In the village of Kafuta in Kombo East, Sheriffo Gibba, a charismatic and exciting young man once caught the eyes of the people for his athleticism. As a budding footballer and a track athlete, he was widely touted in the village and across his district as the boy that would lead the sport’s next generation.
Gibba’s rise to fame started as a teenage defender for the local Jarisu FC nawettan team in Kafuta in the early 90s. He became an instant hit thanks to his aggressive method of defending; aggressive karate-kick-like-tackle brand. He was certainly not the young defender opponents enjoyed facing. With his tall and broad frame, he maintained his no nonsense style of defending growing into adulthood. He was always an intimidating presence on the pitch. It wouldn’t also take long before football fans across the village noticed his unique speed, earning him the name ‘Pajero’.
By 1993, Gibba was quickly becoming a household name in the village, as his name spread like wildfire across Kombo East thanks to his stardom in the village’s junior nawettan. But during that period, his eyes were set on the senior team.
“I was always moving around with senior players in the village because of the love I had for football and what those players were doing for the village,” he tells The Chronicle. “I’d even run some of their errands just to learn from them. That’s how I wanted to be like them.”
Gibba was promoted to Kafuta’s senior football team in 1993, a rare success for a young player his age. He became the pride of the village; a young man carrying the burden of lofty expectations. He was touted by many as the next superstar who’d make it to the national squad and perhaps outside the country for professional football.
“I enjoyed my football. My coach had a lot of confidence in me and I was always ready to deliver at any moment and in any position in the field of play. I just wanted to play and win.”
In 1996, Gibba made it into the Kombo East district football team, making him the youngest in the first team. He debuted against Kombo Central. “That game was so dear to me because it was my first game outside of Kafuta,” he says.
Though Kombo East lost that game, the song ‘Sheriffo Gibba Pajero’ reverberated around the football field throughout the day.
Gibba’s dream was to play for the national squad, to keep the hope of his village alive. He had multiple trials with Bakau’s Division One outfit Steve Biko, of which his uncle was a founding member. “I impressed during my trials, but every time I asked about my fate, the coaches would tell me to wait.”
He waited in the Kombos for two seasons hoping that he would get a call to play for Steve Biko. The call never came and he packed up and returned to his village to continue playing local football.
Gibba had short stints with nawettan teams in the Greater Banjul Area. Among them Flemings in Bakau, Zurich in Serekunda East, Jattas in Lamin and Super Eagles in Brikama. Tired, ageing and with hopes of first division and national team football fading, his reputation as an energetic and aggressive defender started to falter on the pitch. His speed quickly dwindled. The spark in him slowly disappeared. His star failed to shine. And off the pitch, his charisma started to fade. He was no longer able to live up to the hype, and in 2001, he decided to quit football.
“It was a sad moment full of mixed feelings,” Gibba recalls. “My love affair with the fans was great. They were always supportive. They watched me play, sang my name and celebrated me. They believed I’d become a very successful player in the country and that didn’t happen. It is what it is. Things didn’t pan out as we expected but that’s life. I have to accept that,” he tells The Chronicle, bowing his head.
Though Gibba fell disappointingly short of his potential, Lamin Cham, the man who coached him at both junior and senior levels, sees him as “a legend Kafuta will never forget.”
Gibba lives in Kafuta, jobless.