Bakary Papa Gassama

By Famara Fofana 

1. A simple man from Memeh in Jokadou
The man they call Papa is not only of provincial extraction – coming from Memeh- a small village lying few kilometres from Kuntaya, North Bank Region, he is very much a down-to-earth human being who carries no airs and graces. Despite his well-documented success, those close to Bakary speak of a man with a big heart with his broad smile a mark of his openness off the football pitch. Papa exudes no shades of celebrity. His personality jars with his media- generated life.
2. Humble beginnings: from Nawettan venues to the game’s most iconic grounds
Papa is reputed to have launched his refereeing career in 2003 officiating almost at every level although his FIFA call-up would come in 2007. Whether it is Nawettan football, the second division to female league, he has been involved in it all. The now celebrated referee was a familiar fixture himself in the dusty fields of Nema-kunku, Talinding’s Buffer Zone to elsewhere. And as any other Gambian does go through, he too had to contend with a barrage of verbals from unsympathetic supporters manning the touchline. But when talent is married with perseverance and hard work as it was the case for Papa, big teams can happen.
3. Africa’s only referee at 2017 FIFA Confederation Cup, 3-time Africa Referee of The Year and many more
Papa Gassama refereeing CV can be rivaled by only a few in Africa. This includes the 2012 London Olympics during which he became fourth official in the final between Mexico and Brazil, 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey, 2014 World Cup in Brazil. In terms of continental Africa’s premier football showpiece event: Afcon 2012, 2013, 2015, 2017, 2019, and the ongoing 2021 edition in Cameroon are the ones in which he deservedly officiated. Remarkably, in 2017, our Papa became Africa’s only referee at the 2017 FIFA Confederation Cup hosted by Putin’s Russia. For three years in a row (2014, 2015, 2016) he was named at the Glo-CAF Awards as the continent’s Referee of The Year.
In 2018, reputable international football website GOAL referred to him as: ‘The highly competent Gassama’ in a piece about his officiating of a Group A World Cup match featuring Mexico and New Zealand and how he was primed to be in the centre of proceedings when Harambee Stars of Kenya and Walya Antelopes of Ethiopia in the 2018 Afcon qualifiers.
GOAL, in the same year, reported: ‘Interestingly, Gassama was the sole representative (referee) in the last World Cup where he was supposed to be deputized by Kenyan Aden Marwa. The East African later ruled out for his alleged involvement in a match-fixing scandal exposed by BBC.
4. A cool head for the biggest games
Papa did not only preside over the opening match of the 2015 Afcon but the final itself between Ghana and Ivory Coast. Rewind to Brazil 2014 where he officiated between The Netherlands and Chile. That fiercely contested game was a metaphorical powder keg as Gassama used his cool head and unbending authority to prevail over one Arjen Robben at the peak of his powers then and a Latin American side featuring a handful of combustible figures such as Aturo Vidal, Alexis Sanches, Gary Medel and their firebrand coach Jorge Sampaoli. Like duck to water, he emerged from that contest unblemished despite the die-for-a cause attitude exhibited by two footballing powers that day.
5. A nation’s sole consolation package throughout our fallow period
While the recent past has not always been kind to Gambia from the perspective of international football, referee Bakary Papa Gassama has been an ever-present force in the game. Sights and sounds about Papa come as a ray of light and a noteworthy consolation prize for our absence in football tournaments we had long dreamt of since slice bread. Commentators mentioning of ‘the man from Gambia’ on television gives one a spine-tingling feeling. When it comes to him, PRIDE is the one common currency every Gambian trades about Papa , even now that we are out of Afcon. He is the last man standing for the fatherland.
Good luck, legend!

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