BOMBS OVER OMDURMAN: HOW GAMBIAN PRODIGY JARJOU ESCAPED FROM WAR TORN SUDAN

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 By Baboucarr Fallaboweh 

It only takes grace to survive a war zone especially if you are trapped in a public facility which could be an easy target for factions from both sides. Gambian youngster Lamine Jarjou made it through the war in Sudan thanks to being an Al Hilal player.

 

Humble Beginnings 

Football is embedded in the DNA of Gambian talent Lamine Jarjou, with the young football prodigy is arguably the best player in his generation in the Gambia.

Born in Serekunda in the Southwestern part  of  Gambian capital Banjul on February 19, 2002, Jarjou rose to stardom scoring goals for fun at Janta Bi FC. 

Football Espanyol Academy, located across the Gambia-Senegal border, took note of the exciting teen and brought him in to supervise the next stage of his development.  

There, Jarjou made rapid progress and was, in fact, close to becoming the academy’s youngest-ever professional footballer at the tender age of 17, when a potential move to Spanish top-flight club Alaves came his way. That deal fell through, as did a second opprtunity to move tp Spain, Girona being the prospective destination this time.

In the aftermath of those setbacks, Jarjou could have slumped his shoulders and slacked off, but he did the very opposite, doubling his efforts and working his way to the top. That breakthrough came after he joined Casa Sports, precisely in the 2021/22 season, during which he scored five goals and laid on another eight.  

Those stats and more, along with the accompanying performances, were rewarded with a fine haul of prizes, most notably those for the Senegalese Ligue 1 Player of the Year and the Best Goal of the Season. By the time he departed the Ziguinchor-based side to, moving to Sudan’s Al-Hilal Omdurman, Jarjou had netted 18 times in 43 games across two seasons. 

Little wonder that the five-foot-six right winger soon came to the attention of the coaches of the Senegalese and Gambian U-23 national teams — both for whom he was eligible — a race won by the latter. there is just one national team he dreams of representing — and, no, it’s not Cisse’s. 

“I am Gambian, both by birth and by upbringing — although I do have some Senegalese connections — so it’s highly inconceivable that I would ever turn down the chance to play for the country should the head coach ever extend an invitation.” 

Senegal are the current African champions and is hardly the worst team to be eligible for, but Gambia also offers a lot to be excited for right now. Tom Saintfiet’s youthful group impressed in their maiden Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) appearance last year, and now looks set to prove that stunning debut was no fluke when the next edition comes off in early 2024. 

“It’s always a joy,” Jarjou smiles, “to see your country going far.” 

 Surely, he’d love to go even farther with the Scorpions, but until the opportunity to do so comes, Jarjou was focused on making the best possible start to the latest chapter of his personal football journey. 

Stay in Casa & Move to Sudan 

“It’s a club that I will never forget,” Jarjou says about Casa. 

“Their platform helped make me the player I have become, and I’m sure the supporters also appreciated the fact that I played heartily for the club. As far as I am concerned, everyone loved me at the club.  

 

“After the cup final against Diambars in my first season, I had an opportunity to leave Senegal but, desiring to show people that I could repeat the feat, I stayed — a decision that, needless to say, paid off richly the next season with league and cup glory.” 

In the aftermath of that success, having sufficiently done right by Casa, Jarjou said his goodbyes and joined Sudan’s Al-Hilal. 

“It wasn’t a bad experience,” Jarjou recalls.  

“The Sudanese people love football, and it was certainly nice to play in the Caf Champions League, the African club game’s flagship competition. Florent Ibenge (the Al-Hilal manager) didn’t know me, so he asked Aliou Cisse (the Senegal national team coach) for a reference. The latter confirmed that, indeed, I was a solid prospect and a player worth having on the roster. With that, Ibenge was won over.” 

