Growing up in a multi-tribal community, sport was a receptive undertaking at virtually all homes except at mine. In fact I rarely had time to venture into any recreational activity even though I discovered I was better in football, basketball and sprinting.
But being an os-pikin – trained to restrict within the perimeters of the compound or house focusing on learning at all times – I seldom had much contact outside and when I did, occurring only in the weekends or during schooling hours, I made much of it.
Like all excited kids, I stayed beyond school hours, upon completing normal lessons, to get into sport. In my home town where I did my early education, the streets were welcoming and football matches were played from 4pm to approach of dusk. Frequent practice, they say, perfects a skill.
During inter house sessions at middle school, I topped the 100m races for juniors and often got figured for the official 100m events but for some reasons, I will never turn up for my kunda, preferring getting involved in football or basketball where I felt I was better cut out to revel using my height as an advantage.
I could spend hours playing around the basketball court of Charles Jow Memorial Academy or Nusrat as a youngster. When I officially enrolled at the latter school with impressive grades, I found it easy gliding into the institution’s basketball team. The interesting thing is that, years before I joined, I trained with Nusrat Secondary School in the afternoon while I was at middle school at Charles Jow under the retired educationist Alpha Khan’s tenure. The PE teacher at Nusrat then wasn’t conversant with basketball rules and called me to step in having watched me turn up for my town’s basketball team against the calibre of Brikama, Banjul, Serrekunda West or YMCA. Tough as the job of multitasking is, I was excited and took grade 10-ners or those at grade eleven at the Ahmadiyya built institution on sessions after closing from normal classes. So when I officially gained entrance to the high school, it was as if I have been there all my life.
However, in my mind’s eye, temptation to play football at the time became irresistible partly because an older friend made it to my area’s nawettan team, starring at a level that attracted crowds at the Serrekunda East mini-stadium. It reached a time I was torn between soccer and B-ball, not sure of which one to take. At football, I rocked it with the calibre of Hamza Barry who is today Gambia national team’s finest midfielder and was two years my senior at school.
Coalesced with this indecisiveness, was changes I was noticing as a teenager growing up –quick exhaustion and dyspnea. Whatever I did lasted for no more than forty-five minutes including experiencing a wave of anxiety during certain periods. It came at a time I was balancing school basketball duties with playing at ‘Mana-Ous football tournament’ when learning closes where I was competing for the golden boot with Ablie Jallow, now a Gambia international plying his trade with Metz of the French Ligue 1. Jallow will snatch the top scorer’s prize after he got gifted a controversial penalty in the dying minutes for German Boys in the final which turned match-winner.
The exhaustive schedules with which I operated at school and my advancing shortness of breath meant, I had to prioritise on settling with one sport. The latter gained prominence in my head because the basketball wasn’t popular and the few who ventured in it had little to show for it largely not that they were devoid of the talent but were rendered incapable of performing due to issues with infrastructure capped off by a disjointed association who by default, were cash-strapped. Some of my teammates at middle school to this day still flatter me to consider swapping the pen for the game and join their clubs each time I trip to the Independence Stadium to cover basketball league games.
By 2008, frequent fatigue began to manifest but it wasn’t, by my judgment, taking a toll on my body as my guardian had feared. Later, I confined myself to football alone, attending sessions at the Buffer Zone with almost religious ferventness in readiness for an U-15 selection bound for Norway where I barged in on Bubacarr Trawally – a later classmate at Grade Nine –now a professional in Saudi Arabia’s league.
In the interim and at the quick rate which I got tired, prompted an appointment with a doctor. Check-up and scans confirmed dyspnea. Heart palpitation, dizziness and coughs, were one of litany of reasons, I could remember the doctor say are associated with the condition. Whatever that meant in detailed scientific elaboration mattered little to a youngster determined to make a breakthrough. It turned out, the coach who led our sessions in preparation for the events in Norway, had been warned behind my back by a relative, not to field me for fear of a possible convulsion attack, as relatives were told by the doctor that it could culminate into the worst happening to me if care isn’t taken. I wasn’t devastated but sad and stepped out of the game for four years until after I’d completed secondary education.
The urge for football still won’t desert me and by 2010 and despite also practicing journalism, temptation to come out of my involuntary retirement became irresistible. I returned to the Buffer Zone for practice, however, thoughts of what happened some years ago there –being taken out of a team of youngsters bound for an audition in Oslo – came back all through in all their freshness, morphing into ghost of the past. I resolved the zone wasn’t ideal so I moved to join a team that used the field behind Bundung Police Station as a makeshift training ground.
At this stage, what level I started was inconsequential as all I wished for was to get some minutes under my belt at third division level and possibly head to the top tier. That dream came to fruition a year later and one of the coaches at multiple-time league champions Gambia Ports Authority invited me for a trial having watched few of my games in the third echelon.
