Samuel Kargbo remains one of the most consistent and skillful midfielders in the history of Gambian football. Born in Banjul, he grew up loving football. As a kid, he would join his peers in Banjul’s popular Police Line area to play street football.
“Everything started in the streets of Banjul,” he tells The Chronicle. “While playing on the road, cars would go past us. We would just put stones down to make goalposts and play with a rubber ball. That was fun,” he says with a broad smile.
As a student of Saint Augustine’s High School in Banjul, Kargbo played for the school’s football team. Upon graduation in 1988, he played for different nawettan teams in Banjul, including Ngoma FC where he became fans favorite and consequently won selection to play for the city’s zonal team. “The Banjul nawettan was so competitive but I was able to prove myself and I attracted a huge following. The fans were so amazing,” he recalls.
A big game player, Kargbo was scouted to play for the Gambia National U20 side in 1991. His excellent dribbling skills and terrific finishing ability quickly propelled him to first team football in the junior squad. After just two games with the U20 (both against Cameroon), he was promoted to the Scorpions, the senior squad.
“The then senior national team coach, Lalloco suggested that I should move on to the senior side. In the beginning, I was nervous because I was so tiny.”
“When I was at home, I’d hear sport journalists on the radio talking about me and how good I could be in the senior team. That motivated me to join the team on training at the stadium.”
In 1991, Kargbo debuted for the Scorpions against Guinea Bissau in a regional tournament hosted in Bissau. That was a good game for the young midfielder after a nervy start.
“I remember after the game, some Mauritanians in Bissau came looking for me at our base. I remember them asking ‘where’s Gambia’s number 8’. They all showed me love and appreciation about my performance on the night.”
Upon returning from Bissau, Kargbo was one of the only two players who kept their spots in the first team when the Scorpions headed to Nigeria for an Ecowas tournament. They finished third.
“It was me and Cho Jallow who were maintained from the team that travelled to Bissau. We were the youngest players in that team. Then we had senior players like Tamsir Manneh, Peter Gassama and Ebrima Manneh.”
Kargbo describes the Scorpions’ 1994 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier as the biggest highlight of his career.
He recalls: “I played my heart out on that night. The Independence Stadium was full to capacity and I was just on top of everything. We all put our lives on the line for The Gambia to qualify.”
Unfortunately, while Kargbo and his team mates fought hard on the pitch for qualification, the football association withdrew the team from the qualifiers over financial issues.
Between 1991 and 1995, Kargbo played for Belgian sides Ronse and Deinze, becoming Gambia’s only player traveling from Europe to play international games for the Scorpions.
In 2002, Kargbo quit the national team after playing his last game against Guinea in Conakry. “I remember we were in the dressing room and I told Jatto Ceesay that I would be ending my career after that game. He wasn’t pleased. It was a difficult decision to make. But I felt I needed to quit to give chance to the young ones.”
The 45-year-old is now workingas a Physical Education teacher at Saint Augustine’s High School in Banjul. While he trains his students about sports, Kargbo often feels nostalgic about his days as a footballer.
“I miss the fans and how they appreciated me. I miss them so much.”