If the ceremony honoring Biri that took place last Sunday at the Roy Lester Stadium in the Maryland suburb of Rockville is anything to go 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 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 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 Government 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 all is 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.