The Invaluable Role of Fans in Gambia’s 2021 AFCON Success 

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Scorpions Fan Club Photo Credit: ADU

By: Baboucarr Fallaboweh, TAT Sports Editor 

On January 12th, 2022, Westfield became the gathering point. Cars honking, men seen with their cherubic wives or girlfriends, and the elderly celebrated in tandem with the jubilant pocket of red and white-clad youth; that had witnessed a scenario many believed only existed in their wildest dreams. 

The final whistle had just been blown, and debutants Gambia had won their first game in the Africa Cup of Nations. 

There was gaiety in the air and street where Musa Barrow lives and celebration erupting from Ablie Jallow’s house. 

Their choice of celebration was almost as eclectic as the group of players performing them; some jumped up and down and sang songs, and some imagined their water bottles to be expensive champagne with which they soaked one another.

Some others failed to resist the urge to partially disrobe in order to have shirts swing around their heads like giddy children. The whole country was in party mode! 

On Social Media, Twitter, to be precise, was awash with Team Gambia-related tweets. Giveaways, pictures, and myriad descriptions of the national team’s performance etched by Gambians flooded social media. 

The politicians and religious leaders were not left out. UDP, NPP, GDC, Foni, Gunjur, Sheriff Sonko, everyone forgot about religion, tribe, and party affiliation. Instead, it hoisted the Gambian flag, our unifer, and our strength. 

The Gambia was polarised coming from the December 5th election. However, the reaction, counter-reaction, and banter paused as all joined in drumming home support for the Scorpions. 

As I left the Limbe Stadium, emotions could not describe what I witnessed. It was dancing, fist thumped among players and coaches. Some of the players were seen comfortably exchanging niceties with the fans in expectation of what tomorrow will bring to bear with great anticipation. But today, in this piece, we take a look at a journey that started 21 years ago; the Scorpion Fans Club. 

Momodou L Sanyang is a former national athlete. For Taka, as he is affectionately known, football is just a passion. He is the founding father of Zurich FC but later became part of the club’s medical team. 

Taka rose, learned the ropes by becoming a youth leader, and volunteered with the Red Cross Society and YMCA. He later became a senior volunteer and member of the Gambia Red Cross Emergency Response Team. 

Taka is the Banjul region head of Culture for the forthcoming National Youth Conference. A position he has held since 2006, the cultural aspect of his office includes drama, debates, beauty pageantry, and conferences. 

The drummer Taka is also a lab technician about to complete his BSc in Medical Laboratory Science. He formerly worked with the Finance Committee as a Public Relations Officer. He currently serves the Association as the Adviser and Auditor General. 

Often mistaken as dumb, the membership of the Association comprises military personnel, intelligence officers, medical personnel, a nurse, a chef, an economist, a mechanic, a businesswoman, security personnel, and a teacher. 

If you want to judge the book by the cover, you get it wrong, for appearance can be deceptive. 

The Fans’ Club was first established in 1997. Students were picked from their respective schools to support their national team in a game against Mali. In September 2001, the National Scorpion Fans Club was officially formed. 

Lang Tombong and Ya Ndow Jobe became the first patron and matron of the Club; Lang came into contact through the love and passion he has for sports, especially football. 

Aunty Ya Ndow, she was the first person to contribute through a radio program to the Association. The radio played a vital role in the Fans Club. City Limit’s Moses Nden championed the cause and was later joined by Dodou Bojang of Radio Gambia, Peter Gomez of West Coast Radio, and the late Pa Modou Faal of KWT radio. 

The decision to inaugurate the Fans Club emerged because whenever the national team played, there was no identifiable group to cheer them on. 

 

Wallidan, Armed Forces, and all league holders’ fans used to join the Fans Club whenever they had international matches. As a result, the Fans Club became a beacon of hope which inevitably paved the way for clubs playing in the first and second-division leagues to establish their own fans club. 

Members of the Fans 

The club paid monthly dues, which were used for food, water and tickets anytime they went on trips to support the national team. 

The Fans Club remained the only section of fans that bought match tickets on match days. The launch of the Fans Club attracted well-wishers to the club. 

