On a dusty, sandy football pitch in Bakoteh, Momodou Ceesay, a football-obsessed 10-year-old from the neighbourhood runs around with the ball practicing his dribbling skills. Next to him, a dozen other kids line up for shooting practice.
Momodou joined the Bakoteh My Community academy a year ago to fulfil his dream of playing professional football, a dream inspired by his passion for European football leagues he watches on television. “I want to become a professional footballer playing abroad. And I’ll continue to work hard for it.”
But Momodou is aware that making it to foreign leagues he watches on TV is a huge task which he may have to start at home.
“I want to first play for Real De Banjul football club because I like their style of play. I think that will also prepare me to be ready to become a superstar outside the country. That will be nice.”
I want to be a professional footballer in the future.
The next superstar
The football academy is not only developing Momodou to become a good footballer, but it’s also boosting his confidence and communication skills. His mother, Mariama Ceesay, says “he was a very shy boy who would rarely speak to people. But on the football pitch, we notice he talks a lot and communicates with his team mates all the time. He’s so rejuvenated when he’s on the pitch and of late when he’s also off the pitch.”
This is already seen as an achievement for a mother who was initially reluctant to let her son join the academy to play football because of fear that he could get injured and not be able to go to school. She finally let her play after he consistently queried that all other kids have joined the academy.
Momodou has become one of the most popular players in the academy. Among his success stories is being chosen as the captain of the Under-10 team.
“As parents, our role is to support our son in whatever he wants to do. We’re happy that we let him play football,” says Mariama. “He’s healthy and happy, and we’ll give him all the support he needs to achieve his dream.”
House to house campaign
Bakoteh My Community academy was set up by Ebrima Jadama and Baboucarr Sanyang, two football enthusiasts who are passionate about developing young aspiring footballers by helping them to excel on the pitch and grow and develop off the pitch. It took a lot of passion and determination from the duo to make this work.
“I had to go house to house just to convince parents to allow their kids to join the training sessions. It wasn’t easy at the beginning because they believed football was a hindrance to their kids’ education. So to win their hearts, we were compelled to organise educative youth community camps with football matches and social activities as a mean to develop relationship between different communities and also to help the kids with school works,” says Ebrima.
With the parents now on board, the academy offers fun introductory football sessions every Saturday and Sunday to develop both the physical and psychological skills of the youngsters. The hope is to get them to international stardom. But the success of every child is attached to the support he gets from his parents, according to Ebou Jarra, the academy’s Youth Development Coach and former trainer of Ardwick football club in England.
“As a parent, you have to wake your kid up in the morning, prepare breakfast for him, prepare him mentally to go and enjoy what he loves doing. That’s the moral support and it’s valuable,” he says.
“In other parts of the world, parents drive their kids to football training centres and drive them home after sessions which doesn’t happen quite frequent in The Gambia. A parent’s support motivates the kid to be effective both on and off the pitch. Whenever they on the pitch and look around, they should always see their parents cheering them up.”