By Landing Ceesay
The rise of a teenager from village football in a North Bank Region settlement to helping Falcons FC gained promotion from the Gambia Football Federation (GFF) 2nd division to the 1st division league is phenomenal.
Bakuta Njie is a 17-year-old teenager born in Juffureh village in the Upper Nuimi District in the North Bank Region. Due to his dribbling and passing skills, his friends and teammates fondly called him Leonel Messi, the former Barcelona ace and the six-time Ballon d’or winner.
With such a talent, Bakuta, started his footballing career in Juffureh where he won multiple trophies for his team at the junior level; as well as won multiple individual awards including best player and top goal scorer awards.
He was promoted to the Juffureh senior team at the age of 14 which made him the youngest ever player to be promoted to the village senior team; breaking one of his elder brother’s records (Sainey Njie) who was promoted to the senior team at the age of 16.
Njie helped Juffureh Albreda Football Club (JAYS) to clinch their first inter District football tournament in 17 years. In the said triumph, he played an integral part throughout the tournament. The same year, the teenager joined a Banjul based 3rd division side, Waa Banjul FC, before joining his current club, the Falcons football club, a year later, who were newly promoted to the Gambia Football Federation’s (GFF) 1st Division league.
The teenager joined Falcons FC in the 2020/ 2021 season and helped the team gain promotion to the country’s top-flight competition; playing 19 games, scoring 3 goals as a second half substitute, and assisting 2 in the process.
Speaking about his rise in football, Juffureh Born told Kerr Fatou about his excitement on his achievements in the game; calling it ‘a dream come true for him’ playing in the topflight league as a young footballer.
“I can say that my dreams are coming true because I am gradually seeing all that I have been dreaming of, growing up as a child. My progression in football, so far, is going smoothly. This level [1st Division] is one of my targets as a footballer. This level is not my stopping point. That’s why I am working hard to pass. Though it was my dream to be at this level since I achieved it, I am now looking forward to reaching another level of my career. I think I’m progressing well in football now. So I am thanking Allah the almighty for that. I am also praying to Allah to make the first division easy for me, so that I can excel in the country’s top league next season. So that I can one day sign a professional contract with a big team outside the country,” Bakuta Njie told Kerr Fatou.
Like many young footballers in the Gambia, Njie is dreaming not only to sign a professional contract but also to represent the Gambia at international stage.
He told this reporter that he is dreaming to wear the Scorpions jersey someday to represent the country at the international stage.
“I am aiming to represent the Gambia National team one day, because it is a dream for every young footballer to play for your country at the international level. I am currently working hard to make sure that I stay fit and improve my game, so that I can realize my dreams in the near future. I have this belief that one day, I will represent my country at the international level,” Njie said.
The 2020/ 2021 Gambia Football Federation (GFF) 1st, 2nd and 3rd Division ended a month ago and clubs are currently on offseason break. Nevertheless, Bakuta is training and working hard to ensure that he stays fit for the pre-season and the league competition.
“My target in the first division is to score and assist more goals for my team. I want my achievements in the 1st Division to be more than what I achieved in the 2nd Division. Because the 1st Division is the most attractive league in The Gambia in terms of opportunities. That’s why I am hoping to do more in the 1st Division than I did in the 2nd Division last season. We are currently in the offseason, but I have started training individually so that I can stay fit for the preseason and the league as well. I am working hard right now so that I can have a regular starting role in the 1st Division. I want to score and assist more goals for my team in the 1st Division,” Njie said.
Falcons FC Head Coach Hails Teenager’s performance
If there is anyone who knows the talent of the young and passionate footballer, Falcons FC head coach Lamin Sanneh would be one of them.
In an interview with this reporter, the coach described Bakuta as an exciting, skilful, and fast player who can play the ball using both of his feet and has a very bright future in football.
“Bakuta Njie is an exciting prospect, very quick, very skilful, a player who can play with both feet, a player who can give a tough night to [opponent] defenders. And Bakuta Njie is a talent when developed, could have a very great future, because he is a modern-day winger, he is a very direct and pace player,” Coach Sanneh praised the young lad.
He hailed the contribution of Njie as “very significant” in his team’s promotion to the 1st Division league of Gambian football.
“He has scored some very important goals which have given us the 3 points and I think he has been an exciting young prospect in football and he contributed immensely to our promotion. But I want him to learn from his shortcomings in the previous season; because no matter how successful you are, it doesn’t mean everything is right. He has a huge challenge ahead of him so he needs to continue the work he is doing. But it’s all about believing in himself; and the good things he has been doing in the previous season for him to continue doing that,” Mr. Sanneh said.
