Cherno Samba was born in Banjul and moved to England at the age of six to reunite with his mother and brother. The family lived in the English town of Watford in Hertfordshire for a few months before settling in Peckham in South East London. That’s where Samba’s incredible exploits for his school and Sunday League teams led to offers for trials at Millwall, Charlton and West Ham United.
Millwall was Samba’s local club and the one he chose to commit to. As he quickly rose to stardom, international recognition followed.
“I remember I had my first England game for the Under-15 against Northern Ireland, and the second game against Wales. We won 3-1. I scored one goal, set up another and was named man of the match. That’s when everything got out of hand,” he tells The Chronicle.
Cherno Samba won four international caps for The Gambia, scoring once in a friendly win over Tunisia.
“Gambia had been after me to play for them for 15 years. I chose to switch allegiance and it was really good to play for my birth country. I got to play in qualifiers for the African Cup of Nations and the World Cup which was a dream.”
However, Cherno who earned full caps for the Scorpions between 2008 and 2010 recalls national team days. “It was so much fun playing in the national team. I remember my first game was against Liberia and the Independence Stadium was filled to capacity. That gave me real joy. I shed tears while singing the national anthem.”
Samba experienced some incredible highs as one of England’s most exciting young footballers. His undeniable goal-scoring ability attracted England’s biggest clubs. “It was Manchester United, Liverpool, Leeds United and Arsenal that were interested in me and I went to all four clubs. Funnily enough, while I’m was United fan, I ended up loving Liverpool because when I went there, they made me feel very welcome and it was more of a family club”, he says.
“I just felt comfortable. Michael Owen really helped me. He called me and said ‘You know it’d be nice if you come here, we can play together.’ That just sold the club to me and Gerard Houllier at the time was great, absolutely legendary. He made me feel very welcome.”
However, Liverpool made a bid of £2 million. It may seem like small change now, but the deal would have set Samba apart as one of the youngsters to watch in English football. Millwall, perhaps understandably were reluctant to let him go.
“They put a bid in and obviously things didn’t work out because Millwall didn’t want me to go,” Samba explains. “They couldn’t agree payments or whatever, and then that’s why the deal collapsed. It made me feel so bad.”
The collapse of the proposed move to Liverpool stalled Cherno’s career. “I was isolated. I just kept thinking about what had happened with Liverpool. That was eating away at me and I became depressed.”
“I used to sweat at night and have nightmares. I used to go the physio’s room and take as many tablets as I could. I just didn’t want to be here. I wanted to take my own life.”
Samba retired in July 2015 due to persistent ankle problem and his loss of passion for football.
He has since been working on his coaching badges and is currently working as a manager with Tottenham Hotspurs’ junior teams.
In 2018, Samba wrote his life story in a book titled ’Still in The Game’ to help guide the next generation of talents around the pitfalls of the game. The book has a strong message for youngsters that by working hard, hopes and dreams can come true.
“I want to show them my experience – what to do and what not to do. I don’t think there’s any better person to teach the next generation than me. I’ve been in the system and I’ve lived it.”
Samba’s advise to Gambia’s latest crop of footballers: “The Gambia Football Federation cannot get into the pitch and play. It’s the boys who play. So they have to give it all out for the country’’.