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Meet the Accidental Gambian Referee who Went on to Officiate 86 International Football Matches

Alagie Faye

One day in May 1975, Alagie Faye, born and raised in Banjul, went to the famous Box-Bar mini football stadium in Banjul to watch a local game. As fate would have it, the central referee who was supposed to officiate the game was running late, and Faye was approached by members of the two teams to step in and officiate the game. He accepted the request even though he had zero refereeing experience. The game ended well and the fans were satisfied with the performance of their rookie referee.

Faye left the stadium pleased and inspired to consider refereeing as a career. I started training every day and I also adhered to every good advice given to me from referees, family members and close friends,” he tells The Chronicle.

Fast-forward the story to three years; Faye was not only handling national league matches but also international fixtures.

Alagie Faye (2nd from left) with colleagues all set for a match

His first taste of career refereeing came in 1977 at the same Box-Bar mini stadium in a game between local Augustians and White Phantoms. “I felt so much proud that day,” he recalls. “I wasn’t nervous as many people expected. I was just on top of everything from the start of the whistle.”

After cementing his position as a good referee in local leagues, Faye enrolled for a Basic Refereeing Course the same year, and attended numerous courses both at home and abroad.

In January 1976, ‘Blacka’ as he is fondly called, was called into the FIFA brass and quickly made his presence felt with the West African Football Union tournament final held in Dakar between Enugu Rangers of Nigeria and AS Police of Senegal.

“I can remember the then FIFA President Joao Havelange visited The Gambia that time and he had to travel all the way to Dakar to watch the final. I had a good game. The feedback was all positive.”

Joao Havelange watched Alagie Faye’s game in Dakar

By the time Faye returned to The Gambia from officiating that final in Dakar, he was already a celebrity in his own rights, and his popularity increased. Among his admirers was Tijan Masanneh Ceesay, a retired Gambian sports broadcaster now based in the U.S.

“I can tell you he was amongst Africa’s best. He was a stern official and was great at what he did.”

Gibril Saidy, a sexagenarian football fan recalls Faye was not only an African top referee, but one of the leading referees in the world back in the days. “Alagie was that brave and intelligent referee. Whenever I see Papa Gassama, my mind goes to Blacka (Faye),” he says with a smile.

Faye admits that he has had goose bumps before the start of matches especially where the stakes were very high. “It is natural to be a bit scared when you are in charge of a big match. But that would go away as the game progressed,” he says. ‘’These are some of the challenges you face in this profession, but they also make you grow and become a better referee.”

‘’I remember officiating a World Cup elimination round match between Liberia and Ghana in Liberia without proper security. I wasn’t comfortable at all. Every set-up of that fixture was poor. There was not even a match commissioner. So I was the referee and at the same time played the role of a match commissioner. It was so irrational but I successfully handled that game. I will never forget about that,” he said.

Between the 80s and 90s, Faye became a permanent fixture in the continent. He officiated 86 International matches. His most notable fixture was the 1993 world cup qualifying game between Cameroon and Zimbabwe. “That was just the biggest match in the World Cup qualifiers and I was selected to handle it. It felt so great.”

Faye went on to officiate Junior World Cup games which was in every African referee’s wish list at the time. Though he’s now retired, he’s serving as an executive member of both the Gambia Football Federation and the National Referees Committee.

“I miss the fans but I do not miss refereeing because I don’t have the energy now,” he says with laughter.

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