On top of being one of the best wingers, Essa Faye remains one of Gambia’s most creative and talented attackers. A glorious talent blessed with a host of flicks, tricks and touches designed to deceive opposing defenders, Essa was a fan favorite. He never went for power but preferred to use his pace, dribbling skills and coolness under pressure, and his crosses and free kicks are absolutely deadly.
Voice of Essa Faye
Faye’s love for football started when he was 14 years old in Banjul. As a youngster, he would join his peers in Banjul’s popular Police Line area to play street football. “That’s where everything started for me, Faye tells The Chronicle. “I grew up watching very good footballers in Banjul especially ‘Biri Biri’ and I got inspired by his skills, moves with the ball and hunger for success.”
Faye attended Crab Island and Mohammedan Primary Schools in Banjul in 1971 where his career began. It was at Crab Island under the guidance of renowned educationist and sports coach Cherno Barra Touray where he was tipped for greatness. Alongside his very close friends, Ebou Kah, (EK) and Demba Ndow, they carved a niche in Gambian football with all three ascending to the pinnacle of Gambian football with Hawks FC. “I spent only one season with Hawks because the team officials thought it wise that most of us should be transferred to other teams to gain more experience, so I preferred to join Wallidan.”
In 1974, Essa Faye moved to Gambia’s best team at the time, Wallidan where he suited up next to arguably the greatest Gambian footballer ever, Momodou Njie, Biri Biri. His tenacity as a winger was unrivaled, much more his physical capabilities and overall physique which earned him the name, ‘Gambia’s fittest’.
“At Wallidan, Essa was among the top scorers in Division One football and there was not a halfback who could contain him for ninety minutes,” said Tijan Masanneh Ceesay, retired Gambian sports broadcaster and commentator. “My favorite recollection of this gem was a Wallidan derby against Canon Yaoundé of Cameroon in the African Club Championships qualifiers in 1980 with the world great Thomas Nkono manning the pipes of Canon Yaoundé. It was a through pass, a thing of beauty from Baboucarr Sowe Laos towards the Primet Street end goal at Box Bar Stadium. With one move, Essa faked the legendary Ta Taw and sent a canon Nkono’s way and it found the net, I’ve never seen a goal like that.”
Upon joining the national team in 1974, Faye quickly won the hearts of his coaches. He quickly built a reputation for himself as the best attacker of his generation. “In those days, me and my teammates will do everything possible to make Gambia proud, we were so hungry for glory. 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.
Purely in terms of talent, Essa Faye is one of the greatest wingers that The Gambia has ever produced, says Cherno Barra Touray, Essa’s former physical education teacher. “Essa had the ability to beat more than three players with the ball with his pace and excellent dribbling skills, he was just an exceptional player.”
While with the national team, Essay remained a remarkably quick as well as tricky dribbler. 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 moment was Gambia’s 2-1 defeat to Senegal in the Amicabral Cup competition at the Independence Stadium in 1985, a game he did not play in because he was not picked by the then German coach, Holger Obermann . “I went to the stadium on that game with my child just to watch the game and every Gambian fan was surprised why I was not selected,” he explains. Everyone was shouting my name, ‘we need Essa Faye’, they exclaimed! The coach called me and wanted me to play at that juncture, but the match officials couldn’t agree”.
Now a football consultant, Essa offers his knowledge and wisdom to young Gambian players. 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.”
Essay Faye also played in Denmark before his retirement in 1989