Pa Dembo Touray will always be remembered by Gambian football fans for using his tall, huge frame to make very critical saves especially at the defining moments of games that mattered to his country and clubs.
Renowned for his penalty saving skills, Touray was arguably one of the best goalkeepers The Gambia ever produced. In one-on-one situations, he’d use his size to cover the entire goal area and save the ball quite often. With fantastic reflexes and shot-stopping ability, he cemented his position as regular for the Scorpions from the moment he debuted in 1997.
Born and raised in Bakau, Touray began his career with Young Musa Njie F.C in the town’s nawettan. He guided the team to more than 3 league titles before moving to Sait Matty for a short spell.
“The Bakau nawettan has helped in shaping my career as a goalkeeper,” he says.
In 1998, Touray joined Real De Banjul in the National Division One League where he brought great stability in an unstable time for the ‘City Boys’. In the few months leading to his debut, Real De Banjul had tried over 3 different goalkeepers in vain. But once Touray found his way into the first team, he quickly became the answer to the club’s goalkeeping problems. He would go on to become the team’s captain.
“It wasn’t easy to get into the then Real De Banjul team where you had the likes of Wandeh Njie (a veteran national goalkeeper). But I kept on pushing and believing in myself,” he tells The Chronicle. “I have to thank Wandeh because he supported me while at Real De Banjul.”
Known for his aggression and assertion in the penalty box, Pa Dembo Touray would later join the national team in 1997 and made his debut against Mali in a Zone Two match played at the Independence Stadium in Bakau.
“I felt a bit nervous on that day,” he recalls. “The stadium was full to capacity and I had to prove myself. I loved the way fans were supporting us. It made me feel so proud.”
Since then, Touray certainly made his presence felt both in The Gambia and on the international stage. In 2000, he signed for Djurgardens IF in Sweden, a deal he described as a big move. He was handed an extended run in the Swedish team, and had maintained his position as first-choice goalkeeper. “Everyone in the team trusted me and that motivated me to do all I could to help the team.”
He was also rewarded with the club captaincy after multiple seasons of consistency, and following the 2011 season, he was crowned as the top goalkeeper in Allsvenskan, the Swedish highest league.
Capped 25 times for The Gambia, Touray is one of the most celebrated fan favorites of the Scorpions, having spent nine years as the first choice goalkeeper.
“He was my favorite goalkeeper in the history of the national team,” says Matarr Jassey, a Gambian football commentator based in Norway. “I like his aggression and bravery at the goal.”
Touray’s biggest career highlight came in 1997 during a Zone Two game against Senegal. A solid shot stopper, he was the undisputed No.1 for the Scorpions that day.
“That was my best moment as a national team player. I remember George Lobba (an iconic goalkeeper) was on the bench and I needed to prove to all Gambians that I could replace him. So it turned out to be a great outing for me. Fans started singing for me and that’s where I stamped my name in their hearts, I miss the fans.”
Touray retired from national team duties in 2010 to pursue a different career in football. His last game for The Gambia was against Senegal in an African Cup of Nations qualifier. “That game gave mix feelings,” he recalls. “I thought I should give chance to the young goalkeepers coming up and concentrate on other things. I think I gave all I could to my country.
He currently works as a goalkeeper trainer with Hollviken IF, Sweden’s second biggest football academy.
The 39-year-old describes the current state of Gambian football as pathetic.
“People who are running our football have little knowledge about the game and they don’t want to be advised on the way forward. Look at all the countries that we were ahead of. They’re all competing at the highest level, and we are not. We need a football federation with football-minded people.