Alieu Badara Jarju was always tipped to be a successful footballer. Those who watched him play as a kid noticed he was a serial winner in competitive games. He became one of the most complete midfielders around.
Alieu started his career in his home village of Darsilami in the outskirts of Brikama. At Primary 4, he became the captain of his school’s junior team. He then made it to the senior team and guided the school to many glories at district level.
In 1983, he proceeded to St. Peters High School in Lamin where he did most of his youth career with local Charren Football Club. But it was the Lamin inter-community tournament that excited Alieu the most. It was at that tournament that he invented himself as a midfield dynamo for Sanchaba F.C. After enjoying considerable success with the club, he moved to Brikama in 1986 to join Dragons Football Club, one of the best clubs in the football-craze town at the time.
But after just a few months, Alieu dumped Dragons for bitter rivals, Saraba, one of the most famous football clubs in The Gambia at the time. Saraba was star-studded and not even his reputation as a creative genius in the midfield could propel him to first team football when he arrived.
“I met very good players at Saraba… the likes of Mustapha Minteh, Michael Demba and Star Njie. So it was difficult for me to get into that squad,” he tells The Chronicle.
A do-it-all midfielder, Alieu possessed exquisite touch and a winning mentality. With these qualities, he was able to fight his way into the starting line-up. “I just had to work hard not to necessarily beat the senior players I met there, but to win the confidence of the fans and the coach,” he recalls.
“Alieu Badara was a very technical player,” says Musa Manneh, a fan from Brikama. “I remember he was very instrumental in Saraba’s games against Justice and Kuteh Jombulu football clubs. His speed and exceptional physical prowess were second to known.”
In the midfield, his good athleticism always allowed him to burst into space and create opportunities for his teammate’s to score. He was a wizard with the ball at his feet, and thanks to his incredible skills, he was selected to the junior national squad in 1990.
A year later, Alieu made his debut for the senior squad, the Scorpions in an African Cup of Nations qualifier against Cameroon in Yaoundé, after missing the first leg in Banjul.
“I felt so great playing for my country for the first time. It gave me so much joy. It was a dream come true.”
Though the Scorpions lost 1-0 to Cameroon, Alieu wowed the fans with his brilliant ball skills.
“I was focused and I knew my responsibilities as a national team player. You needed that to succeed in such a great team.”
“I loved the fans. They were so amazing. They made me give my heart out,” he recalls.
His career highlights were travelling with the national team to other countries and playing in most of the key games for the Scorpions. His low moments include Gambia’s 5-0 home defeat to Cameroon in the 1991 Afcon qualifier. “The fans were very angry with us. I felt bad that day.”
Now a chef by profession, Alieu teaches catering and hospitality at the Gambia Girl Guides Vocational School. But it’s football that he continues to be emotionally attached to.
“I wish I can come back to the field and play this beautiful game. I miss the fans. I miss everything about my days with the national team.”
“We have to nurture the young ones.”
He urged the Gambia Football Federation to do more to strengthen grassroots football development.