Like many other Gambian footballers, Tijan Marr was getting familiar with football not from the pitch but the dusty streets at his hometown, Brufut in kombo south.
His journey from playing with friends in the tiny street in Brufut, a place in the West Coast Region of the Gambia to fortune fc and to the national under 20 team is no different from a story of a determined young boy who has a robust dream and contangious desire to be at the apex.
The 19 year old Brusubi-based incredible footballer started playing football at a younger age in the street of Brufut with friends. Tijan used to be play with friends in the street. Even at a younger age, he set a dream for himself and quickly joined the famous Gilkock football Academy in Brufut where he began learning the basic of football.
“Growing up and playing in the streets with friends, I developed a strong love for football, so designed a dream for myself. To pursue this dream, I decided to join Gilkock Football academy to horn my skills as early as 2005″, Tijan told this medium.
Tijan would horn his skills in the academy for a couple of years in the coastal town. He would play football almost every day as his appetite for the game continue to develop. As luck would complement hard work in daily struggles, Tijan’s talent was spotted in Brufut and was part of the phalanx of young stars to respresent the ‘Sannegmentering” boys in the West Coast Region Football Association Third Division and helped the team to a promotion in the second division.
“Hard work and determination gained me a place in that team and it was a pride for me to represent my home town” Tijan would say as a player for Brufut United.
Tijan helped his home town to the second division. He was very instrumental for the team but could not helped a financially backed new look Brufut united to the first division for two seasons. Things fell apart between Tijan and Brufut United as he thought of changing environment and exhibit his talent in the pinnacle of Gambian football — first division league.
He left Brufut United at the end of the 2017-18 league season and became club-less and had to find a new breathing space to continue his dream of playing in the zenith of Gambian football.
The box-to-box midfielder would soon find a team when he played against former Fortune fc goal poacher, Patrick Sylva who recognized Tijan’s precocities and convinced him to join Fortune Fc for a pre-season to taste his fortune as a trialist.
“After training with him in Brusubi field, I told him to come for trial at Fortune. I saw what he can do. He’s a very good player with good technique. He can play with both feet. I think he’s a complete midfielder, he’s very hardworking and I am a big fan of Tijan.” Paice, Tijan’s former teamate in Fortune said.
Fortune football club is one of the baby teams in the first division league with array of young stars coach by a coach who has produced dozens of football players for the national teams in the past fifteen years.
Tijan, due to his jovial nature off the pitch didn’t struggle to acclamatize himself in the environment in fortune. It was a fortune for Tijan at the end of his trial as he signed a contract with the petroleum boys in the beginning of 2018-19 season even though it took a little time before getting his clearance from Brufut United.
“A cool environment was created for me during the trial. The coach gave me a chance to train and has seen my abilities. He didn’t only stop at watching me train, he told me about my strength as a player and advised me to work on my weaknesses and develop them… I knew I was going to sign at the end and it was a dream for me to sign for a team with a big heart for young players like fortune”, Tijan, on his signing for fortune.
Despite impressing Coach Jane Joof during his trials, Tijan was not rush into the first team so soon. Unlike many Young players whose desire to play outweight their desire to learn, Tijan spent most part of the season on the sideline learning from other players and the coach. It was patient which kept Tijan focus and worked extremely harder to be given chance to play. Eventually, he was given his share of the cake in the last six games of the 2018 season, an opportunity which open flootgate of chances for him. He went on winning two player of the week awards and scored two goals in those six games.
“I was desparate. I wanted to play but being outside the pitch learning from a coach like Jane Joof is not a waste of time at all. When I was given the chance, I didn’t dissapoint. I made good use of the opportunity given to me and won the team’s player of the week twice. Fortune has introduce me to a new world of football under Jane Joof.”
The 2018-19 league season will for a long time be cherished by Tijan. It was a breakthrough season for him.
He established himself as a reliable midfielder for Jane Joof and formed a solid partnership with Lamin ‘Lefoe’ Saidykhan in Fortune. His chemistry with Lefoe didn’t go unnoticed and Matarr Mboge could not arranged his WAFU under 20 side without the Fortune duo for a tournament in Guinea Bissau.
The midfielder’s remarkable season with Fortune earned him multiple opportunities: a regular starting place in the team, player of the week awards and a dream called to the National under 20 team.
“Tijan is a gem to play with. He understand the game and his ability to recover lose balls is incredible. I think he is a combination of Busqueet and Xavi”, Lefoe would describe his partner.
Playing in the highest level and represnting one’s national team is a dream for every player. But how did Tijan received his dream called up to the Under 20 side?
“It was a moment of joy and a fulfilment of my dream. I felt extremly happy. Tears of joy engulfed me. This has been my dream. This has been all what I was playing for every day, to put on the national team jersey, “the young star recalled his moment after recieving the news.
Tijan knew being invited to train with the team is different from being part of the final team. Matarr Mboge, the Under 20 head coach assembled best under 20 players in the training and would trimed them down to a required number of players for the WAFU tournament in Bissau.
“I knew I was going to fight for a place with other players. I wasn’t scared, because I have gone through trials before. I just worked on my strength and eventually, I made it to training camp in Quatar. When we came back, the hardwork continued and I made it to the tournament.”
Tijan went on to play three games out of the four games played by the team in the WAFU championship in Guinea Bissau.
The experience with the under 20 side has molded Tijan to another level. He had this desire to help Fortune win a silver ware before coronavirus pandemic would force the football federation to annul the league season.
“My experience with the under 20 side has change my game. Playing under Jane Joof and Matarr Mboge signifantly help me a lot. I am a better player today and would be a better one tomorrow with what they are putting in me”.
Like any other player, Tijan is working harder to become a professional footballer anytime soon.
“I am working hard and want to go proffesional soon. I believe in myself and I am ready for any opportunity in proffesional football. I love this game and football in actual fact abstained me from so many negative things.”
Germany and Real Madrid midfielder, Toni Krose is Tijan’s idol and wish to be like the world cup winner as a footballer.
The young star is currently in the books of Fortune football club, a divisional team in the Gambia.
Muhammed Lamin Drammeh is a freelance sports journalist.