 

 

But Jarjou still had to justify Cisse’s remarks and repay Ibenge’s faith, and he definitely did so despite being handed not many starts in his one-year stay. Jarjou, in 13 games, contributed directly to 17 goals. Such was his impact that, anticipating European interest, Al-Hilal pegged the fee for any potential sale at five times the $250,000 they paid Casa for Jarjou’s services mere months prior. 

 

A move to Swedish giants Malmö failed to materialise because a deal couldn’t be agreed, and — despite also being courted by clubs in Egypt, Poland, Belgium and Tanzania — it seemed he’d stay rooted at Al-Hilal awhile. When he did eventually leave, however, it certainly wasn’t on the club’s terms or in circumstances that the player himself would have found ideal. 

 

A War Zone & The Long Way Out 

 

Watching smoke rise during clashes between the Sudanese Army and the Rapid Support Forces in the city of Omdurman on July 4.Credit...Reuters
Watching smoke rise during clashes between the Sudanese Army and the Rapid Support Forces in the city of Omdurman on July 4.Credit…Reuters

Watching smoke rise during clashes between the Sudanese Army and the Rapid Support Forces in the city of Omdurman on July 4.Credit…Reuters

On April 15th, 2022, Jarju and others were trapped at the Al Hilal Stadium as war broke out in Sudan “It was mid-April,” Jarjou recollects. 

“We’d just finished a home game against Al-Shorta and I decided to sleep over at the stadium together with some teammates, intending to return home the next day. All seemed calm, only for us to wake up in the morning and learn — to our utter horror — that all-out war had broken out. 

“The suddenness of it all meant we understood very little of what was unfolding, even as we followed events online. A total Internet blackout and a loss of electricity would bring even less clarity, and, as bursts of gunfire ceaselessly tore through the air, it became apparent that we’d be stuck in there for a while. Food quickly ran scarce and, before long, all we had for sustenance were biscuits and bottles of Coca-Cola. 

“The physical effects of being locked in was rivalled only by the psychological challenge such isolation from the outside world brought, but I did manage to establish contact with my family back home. My mother, especially, was on her knees, praying throughout the ordeal.” Lamin revealed to Alkamba Times.

“The next days was very terrifying, From the outside of the stadium, you could hear gunshots, I was afraid, It was frustrating and terrifying, because there were lots of sounds of gunshots from left and right.” 

Jarjou was worried about his close friend Sellou whom he had left in his apartment in Khartoum as the war became intense. He wanted to put his life at stake and go to Khartoum to see if his friend is safe but there was no means of transport as guns and bombs were flying over.

“There was a time I said I would go to Khartoum, because I left my friend Sellou in my apartment. I went out to look for a vehicle but couldn’t get any. Sellou luckily escape the war when the Gambia government facilitated their exit. The street was empty, shops were closed. Sometimes when you sit in the stadium, all you see is jet fighters flying across.”

Eventually, after a few days, they did found a way out — one that did lead him back home — but it was long and tortuous. 

“Two pick-ups were sent to fetch myself and my colleagues trapped at the stadium, but some were reasonably hesitant to get aboard a vehicle whose very design would leave them exposed and vulnerable to attack. The will to survive ultimately won out, though, overcoming our fears and guiding us through an embattled city.” 

Thus began an eight-hour-long journey to Dongola, a city in northern Sudan, during which they encountered several checkpoints. No worries, though; the nationwide passion for football and for Al-Hilal, shared by many of those manning those stops, got them past each one. 

“Dongola was a safe haven,” Jarjou continues, “but we sat for days waiting for our visas to be processed in order to make further progress. That took a while, but once all was sorted, we advanced towards the border where we spent another two days among hundreds of other refugees. 

“In that time we slept in camps, before reaching neighboring Egypt — via road, rail, and river.” 

Jarjou stayed in Egypt for some weeks before a flight came to pick him up. His parents who were worried were now relieved as their son was safely back.

However, the trauma Jarju went through in Sudan during the war had an adverse effect on him. He developed a psychological problem and each time he hears a deep sound, he becomes afraid because of the bombs and gunshots he heard in Sudan.

