Once upon a time during the colonial period, cricket was a very popular game in The Gambia. Fans would gather at the McCarthy Square in particular to watch the game.
Cricket was introduced in The Gambia in the early 1927 by the British.
“During those days, the colonial masters would organise a 3-day inter-colonial cricket tournament for schools in Banjul and students were given half days at school on Thursdays and Fridays to attend the matches in their uniforms,” recalls George Gomez, a former cricketer and national team footballer.
“I remember an exciting match The Gambia played against Sierra Leone. The whole of McCarthy Square was brought to their feet. Excitement turned to anxiety and tension as we waited for Bola Mahoney to score the first century in Gambia. It was excitement all the way with cheers from all corners of the square as he hit the ball to four and six rapidly moving from zero to 90.”
By 1964 as the British left, some Gambians in Banjul took it upon themselves to keep the game alive. The likes of the late Sheriff Sanneh and Oremi Abrahams were actively cricketing at the McCarthy square and drawing large crowds. Then some of them died, others aged and retired, and the game started dying.
The first generation of Gambian cricketers include Ebou Taal, Dandeh Njie, Abdoulie Conteh, Tim Jagne, Abdoulie Kah and Bola Mahoney. They were all going to school while playing the game.
In 1988, a generation of cricketers and love for cricket emerged. Chucha Sambou, Modou Lamin Fofana, William Smart, Johnny Gomez, Alfred Crooks, Melvin Cates, Burama Fatajo, Pierre Sanyang, Mosses Njie formed part of the second Gambia National Cricket team.
During that year, The Gambian team travelled to Ghana and beat Ghanaians for the first time.
“I still remember that day. We all felt so great beating Ghana,” recalls Johnny Gomez, a former national team cricketer and now President of The Gambia Cricket Association.
“When we returned from Ghana, we started forming cricket clubs and also introducing it to the schools.”
In 1998, The Gambia started hosting International Cricket matches. Players then started experiencing international exposures.
David Prince Johnson, a former Captain of national team played in the traditional quadrangular tournament for West Africa. The tourney has been staged for over twenty years featuring Ghana, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and The Gambia. It was held in 2002 Nigeria, 2003 in Ghana, 2004 in The Gambia, and 2005 in Sierra Leone.
David retired in 2014 and he now serves as a trainer for the female national cricket team. He recalls that “playing Cricket during our time was so much fun.”
David was also a stylish right-hander in both batting and bowling and has played in the International Cricket Council (ICC) tournament held in South Africa in March 2004 and the ICC World division two league for Africa also held in Benoni, South Africa, in April 2006. He was part of the Gambian team that took part in the North-West Africa cricket tournament held in The Gambia in May this year, in which the Gambia lost to Ghana in the Semi-finals.
“My father was a Cricketer. Everyone in my family loves cricket. So, I’ll say I was born in a cricket family. Growing up in Banjul, we use to go round the houses to cut down coconut steps that we used as bats and pick milk tins as balls to play cricket,” he says.
Cricket has since collapsed though there are efforts to revive it.
“Yes, it is true that cricket is not popular in The Gambia like before. This is because results are not coming and Gambians need good results. So we need to work harder as a nation to build strong national teams,” says David.
However, since changing its status from an affiliate to associate member of the International Cricket Association, The Gambia is now ranked tenth position out of twenty-two cricket nations on the continent. This development came following successful implementation of grass roots programs by The Gambia Cricket Association in 2018.