Adding onto Bakuta Njie’s ambition to represent The Gambia at International level, coach Sanneh acknowledged every player at Falcons has the same dream.
“We want to bring youthful players to the project; key among them is to represent the Gambia at youth international level to senior International level, Bakuta Njie is no exception. All he needs is to continue working hard and the future is very bright for him. We hope and pray that he will continue learning and working hard. It is a very exciting moment to work with Bakuta Njie,” Bakuta’s coach said.
Perspective of Former Coach
After coaching Njie as a player at the Juffureh Junior and Senior teams, undoubtedly, Bakuta’s former coach Alhagie Janneh who spotted the young boy’s talent at a tender age, is not surprised about the boy’s recent achievement in the football arena. Former coach Alhagie Janneh said Bakuta’s footballing talent is “unimaginable”.
“His talent is unimaginable, because he is a versatile player who can play in any of the positions in the attacking force and he plays with both left and right (feet). Indeed, no doubt he is a fantastic prospect, whose work ethics is excellent. His first season in the 2nd Division, being a champion and promoted to the 1st division, all comes with hard work and dedication with the team. But it’s not a surprise to me because I have known Bakuta since he was very young,” former gaffer Janneh said.
Janneh, alias ‘Mastermind’ said Bakuta’s skills, his talent and determination to achieve more in football, could enable him to represent the Gambia at the International stage and play in Europe’s top leagues.
“The expectations on him are huge but we want the best for him and he can be the best because he has the talent, if he keeps working hard and is determined to succeed. And Insha Allah, he will succeed with lots of achievements. The little and the best I can give him as advice is, let him focus and continue working hard by training well. He needs to keep improving day by day, because football never stops. It’s a continuous process and it’s full of ups and downs that you have to discourage in any circumstances; and also, he should have faith in himself and build more self-confidence surely, he will achieve all his goals,” Alhagie Janneh former head coach of Bakuta advised the younger footballer.
One of the things every child needs in whatever he or she does is family support; especially parents; which Bakuta did not lack in his footballing journey.
Bakuta’s both parents are excited at his team (Falcons FC) being crowned the champions of the Gambia Football Federation 2nd Division league leading to their subsequent promotion to the country’s topflight football.
Yankuba Njie, the father of Bakuta Njie said they were very happy after receiving news that their son (Bakuta) has won the 2nd Division and gained promotion to the 1st Division league.
“For us, since we received the news of their victory and promotion to the 1st Division, we were very happy from one level to another level to an extent I don’t even know what to do. It makes us so happy. We are right now praying and hoping for their promotion to the 1st Division to be progressive for them because Bakuta is my son and what I am wishing for him, he is doing that very well. We also thank his coach so much for helping Bakuta develop and rise in football,” Yankuba Njie told Kerr Fatou.
Meanwhile, Terama Jammeh, his mother said there is nothing more exciting as a parent, than hearing good news about one’s child.
Like her husband, the news of her son winning the title was a joyful moment for her. “I am praying for him so that he can continue progressing in football,” she wished her son.
Falcons Football Club (FFC) was established in 2010. The team uses football as a guiding tool for young players to have a better future in the game. They started as a non league club that competed in the Lamin village ‘Nawettan’ for two seasons and later joined the qualification rounds of the Serrekunda East Nawettan and secured promotion to the Nawettan proper.
The FFC later joined the Kanifing Municipality regional football Committee for the 3rd Division qualifying rounds and eventually secured a permanent position in the 3rd Division league.
Falcons played in the 3rd Division for 3 seasons and became champions of KM Regional Football Committee’s 3rd Division league; then represented the region at the national level which they conquered and secured promotion to the GFF 2nd division league in 2019. But due to the Coronavirus Pandemic, the football leagues in the country were cancelled.
Falcon FC line up
In the 2020/2021 season, the Falcons Football Club were crowned champions of the GFF 2nd Division league and gained promotion to the 1st Division league, the highest football competition in the Gambia.
Falcons have won trophies at non-league levels at Serrekunda East; they are crowned champions of the 3rd Division, and last season, they were crowned champions of the 2nd Division which gained them a promotion to the country’s top-flight league.
At tier 1 of the country’s football, the newly promoted side would be battling with the likes of the champions Fortune FC, Real De Banjul, Brikama United, and Wallidan, etc.