If the ceremony honoring Biri that took place last Sunday at the Roy Lester Stadium in the Maryland suburb of Rockville is anything to by; then the Gambian American Association under the dynamic leadership of Pa Samba Jow and the thousands of Gambian Diasporans that made it to Maryland from all corners of The United States and beyond have given the Icon the fitting exodus he deserves, magnanimous to say the least.
Yes, for many years and a generation ago, Biri Biri was the much acclaimed Seville Football Club Super star by way of Banjul 's Perseverance Street and the much idolized fan favorite of Spaniards who went to the extent of naming themselves for Biri, namely NOTER BIRI BIRI. Well last Sunday as part of the annual African Liberation Day celebrations in Washington DC, Alhagie Momodou Njie Biri was honored with a Life Time Achievement Award for his great services to our country. While many amongst the thousands that made it to the Roy Lester Stadium said it was indeed long over due, one thing was certain; Gambians that call this part of the world home, adore and cherish their native son and football Ambassador.
Under the watchful eyes of another Gambian sports Legend Fr Joseph A Gough who shuttled in from Dublin for the BIRI fest and Gambian Ambassador to the United States of America, Mr Alieu M Ngum, Team GAA put up a spectacular day in honor of the greatest. After a thrilling football final between New York Gambians and Washington DC Scorpions , the Veterans of the yester years took the field for what veteran Gambian football commentator and Orator per Excellence, Tijan Masanneh Ceesay dubbed the BIRI FAREWELL GAME. This game actually was the highlight of the evening for it brought back a generation of Gambian footballers that have all suited in the FANGBONDI colors in the 80's. Peter Pan Gomez, (Hawks), Louis Thorpe (Young Africans), Joe Sambou (Young Africans), Victor Gabbidon (Hawks),Omar Mao Jobe (Roots), Commy Owens, (Real De Banjul), Cho Jallow (Mass Sosseh), Kebba Manneh (Wallidan), Edward Baben. (Flamemin), Maweyia Deen (Wallidan), Ardy Fofana (Roots), and Mustapha Minteh (Hawks). Other former first division players also played in the game, Baby Sam Njie (Young Africans), Pa Jeng (Mass Sosseh), and Sainey Sanyang (Roots). The KING himself played the duration of the game and those who gave their attention to that game all concluded that Biri could still play. For one more and may be the last time, Biri was Captain and led his team to a one nil victory.
The Coach for the Veterans' team, Fr Joseph Gough had this to say about Biri, " Biri is not only the best that ever played in Africa, he ranks amongst the top three that ever played this game." The Roman Catholic Irish Priest went on to add that ,"Had Biri been say a Brazilian, He could simply have been the PELE of the world". With such a bold statement coming from someone who knows the game like Joe Gough; who had an opportunity to see Biri play back in the 70's and 80's; then Gambia and its people have something to be proud of.
When it was time to honor the king, the memories of legendary Box Bar Stadium re-surfaced because indeed like the great Saul Njie would have said,' the stadium was being rocked to its very foundation." The yelling and panting, the big men and of course the rhythm of the sabarr were all in place to honor Gambia's favorite Son. Nostalgic and emotional would be understatements; but one thing is certain, the Gambian American Association garnished the event with all the requisite attributes that would equal the ceremony to any sports presentation ceremony the world over.
Upon receiving the Life Time Achievement Award named for the late Gambian Sports Financier Housainou MM Njie in a beautiful Plaque form and a giant sculpture named for his team mate in the national team Joe Sambou back in the day, Biri's tears did flow. While some say the tears were those of joy, others said he was recalling his glory days, one thing we were all certain about was, most, if not all the veterans did shed some tears.
It was indeed a great moment for all Gambians and for our country too. Like the President of the GAA Pa Samba Jow put it, "BIRI is the best thing that has happened in Gambian Sports and He is by far the best we have ever seen. The Gambian American Association is honored to have had the opportunity to host this Icon. Our country can never repay him for the many sacrifices he made for our nation; but one thing is certain, He will never be forgotten and for us this is the least we can do to say JERREJEF, NIM BARA, THANK YOU."
By any yard stick, this award to Biri is beyond deserving and everyone hopes in the near future The Governement of The Gambia will either name the Independence Stadium for Alhagie Njie Biri or another monument would be dedicated to him. That sure would close the last chapter of an unending legacy.
After its all said and done, Pa samba Jow and his Gambian American Association deserve all the credit in the world. Not only did they fly Biri into the United States, they celebrated his legacy with style and grace. They gave him the long awaited "royalty" he deserved and we do hope, other Gambians will follow suit and celebrate the greatest and best our country has to offer.
On that note, please enjoy hereunder, the Football career of Alagie Njie Biri, as chronicled by Tijan Masanneh Ceesay, Veteran Football Commentator who covered Biri both in and out of The Gambia.
The Story of a Legend as never been told
By Tijan Masanneh Ceesay
Radio Gambia Football Commentator
1977 to 1984
Alhaji Momodou Njie, aka Biri Biri, Alhaji Mada, Magji, you name it, was born second son of Alhaji Momodou Ngoose Njie and Ajaratou Sainabou Njie both of blessed memory from Perseverance Street in Banjul Central. He attended school at the Albion Primary School and St Mary's Primary School at Leman Street in Banjul before proceeding to Crab Island Secondary School where the might in the star was revealed. He became an instant sensation in the school's football team for which He will become captain at the tender age of about fifteen years.While in school, Biri was heavily recruited by many Association football teams but he would later choose the Black Stars football Club in 1963. Following a stint with the latter, he proceeded to Black Diamonds and immediately established himself as a superstar and teams continued to vie for his services. One veteran contacted for this piece had this to say: 'Biri became an instant hit in the FA and top giants in the league at the time were all out to get this complete talent." He later played for White Phantoms and then onto Augustinians under the watchful eye of the late Koto Louis Kajack Prom before finally moving on with some other players to establish what is today Wallidan Football Club in 1968/69.