Ports were in the mood to rebuild their battered image after impotently watching Real de Banjul scoop the title. Four years prior, they’ve sold away the Nyassi twins of Sanna and Sainey, Pa Malick Joof, Abdourahman Dampha, Mandou Bojang, Pa Modou Jagne, Kebba Bah and Alagie Bun Gaye –a mass exodus they haven’t recuperated from and were in the search for a midfielder to replace Senegal-bound David Sambou. Tempting to the ears as it sounded, I grabbed the offer but couldn’t make it on first day of the test because the night before I woke up feeling numb like a man with knocked knees. The second day, I managed turning up but I knew I couldn’t last beyond the second half. What made this interesting was I never told them I was a journalist so they taught I was another regular kid looking to earn a deal. I would go missing for fifteen minutes then pop up with a brilliant display in the next twenty minutes. That was how I maneuvered and disguised my quick exhaustion to coaches. The gaffers, on final analysis, reckoned I had fitness issues but thought could make the cut still. Hamza Barry was one of the youngsters gaining ground at the Ferry Boys at the time. I could remember partnering former Gambia international Alagie Fatajo dubbed Butut in one of the sessions as start of league approached.
When trimming was done, I was one of the few considered to be offered a contract but later axed after I came clean with the gaffer regarding my health status. “We will have to let you go then and pick another player. All the best,” I could remember the coach say. It wasn’t unsurprising. The words hit me like a thunderbolt but I persevered and hid it. I couldn’t remember when last I wept I as wasn’t the one to be moved emotionally that easily but here I was, deflated and tears at the corner of my eyes as I walked out of the field after the post-training pep-talk.
I felt a tap on the back. I turned around. It was Hamza.
“Boy yaw ham me Na la Nusrat, si basketball court bi . Fog na yangi won si school team bi haw ma,” he said, sounding unsure. “yeah, dega,” I could hear myself answer. “So coach bi mune naka, da nga continue wala?,” he ventured again. “Ah dode ham boy,” I said. A short reply. To me, I have packed all the disgust and momentary gamut of emotions I was going through in this abrupt answer. He understood. “Yangi bakh boy, bo jengo yep di na moleh,” he uttered in a failed attempt at encouragement.
I hopped into a taxi, sped back home, freshen up and off to bed, the least perturbed by what was happening around me. Waking up fours later, I tried regurgitating what transpired and how the spanner got thrown into my work. I resolved, on final analysis, I got what I deserved –the brutal truth. There was no way Ports could sign me up, get paid at the passing of every month just to merely contend with playing bit-part roles all season irrespective of how good a player one was. There will come a time niggling injuries will ravage first-teamers and one would be expected to step up onto the plate. And then what will happen, I will come in play thirty-minutes at a time I will be needed most then opt out because of exhaustion? “Doesn’t sound right,” I soliloquized.
I stepped back and took a sabbatical until in 2016 when I came out to figure for Shining Stars FC, a side that trained every day of the week skipping only the weekends the entire twelve months of the term. The coach, a certain erstwhile Hawks Football Club striker, joking called his side Ecowas. They trained a primary school. This was miles far from what obtained at previous sides I have been to with the exception of drills. The technical aspect of it wasn’t much dueled on as there was no time for such given the forty or forty-five minutes we were accorded for training before the bells goes for commencement of lessons, signaling by force end of training, was more than inadequate. Compounding the situation was other area teams too also took up space at the venue. Shining Stars had some distinguished players, some of them accountants at some banks and firms, some carpenters, pharmacist and mechanics. I was the sole journalist and they had no idea who I was for two years until a journalist friend passing by the school spotted me involved in hectic drills, profusely sweating around 7:30 am and told the coach. We were preparing for the Nawettan qualifiers for Serrekunda West on empty stomach as it was the Ramadan period.
The coach was stupefied to learn one of his most committed players was in fact a journalist. He approached me after the boys had dispersed. “I’m glad to know you’re working and still come here at 6:40am earlier than the other boys then get involved in grueling exercise and continue again to work for another seven to eight hours. Do you at all get enough rest?,” the coach quizzed.
“Ah bul dega way bul ko wah boysi,” I told him in a begging tone, as I didn’t know how rest of the squad will handle such a revelation, considering I have trained with them in disguise for twenty four months and was considered one of the senior players.
I knew I was never going to be around that much in the team despite starting couple of the test games one of which was against Rangers FC majority of whose players now cut it either at Real de Banjul or in the other clubs in the Gambian first division. Memorable during my time there was when I slammed in a left-footed rebound blast that bubbled past the stunned goalkeeper who’d wandered out to fend me off in the penalty area to end the game 2-1 in our favour and giving Sporting Real’s quick winger Ensa Njie, turning up for Rangers, run for his money with some interceptions. He had to be stretchered off wounded in the end.