“I was not a normal person as any sound I heard terrified and fear grips me because of the bombs and gunshots in Sudan. When I sleep at night, I can hear the bombs and gunshots as if it is happening all over again. I had to seek the assistance of a psychologist before I could get better.”

Despite what he went through in Sudan, Jarjou still holds the country in high esteem as he maintains it is a great nation to play football for.

” On the field of play, Sudan wasn’t a bad experience; Sudanese people love football. It was a nice experience to play the CAF Champions League, it’s one of the biggest levels in African football. Florent Ibenge the coach of Al Hilal didn’t know me, he asked Aliou Cisse who has coached me before for a reference, and he replied in the affirmative that I am a good product, and he believes in what I can give to the team.”

Dreams of playing in Europe

Finally home — much to his relief and to that of his family — Jarjou was in no rush to restart his career after enduring all that trauma and anxiety, but sessions with a psychologist fast-tracked his recovery. Now, he’s ready for a restart. 

“I had the aim to come to Europe, Grenoble Foot brought an outright deal and I moved there.”

For Jarjou, France is a perfect destination for African players as majority of the greatest players Africa has produced, the footsteps of who he wants to follow, all started their career in France. That the youngster has now exported his talents, on the books of second-tier side Grenoble. Jarjou, of course, is raring to go. 

“Abedi Pele, George Weah, Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, Yaya Toure and other great African players all started their career in France. Is a good country for African players and I want to follow suit.”

“I want to experience professional football again, after 3-4 months without competitive action. I will definitely need some time to get into peak physical shape, but, once up to speed, I believe my quality can help improve the team and then the whole world can see what I am made of.” 

Jarjou is a great talent with football glued to his feet. After surviving the war in Sudan and moving to Europe, the world should watch out for him as the next biggest African talent in France.

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Baboucarr Fallaboweh Sports Editor (Buba Jallow Fallaboweh) is a Gambian football expert, football analyst & columnist. The Stockholm-based Journalist is a media officer, football Scout, PR, Influencer and Digital creator. I started my journalism career as a football analyst in 2012 with Vibes FM and went on to work with CityLimit, West Coast, Hot FM, Freedom Radio, Eye Africa and Afri Radio as a content producer and presenter. In 2013, I attended Football Daily on the BBC SPORTS where we discussed the different styles of Football played in Africa. I Went on to freelance for The Point Newspaper, Freedom Newspaper, Daily Observer and Standard Newspaper before being appointed as Sports Editor with the Alkamba Times in March 2022.  I have worked for Magazines like Glo Magazine and Foot54 covering Gambian football and African Football.   Between 2020 -2021 I worked as a scout for the Gambia Football Federation, scouting talents for the U17 &U20.  From 2017 to 2021, I served as Media officer for GFF First division teams Team Rhino and Marimoo and also as media Officer of Banjul FC, fourth Division tier in Sweden and Darboe’s FC (Female second division club in the Gambia). I served as a PR for Superstars Academy.   With Afrencon, I was a data analyst before I joined LightHouse as a head scout for the Gambia project. In organizational structures, I served as the ambassador of the John Bass Kidney Foundation and one of the founders of the foundation creating kidney awareness in the Gambia.   I also served two positions in the Gambian organization in Sweden, as Sports chairman and the secretary of the associations.   After 12 years of being a football journalist, I was named 3rd best sports column writer in Africa year 2021 by the reputable sports media organization AIPS. I finished in the top 35 in the world with my article titled Back way: Gambian footballers in deadly Voyage to Europe.   With over 500 articles and interviews, analysis, profiling, features and news, I was shortlisted for the Gambia Press Union National Journalist Award 2022. I submitted the article which was co-written alongside Momodou Bah From Living Through Despair to Being An Agent Of Hope, The Inspiring Story Of John Bass.   I have served as an advisers to Football academies, clubs, and players and others. I have hosted dozens of shows and was invited as a guest on both radio, TV and the online press. I also covered the Gambia's maiden AFCON debut in 2021 in Cameroon.  

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