In 1963, Biri became the youngest player to ever play for The Gambia in what today is still remembered as the last time The Gambia beat Senegal by three goals to two with all three goals emanating from the football prodigy, Biri Biri. He also played on loan in Sierra Leone and in the early seventies through the assistance of the late Alhaji Matarr Sarr became one of the first Africans to test the professional terrain with Derby County of England.
He proceeded to Denmark where he played for B1901 and Herfolge before proceeding to Spain to suit up for European powerhouse Servilla where to this day he is by far one of the most popular people and well respected. He led Seville to its only FA Cup appearance in the 70's. He is still remembered for one of his brilliant gravity defying goals against Spanish national goalkeeper at the time, Arconada. His twenty six goals during his four year career with Seville still stands atop in the record books for their all time foreign legion of players. He retired from professional football in 1981 and returned to his 'first love' Wallidan where he continued to play until his retirement in 1986.
Biri played for The Gambia National team through 1986, by far the most caps in Gambian history if not Africa as a whole. Many a times, Biri had answered to national duty at his own expense and left every ounce of Gambian blood and sweat on that field. There is no single team in our sub region that did not specifically map out strategies to defend Biri back in the day. Despite the hard tactics that were employed both locally and internationally, Alhaji Momodou Njie is and will be the greatest that ever wore the Red, White and Blue and there is or will never be a debate on that. One thing is certain, had accurate records been kept on his prolific career his goals could have numbered a thousand or closer to be precise.
Alhaji Momodou Njie is the double recipient of two National Awards of The Gambia by both Republics in appreciation and recognition for his great services to The Gambia. His services to say the least are unmatched and will stay that way.
His successor at Seville, the great Diego Armando Maradona, current Argentine national Coach called Biri "THE GREATEST" based on tapes He saw on arrival in Seville. Then Maradona told Biri that he will never be able to undo his feat at Seville and you bet, he never did. To this date the name Biri continues to ring in Seville with its fan club named "NORTE BIRI BIRI." According to the official website of the team, 'BIRI'S - The most loyal fans of the team (those who sit at the lower section of the north end of the stadium) call themselves Biris. They got the name from Alhaji Momodou Njie who was nicknamed Biri. Alhaji, a Gambian player known for his intensity and mercurial nature, was so popular with the Seville fans that the most loyal fans named their cheering sections (and thus, themselves) after him." It does not stop at that, in 2004, the city selected him for the name of their stadium to the disappointment of many corporate sponsors.
True to his nature, the kindest man there is. While playing in Europe, Biri paved the way for a number of players, a couple of them played with him and others starred with other teams. He opened the doors of his house on a daily basis to many people some of whom he did not even know like that, but he would always say, "the world is about sharing." Indeed he shared his little with everyone and just loved being around people. That is Biri Biri, aside from football heroics, beyond generous. (I am proud to say I dealt with him up close and spent most of my youth life with him on a daily basis).
As the great Saul Njie once put it, "If you watch him, you think he defies gravity; Biri is The Gambia's Soccer Ambassador and he is the greatest ever there will be." Yes those of us who had the honor of watching him wreck defences and score the most of impossible goals can attest to the fact without any exaggeration, that Biri will stay in a class of his own. Indeed the greatest, Gaindeh Njie..Pele La Gambie.
Thank you for your services to our country. Truly you deserve more.
Sources for this article;
Zone 11 Cabral daily, February 1985
Now that it is known that Biri has been honored with a stadium named after him in his home away from home, we hope soon our Sports Authorities will look into a request that was made many years ago as far back as February 1982 when football fans requested that the national stadium in Bakau be named after him.
Effectively there was a valid argument that he was an active player and that made sense, well he retired in 1986, maybe we can take a cue from the Seville Council of Elders and honor our own hero. It will indeed be a fitting national tribute to the man that has left us with long lasting memories for generations to come.
The piece below is from the official website of Seville.
The Executive Council of the Governing Board of Elders for the much anticipated 2004 Big Flickabout have unveiled the name of the marvelous host stadium currently nearing completion. Much speculation as to the corporate sponsor has circulated of late, including the leading theory that pet store giant Petco would, capitalizing on their naming rights for San Diego's new baseball park, seize the opportunity to have their name emblazoned on the impressive edifice. In a stunning turn around, however, the Council announced that the new subbuteo-only stadium will bear the name - Estadio Alhaji Mohomodo Nije 'Biri Biri'.
Nije, the "Black Pearl of the Sanchez Pizjuan," aka Biri Biri, remains the most popular player in the history of the Seville FC. Obtained from club 1901 of Denmark for the 1973-74 season, he went on to four brilliant campaigns for Seville, playing 91 league matches, netting 26 goals, and carrying Seville back to its rightful place in the first division. The Gambian forward, the first and only black African to ever suit up for Seville, dazzled fans and opponents alike with his slashing, gravity-defying moves.
Biri Biri, as El Sevillismo took to calling him, developed a following unlike any player in club history, leading to the founding of the Brigadas Norte Biri Biri, now known as the Biris Norte.
The Biris Norte, a band of hyper-violent Ultras, are described on the club web page as "The pride of El Sevillismo and of the club itself."
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