In the intervening periods, I have been following laid rules recommended by doctors to manage my predicament but it got me nowhere or rather I saw no improvements. I must say, I kept this closely to myself with only proximate of mine aware of it. I must relay between 2013 and 2014, the strain was triggering tense of the muscles and I chose to speak little and did my best to avoid argumentative talk. To sum it up, I kept to myself. Those who had no clues or are outside my circle interpreted my silence differently. I needed to conserve whatever of energy verve I’d in the tank just in the event I needed it.
Winning a 10-Year Battle and Of Natural Remedy Doctors Should Look Into
I was making do with natural remedy. It followed after I passed out along the cul-de-sac towards Nawec’s Serrekunda headquarters close to an old man who turned out to be specialist in herbal medicine. When I came round, he asked I return a week later to pick up a remedy bottle content of which comprised boiled neem tree’s leaves, bark and roots, I realised upon enquiry, which he recommended I gulp down at least twice a day. The changes weren’t rapid but had quite a tremendous result which leading to my cure. Before this, I have resolved not to get any close to soccer until breathing eased with me. Side effect of the mixture is, like, aspirin, it hung on the clothes for days. My hopes were raised by 2017 going on a strict diet of vegetables that did not involve drinking cold water at any point for twelve months with grueling natural exercise devoid of weights. Below is the breakdown: three hundred push-ups, 10 seconds interval for each rep coupled with 300 squats at intervals for rep and 300 calves work-out. 20 reps of bicep and tricep with a 20-0 down counting for each rep. This excruciating sessions I made sure were completed with cardio of thirty minutes of abs drills. I am no doctor to confirm the neem tree mixture as cure to my ailment but it’s properties certainly are deserving of being reviewed by our science labs. Satisfied with dramatic transformation I experienced, I booked a trial with Samger Football Club October 2017 who got relegated from the first division and were ardent climbing to the premier league under the watch of coach Alagie Basiru Njie. In the build-up to the audition, I had misfortune of picking up a back injury and injured my right knee while starring for the sports journalists at a mini tournament at Senegambia Dream Park. Taking into account, the long road to overcoming my shortness of breath to assuming the form of a middleweight boxer, I thought I never deserved it. But injuries are never deserved and hit players nonetheless. Again I hid my identity buoyed up by experience of past at Ports Authority. I went to bed earlier than was my habit the night before my Samger auditioning, waking up with slight anxiety. “Yes I had fitness issues, but this was no time to panic,” I thought to myself. The Serrekunda East Park was the venue changing from Manjai’s artificial turf. I arrived at about 7:ooam earlier than most of the other trialists including the coach and his entourage. Serrekunda East Super Nawettan side were the first to use the pitch then Armed Forces Football Club. By the time it was Samger’s turn, the sun was unforgiving. It’s sweltering moments every October In the Gambia. By 12pm, the pitch was literally unplayable, the bahamas of the East Park was hot and penetrated, quite literally to the cleats. We had to pour water on our boots to cool us of the heat. Soon we were summoned and all trialists grouped in one team for the first day. The numbers increased considerably three days later. Each player was asked their preferred role. In the end, we had more defenders and midfielders without a striker. I offered to star up front which I could still play being a versatile not a specialist in the heart of defence, as a winger, defensive and attacking midfielder but on this occasion, I needed to exercise circumspection because I was injured. First touch of the ball counts a lot in any audition as well as being a team player and I could hear an “aah” of disapproval in the opening minutes from direction of the coach when I failed to get to the end of what was a delectable pass from my playmaker. Then came an in-swing cross swerving my direction which I acrobatically pummeled little over the crossbar. “Come on, good one!,” the coach cheered on. About ten minutes later we had our breakthrough. A teasing pass was flung in which the goalkeeper parried but I arrived on time to head home for a 1-0 score. Seven minutes on, by mental noting, I turned provider for the second goal. The second day of the trial, ten players were dropped and I survived the cut. I survived all the axing until on the final day of the game when I hobbled off pulling a tendon around the knee, leaving the pitch five minutes into the game amid the scotching sun. It occurred to me I was put into consideration by the technical set up for the reserves team because I learnt they were in desperate need for a finisher. However, a quick chit-chat with the coach and after the club doctor had examined my abrasion, had them deciding against offering me a deal.
The injury I sustained was in fact a recurrence and they couldn’t afford to sign a player who won’t get to play till the next four to six months when the league would have ended. A wasted investment it would have amounted to. So I went home feeling not bitter but with a sense of gratification that unlike the previous stint, I got overlooked this time largely due to an injury.
Now purpose of this is write-up is not to bore the readership with monologue of how I nearly landed a contract with the 2008 league vice-champions but rather how I resorted to natural remedy to win a ten-year battle with ailment aided by an adjusted training regimen in the hope to inspire others not to give up.