Gunjur in Kombo South is relatively known for producing footballers that have successfully plied their trade at national level. Among them is retired midfielder Buba Janneh alias Star Janneh, the town’s greatest export to Gambian football.
Star Janneh started his competitive career in the early 1980s with Young Dabanani football club in Gunjur. He recalls a game between Dabanani and Brikama during his stint with the club.
“Not only did Dabanani play well in that inter-regional tournament against all odds, but it was the occasion which put Dabanani and the entire community of Gunjur in the limelight in The Gambia,” he tells The Chronicle.
“I was fortunate to be part of that team, and grateful that the entire community rallied behind us throughout the tournament. We enjoyed massive moral and financial support from the entire community, especially the senior Dabanani members, particularly Dembo Jatta (Karl).”
He’d soon play for Western Division in the inter-regional competition as well as the Youth Week competition. He also recalls a 1980s match between Western Division and Upper River Division in Farafenni.
“This was a semifinal match and late Babun Fatty was the Commissioner of Western Division at the time. It was a keenly contested match and I scored the only goal in the match and received very good treatment from our officials, especially my late friend and mentor, Malang Ida Bojang of Brikama.”
By the end of that tournament, Star Janneh made a name for himself across Western Division thanks mainly to his flamboyance in the midfield, reliable ball control and ability to navigate his way out of sticky and complex situations on the pitch.
His hard work would elevate him to national stardom as he signed for the then mighty Wallidan in 1984. During his debut season while still going to school at Gambia High School, he played for the junior national squad. He transformed himself into a glorious player who dictated the tempo of his matches from the heart of midfield.
Star Janneh joined the senior national squad in 1986. His work rate, tenacity and dribbling and passing prowess gave him a national hero status on and off the pitch. Among his best games for the senior squad was a December 1987 match against Ghana’s Black Stars.
“I guess I had a very good match that night and the support from the football fans in the Gambia was overwhelming. It was a night which I will never forget in my life.”
In 1988, he left for the U.S. for university education and he pursued his passion by playing college football. Looking back at his career, what remains embedded in Star Janneh’s heart is the love from the fans.
“I enjoyed tremendous support from the fans, especially from the then Western Division and I guess it was mainly because there were very few of us from the area who were fortunate to play football at the highest level in the country. I am very grateful for this and I wish to seize this opportunity to thank all of them for their support.”
The whole time Star Janneh was playing football, he was focusing on education too. “Education has always been an integral part of our development as members of Young Dabanani whose base was Bojang Kunda in Gunjur, the home of the late world renowned Islamic Scholar, Sheikh Hatab Bojang. So we grew up in an environment where education was highly valued and we were encouraged to pursue higher education. I have maintained this value even when I moved to Banjul to play for Wallidan.”
Life after football has been all good for Star Janneh. Since his return to The Gambia at the end of his studies, he’s been a corporate banker and has worked in different countries in Africa and Asia.
Though he enjoys his career as a banker and all the beautiful things that come with it, he misses the game. “I miss football, especially community football. The passion to fight for your community without asking for any financial reward was what kept some of us in Young Dabanani going. I would like to seize this opportunity to pay special tributes to some of my teammates in Young Dabanani who are no longer with us, for their immense contributions in shaping my career and by extension my life.”
“These former teammates were Foday Jabang of blessed memory who was a giant in our midst as well as Bekai Bojang, also of blessed memory and late Ousman Colley.”
And Star Janneh’s assessment of today’s Gambian football: “I don’t think we have moved a lot in terms of performance compared with other nations in the sub-region. I have my views around the administration of football in the Gambia and have expressed this in the past, especially around financial discipline, including moving from spending money on the recurrent expenditure to investing in developing our youth football (School football).”
For him, The Gambia needs to seek technical assistance from the countries who have revamped their football.
“Doing things as ‘business as usual’ will not give us any result. We need to develop a very attractive product to attract investments especially from the private sector. In summary, we need people with clear vision to run our football, both at the national and regional and community levels.”