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Page last updated at 17:03 GMT, Monday, 23 May 2005 18:03 UK

Biri Biri: Gambia's 'greatest'

By Mohamed Fajah Barrie
BBC Sport, Banjul

Former Gambia star Alhaji Momodu Njie - 'Biri Biri'
Biri Biri is still regarded as Gambia's greatest ever player

As Gambians celebrate junior football success, the BBC profiles Alhaji Momodu Njie - 'Biri Biri' - the man who put the country on the footballing map over 30 years ago.

More popularly known as 'Biri Biri', Njie is still a household name in the Gambia and is regarded as the best footballer the country has ever produced.

In 2000, he was given the order of merit by the Gambian President Yayah Jammeh as the country's greatest footballer of the last millennium and of all time.

His former international team-mate Alhaji Babou Sowe goes one step further in his praise for the former Seville player.

"I class Biri Biri even above Maradona because he was a great goalscorer, dribbler and could play with both feet," Sowe told BBC Sport.

"Biri Biri is the best player Africa has ever produced."

Another former Gambian international, Omar Sallah, expressed similar sentiments.

"Biri Biri was superb, he was a complete footballer and he is the best by anybody's standard," Sallah told BBC Sport.

"He used to save the day for Gambia when things were rough with his skills and without doubt, he's the best player I have seen in my life."

Biri Biri was the first Gambian to play professional football overseas when he signed for Danish club B.1901 Nykobing FL in 1972.

The club spotted him when they came to Banjul for a training camp and in 1973 he left them to join Spanish side Seville.

"My best moment in my career was when I helped Seville to promotion to the Spanish first division league in my second year with the club," Biri Biri told BBC Sport.

Former Gambia star Alhaji Momodu Njie - 'Biri Biri' - in action
Former Gambia star Biri Biri in action in Denmark

"I was so popular in Seville throughout my seven-year spell with them because I was delivering well and I was considered one of their best players.

"I was the first black player to play for the club.

"I was a complete footballer since I was skilful, a great goalscorer and very fast on the ball.

Despite his popularity and skill, Biri Biri never won a medal.

"I was unable to win anything in my career both at club and international level and that is the most unfortunate thing in my career," explained Biri Biri.

"The closest I came to winning a trophy was when my Danish team reached the final of the cup but we lost and that is my worst moment in football."

He is still a popular figure with Seville fans, with one group of supporters naming themselves after him.

From Seville, Biri Biri returned to Denmark in 1980 to play for Herfole before returning home in 1981 to join Walidan FC where he stayed until he retired in 1987.

Before his time in Europe, Biri Biri played for Black Diamonds, Phomtoms and Augustines in Gambia as well as Mighty Blackpool of Sierra Leone.

Biri Biri's international career started in 1963 when he played as a schoolboy.

He was appointed the deputy major of his town of birth, Banjul, in 1994 when President Yayah Jammeh came to power, a post Biri Biri has since relinquished.

He is currently the manager of the Royal Albert market in Banjul.

see also
Gambia win African U-17 title
22 May 05 |  African
African Under-17 Championship
07 May 05 |  African