Monday, April 15, 2024

Pele de Gambie: a legend passes on (Part 1)

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The sobering tunes of the flutes of The Gambia Police Band are soaring into the air, infusing the atmosphere as they play “Bismillaahi Rahmaani Raheem. Lillaahi n-toobi lillaahi, ndaa manso lillaahi…” the coffin has just been laid in State at the Arch 22 on this 22nd day of July 2020. 

We sit here in solemn ceremony to pay our last respects to one of the greatest sons of this land, Alhagie Momodou Njie, Biri. The ceremony here is graced by cabinet Ministers, religious leaders, former national team players and the top brass of our national football fraternity.

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The coffin is draped in national colours with the national football jersey adorning it. The dignitaries have started filing past the body with the police band back with another tune, this time the classic song “Niani Bagne-na”. A fitting song indeed for it is a song about the heroics of the great warriors of the region of Niani. 

Memories of the illustrious career of Biri are now flooding through my mind. Born in the nation’s capital city of Banjul. Biri served his country with exceptional dedication and at great cost to him. He put his body at risk for his country and he spent his wealth to pay for his own services for the country.

From his early days at Wallidan football club to his halcyon days at the top flight Spanish side Sevilla, Biri flew our national flag high and made all Gambians proud. The announcers at the ceremony here have just informed us that Biri was the founding father of Rico football club in Banjul. He did also serve as Deputy Mayor of Banjul, an honour conferred on him by former President Yahya Jammeh.

President Barrow is just arriving at the scene now as veteran broadcaster and legendary football commentator Peter Gomez takes the podium as official master of ceremonies for the rest of this auspicious occasion.  

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The police band has just changed to another fitting tune for the occasion as President Barrow approaches the casket to pay his respects: “Alaa humma salli wa sallim alaa [Muhammad]”.

The golden voice of Peter Gomez now pervades the occasion and truly a better voice cannot be found for the occasion as the fitting words he uses to describe the departed legend remind us of the golden days of football commentary on Radio Gambia. 

Peter has just stated that no one can find the right words to describe the rich inspiring life that Biri lived. “Biri touched lives in places he could not have imagined!” He goes on to state that we all have our own stories about our relations and interactions with Biri. We all have our Biri moments and that is partly because he was humble and affable. 

I had a close personal relationship with Biri over the past ten years. I was born in Banjul close to his family home called Mbojain. But our relationship grew closer as I took great interest in celebrating his illustrious career and sending my staff to interview him from the media houses I managed over the last 5 years. Words will never suffice to describe Biri and his legacy, but in verse I share my feelings as I conclude the first part of this series, and the funeral ceremony proceeds:

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Biri: Ode to a Legend 

To the  Majestic Creator is our return

That is the journey you have begun 

Sail smoothly thou Mbojain son

We were blessed that you were born

On our soil where you did sojourn 

You gave us joys never to be forgotten

Wiped our tears with your sweat

Plied your trade with patriotism great

Goals of victory when we were jittery

Your blessed feet never led you to greed

You blocked and kicked to uphold our creed

Raising our flag with unmatched speed

Gambia mourns your demise oh Biri

Our skies are weeping because you are leaving.

Momodou Sabally 

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