. “It’s gone straight to penalties,” said Mordour. This was not the Armed Forces versus Banjul United but a local cup final. I looked at Mordour questioningly. He shrugged his shoulders and we both laughed. I later found out that I had watched Rangers FC beat Zurich on penalties 4-2. Oh well, at least I got to see some goals.
You can read more of Tim Hartley’s footballing travels in Africa, Brazil, Germany, Serbia, Ukraine, and even in North Korea in his new book ‘The World at Your Feet – In Search of the Soul of Football’, available from Pitch Publishing at the link below:
To find out more about his global groundhopping trips and his excellent book, you can also find Tim on Twitter at @timhhartley.