Hundreds lined the streets of the Gambian capital Banjul to pay their respects to Momodou Njie known to many as Biri Biri as the nation said goodbye to one of its greatest sons.
Locals and fans from all walks of life gathered together to pay tribute to the ‘iconic’ footballer who died on Sunday in Dakar, Senegal, at the age of 72.
Despite the pandemic, people left their homes, some took off from work before closing hours to pay their respects. That’s how much he is loved in this country.
Football defined him, but his personality also made him an international hero.
As the cortege passed through the streets of Banjul, his birth place, many waved national flags and banners. It was an emotional occasion for many who hold fond memories of Biri both on and off the pitch.
Adama Halla Samba, Biri’s former football coach, said Biri will be remembered with a lot of affection. “He was a gentleman and a legend, “Samba tells the gathering. “I’m so proud of him and his achievements. He has always been there when the country needed him. Biri died blue, he was a true wallidan legend and national hero.”
Biri’s brother Bekai Njie said the family had been “overwhelmed” by the support shown. “My brother was a complete human being. He was so down to earth, loved his family and always with young people. “He struck the balance so perfectly between football icon, fan favorite and loving family man.”
Among those who gathered at the Arch 22nd, was the President of the Republic Adama Barrow, who said: “Biri was a highly respected man. As we mourn Biri, we should all be proud of him and be inspired by his actions and livelihood for humanity.”
The President awarded Biri the highest national award, Grand Order of the insignia of the republic of The Gambia (GCRG). “Biri is a great son, an icon and legend of our land, “said Barrow. He developed a high professional level, leaving behind a perfect reputation in his beloved country and the world.”
Biri’s several national football team mates also turned out to pay their respects. Alhagie Dodou Capi Joof, who played with Biri in the 70’s, described him as a wonderful man. “Biri has placed the name of our country so high on the world map. It’s a sad day but a day to celebrate his life.”
The former Gambia international, was affectionately known as one of Africa’s most complete footballers of all time.
President of the Gambia Football Federation Lamin Kabba Bajo, said “Biri gave everything for his country. “He was selfless, devoted, heroic and humble. There’s already an ongoing work of Biri Biri mini stadium at the goal project, unfortunately he won’t be around to witness the inauguration.”
Biri was later laid to rest at the Jeshwang cemetery.
Before his time in Europe, Biri Biri played for Black Diamonds, Phantoms and Augustians in The Gambia, as well as Mighty Blackpool of Sierra Leone. He was spotted by a Danish club during a training camp in The Gambia in 1972. He left them in 1973 for Spanish team Sevilla FC. He was the first black player to play for Sevilla, and was considered one of their best players. Biri Biri returned to Denmark to play for Herfolge Boldklub in 1980, and in 1981 he signed with Wallidan F.C. back in The Gambia, for whom he played until retirement in 1987.
In 1963, Biri became the youngest player to ever play for The Gambia in what today is still remembered as the last time The Gambia beat Senegal by three goals to two with all three goals emanating from the football prodigy, Biri Biri.