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In the Service of Football: Meet Bom, Gambia’s Touchline Queen

Mariama Sowe 'Bom' (in blue top) hugging her player

Growing up in the sandy, dusty streets of Brikama, Mariama Sowe alias Bom didn’t have to think twice about what she loved and wanted to do. Her father, an ardent sports fan drummed the idea of sports into her ears and motivated her to take up sports seriously.

At a very tender age, Bom was already known widely in the town as that sports-craze girl. On the track she was a school athlete who excited people with her speed, charisma, tenacity and vigour. Every track event she took part in, she triumphed and her fan base increased. Her athletic stardom propelled her national track and field competitions, elevating from the sand field of Kabafita Primary School and Boxbar in Brikama to the neatly trimmed Bahama or whatever grass of the Independence Stadium in Bakau.

Mariama Sowe ‘Bom’ (in front)

Two decades down the line, Bom has proven that football is women’s game too. The 43-year-old was appointed in 2017 by The Gambia Football Federation as the head coach of the Gambia Senior National Women’s team, making her the first woman to take charge of the first national women’s squad, the Female Scorpions. She is also the head coach of Interior female team in the National Women’s Division One League.

“I feel so proud to be the coach of the first National Women’s team of The Gambia. Standing on that touchline gives me great joy. It feels so good.”

Bom’s road to the top wasn’t all rosy. She started football as a goalkeeper who had played for different teams including Jeshwang United, Company Ten, Bundung United, Red Scorpions and Interior FC and along the way, she battled discrimination and stereotypes in a community and a country it was rare to see women playing football.

“At first, people in my community were saying it’s not going to work out for me as a woman to play football. They made comments such as ‘you should just stay at home and do the cooking and washing’. But I was determined to prove them wrong and to be accepted the way I was.”

Today, she’s not only accepted in her community but she’s also seen as a national treasure. Among her long list of admirers is Sainey Sissoho, the Women’s Football Coordinator of The Gambia Football Federation. “She has proven her worth to be our national team head coach and I urge all aspiring women coaches to look up to her. She is simply great,” Sissoho says of Bom.

Mariama Sowe ‘Bom’ with technical assistants on the bench

Bom’s career continues to blossom. Reflecting on the career trajectory, she pays tribute to Malafi Barry, a former executive member of the Interior female team.

“When the then coach of Interior FC, Pa Dodou Sarr was asked by the management to quit coaching and concentrate on his police duties, then I was the captain and goalkeeper of the team, Malafi asked and encouraged me to quit playing and start coaching the team. That’s how I became a coach?

After doing well with the team thanks to her natural leadership qualities, Bom was offered the chance to coach the Interior female team in 2005 full-time. In her first game in the new job, she registered a 2-0 win over City Girls and a 4-0 win against Kintehs FC.

In 2017, she led the team to both the League and FF Cup triumph, making her the first coach in Gambian women’s football history to win both the league and FF cup the same year. In 2018, Sowe also led the Scorpions National Women’s Football Team to its maiden Women’s Cup of Nations qualifiers but was knocked out by Africa’s reigning champions Nigeria in the second and final round after they’ve edged passed Burkina Faso.

 

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