Personalities like Seedy Kinteh, Badou Jasseh, and Ajatta came forth supporting, and Dawda Secka was tasked to design the logo. The corporate Gambia were not exempted, with Gamtel-Gamcel, Gambia Ports Authority, and Social Security all coming on board to lend their support. 

Fans

“Our aim was to see how Gambian football would ascend as fans organized. To be a fully-fledged fan, one had to undergo mandatory leadership training. It’s a 10-day leadership course whereby we invite a security person, referee, administrator, and all stakeholders involved in football. 

These people will be the facilitators to enlighten the fans of their role after one is certified,” part of the regulations governing the Fans Club stated. 

On the Road 

The Bai Cham-led team is not having it all rosy, but that can never extinguish their motivation and passion for the national team. They are empowered to take them all in their strides. 

The team traveled to Senegal in 2003, partly sponsored by Vitale and a one-time member of the 1997 group, Ali Khadre of the Ashobi Stores. In 2008 the Fans Club returned to Senegal under the auspices of the Gambian Football Federation (GFF). 

In the 2005 Peace Cup, the Fans Club wrote 10 letters to the then President, Yaya Jammeh, to support them financially since the Fans Club was constrained in that regard. Still, none of the letters was replied to by the former head of state, much to the chagrin of all involved with the Fans Club. 

Then came the Peru package. One fateful day, scores of soldiers rounded up the fans and told them they were sent by Yaya Jammeh. Naturally, the fans were apprehensive because they had no idea the reason behind the president’s action. 

However, their fears were shortlived because the message sent by the president through the military men was a good one – the Big Man was not oblivious of the fans’ dedication, patriotism, and excellent art of supporting the national team. 

He promised to take 60 national Scorpions fans to Peru in a chartered flight. He fulfilled his promise and went ahead to lodge the fans in one of the most luxurious hotels in Peru. 

Congo Brazzaville 2007 

The excellent relationship between Yaya Jammeh and the Fans Club continued. In 2007, during the Gambia’s participation in the Africa U20 tournament, 42 members of the Fans Club traveled to support the team. Unfortunately, Gambia lost in the semi-finals to Nigeria. 

Fair play and dignity 

After the Gambia-Nigeria semi-final, the fans came together to exchange their respective nations’ flags, scarves, and other paraphernalia.

The BBC made news out of this act to the fans. We were jolted out of the belief that only players could exchange jerseys and shake hands after a game. Fans could do the same. After all, it’s just a game, a 90-minutes sport. That was a very fantastic exhibition of sportsmanship. 

The 42 fans that traveled to Congo Brazzaville in 2007 raised D6,000, and in Cameroon, they raised another D25,000 to support the Fans Club. 

Despite writing to 46 companies before traveling to Cameroon, they have yet to respond. After their first game against Mauritania, upon winning the match (support with action, ambiance, and noise throughout the 90 minutes), Orange proposed to them to drop their national colors and take the Orange brand. Still, they rebuffed the telecoms giant’s offer and opted for national pride and dignity. 

Describing Gambia’s first Nation’s Cup goal, one Scorpion fan was so emotional. “My tears ran down my cheek. Then, when my drum tore, I raised my head and saw the back of the net shaking and Ablie Jallow running. The boys wanted to lift me up, but I resisted the attempt. 

“Only God knew what I was feeling; it was a wonderful experience. But, since the inception of the Africa Cup of Nations, something was missing, and the Gambia became the jigsaw of the tournament. 

“I told my boys we will go far in the tournament and won’t exit early. I anticipated and predicted a semi-final spot for the Gambia,” he gushed. 

 

“We all were calm as the drumming stopped while we sat down. We felt secure. 

“We once left for Senegal during the month of Ramadan. We were involved in an accident. On another trip to Senegal, we were beaten while en route to the Mauritania border. So, we were used to these things.

“Leadership training has an impact. Our trip members first performed the night prayer, praying for victory and a safe journey. We only believe in prayer. It took our immune system time for us to adjust to their food. 

“The Gambian community, through Mohammed Sillah, fed us and provided us company on match days. Cameroon was like home. 

“There was also a regular flow of information, and the Cameroonian community, too traveled with us and provided a shield for us,” he added.

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