Football, it is said, could unravel the dirtiest of dark arts in the fervent quest to win.
Senegal are perhaps epitome of that in the account of former national team captain Ebou Sillah as he lays bare in-depth tales of what transpired from the airport, the lockeroom to in the pitch, that never made its way to the press.
Diminutive by nature, Ebou -one of the key players of a then largely local-based Gambian outfit -pulled off tricks that kept a mammoth Senegalese frames as defenders on their toes.
The tie was a qualifier after Senegal did Africa proud in the 2002 World Cup and before then, reached finals of the continental showpiece.
Typical of neighbouring countries, a great air of rivalry hovered with both sides itching to undo the other. Big name players littered the Taranga Lions enough to send shivers down spines of Gambian footballers and hence the tagging it was “a mismatch.”
All wrote off Gambia in lead up to the clash until the Scorpions held off the Lions in a goalless draw in the first meeting. The two countries shared tribes, relations and geographical locations.
Home fans had played it clean until in the return leg in Dakar when rival Senegalese supporters wore their dirty sleeves. First, they built an air of intimidation later upping it to physical harassment then bullying amid simmering tension in the dressing room of players.
“Upon arrival at the airport the fans poured us urine. I went to inspect their passports as per Fifa regulations in their dressing room. Then Diouf got up from there barking at me and I told him ‘Sit down, your mouth leaks’. He got mad and started insulting me,” the erstwhile Sait matty and Real de Banjul forward revealed.
Deciphering into the innuendos and hostility hurled at him in the Lions’ Locke room, the retired winger did not hold back.
“The referee couldn’t speak wollof but I knew they dared not touch me. I insulted their mum too in the dressing room. Fadiga told the players, ‘just ignore Ebou I know what he wants’. Fadiga will not insult me because he is my friend from back in Belgium. After the game, Diouf told me ‘you are wise’. I told him that’s football, you have to be dirty sometimes. One of the referees asked we use portraits of one of their serigns (great marabouts) that way the fans won’t stone us. When we did that, their officers (security men) asked us to take back the portraits. A lot of serious things happened in the dressing room. When we got into the pitch, Lamin Diatta shocked me with a dirty slap. I tried reacting but I was held back. I was praying we get on to the pitch.
Ebou now a 40-year-old youth coach at Belgian club Sporting Hasselt, continued: “There was this incident. I dribbled Salif Diao until he held me by the vest. I provoked him further by telling him ‘I will gift you my jersey if you like it’. Then he insulted my mum. Ferdinard Coly insulted me too and spat at me. I never looked at him. No one can annoy me in the pitch. It was unfortunate fans could only see the post-match attacks on our fans but a lot happened in the pitch. The referee wasn’t fair on Gambia. There were some fouls deserving of a red card but because it’s Gambia, they wouldn’t whistle it. If the referee was fair, Senegal wouldn’t have won us.”
Details of what led to a Gambian side losing in Senegal that awfully have long bogged minds with the silence of Scorpions involved in that fixture merely adding up to that mystery.
Ebou’s insight thought lifts the lid.
“I and Kalidou Fadiga bet on that game. I vowed I will score and he too vowed he will score,” Ebou tells Star Tv hours ago.
Five years after that ill-tempered meeting which led to the two countries shutting their borders, Gambia met Senegal again.
This time, the tie, as in the previous one, wrapped up a draw in Banjul, before Senegal scored and Gambia pegged back through Aziz Corr Nyang’s effort costing the former a spot for the Ghana Africa Cup of Nations.
Trouble simmered again as local fans in Dakar vandalised the Leopold Sedar Senghore stadium amid tyre burning and halting of traffic. Celebrations ensued from Gambia’s side on the belief they’d qualified before Caf’s rules ended scorpions’ dream of a maiden berth in the continental tournament.