Former Gambia National Football team player Bai Malleh Wadda described his last meeting with Momodou Njie ‘Biri Biri’ as calm and fun moment.
The ‘legendary’ footballer died on Sunday in Dakar, Senegal, where he was receiving treatment for an undisclosed illness. He was aged 72.
“As ever, Biri was calm and maintained his spirit and sense of humor as I paid him a visit a day before he left for his treatment in Dakar, Wadda tells The Chronicle.
“Don’t worry Bai, I’ll be fine, he tells me, “Said Bai Malleh. “Then I said to him, common, you’re a champion and you’ll soon recover from this illness. He smiled and said yes I will be fine, Wadda explains.
But little did Bai know that Biri wouldn’t pull through.
Biri was a prominent figure in Gambia and beyond. He’s described by many as one of Africa’s most complete footballers of all time.
Biri played with four generations of Gambian footballers. His second generation team mates include Bai Malleh Wadda.
According to Wadda, not only did Biri inspired a generation of national team footballers in the 70’s, but he was a guardian to many if not all young footballers in Banjul at that time. “We all use to frequent at his home in perseverance Street in Banjul, “Bai tells The Chronicle. “Biri has inspired a generation of Gambian footballers. All of us wanted to be like him while growing up.”
Bai Malleh is by far the Gambia’s greatest multi-sport athlete. He represented the country in football, track and field, basketball, volleyball, lawn tennis, cricket and rugby – the only person known to have achieved that for his country. However, he credited Momodou Njie Biri for all his achievements in sports. “Biri gave us hope and made all of us believe in ourselves. He was a great man and he had a great personality and was charismatic.”
“He has sacrificed a lot for this country. He was always ready to die for his country. When I joined him in the national team, he made it home for me and all the young players at the time.This country will never have a Biri.”
Another national team member of Biri’s third generation is Sheikh Ndure. As a youngster, Sheikh was inspired by Biri to play football. “I’ve never seen a skillful and intelligent player like Biri Biri, Ndure tells The Chronicle. “He inspired me in many ways. His skills, moves with the ball and hunger for success was second to none.
“I remember in those days when he comes from Europe for holiday, all of us will rush to his house just to see his face. Just looking at Biri moving and talking meant a lot to us at that time. “He was a leader and so down to earth. His legacy is always going to stay forever for what he has done for football.”
Willy Abraham, President of Real De Banjul football club said, “Biri used to hold my hand from the dressing rooms of Box Bar stadium and hand me over to his Dad to sit near him by the perimeter fence to enjoy the game, “he tells The Chronicle.
“Biri has been my Daddy and uncle. He has always been very close to both myself and my whole family. We will never have another Biri Biri, Pele De La Gambia, said Willy.