A man of sports in a world of sports Alhagi OB Conateh

Friday, December 28, 2007
Alhaji Ousman Bassi Conateh, commonly known as OB Conateh, is a household name in the Gambia and around the sub-region. He is an all-time sportsman. A football administrator, a national cricketer and cyclist during his youthful days and a true enterprenuer who has done so much for the development of sports, particularly football in The Gambia and beyond.

Conateh, who is the founding father of Wallidan Football Club, was elected the President of The Gambia Football Association in 1993. He served at the helm of the mantle until in 2001 when he stepped down as one of the most successful GFA presidents.

His unflinching effort in raising Gambian football during his stint as GFA president was reciprocated when he was bestowed with the rare honour of the honourary life presidency of the national football governing body.

A member of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Standing Committee, Conateh is also the first-vice president of the West African Football Union (WAFU).

In this encounter with Observer Sports, the Gambia’s favourite administrator-cum-entrepreneur talks about his life as a sportsman, an administrator among other issues.

Excerpt: Fisco O.B Conateh is a household name in The Gambia, what is the secret behind this?

I would not put anything behind that only that I have been a sportsman all my life.  I’ve been involved in various major sports ever since.  The children will call me Fisco and even my grand children will call me Fisco.  The bigger boys will call me O.B and the secret behind this is that I have always been admired for my involvement in the development of sports in the country and the sub-region.

Many people will relate you to football when we talk about sports, but you made a good cricketer and cyclist in late 50s.  How famous were these disciplines in those days?

Then cricket was cricket. We used to have cricket clubs and we’re taught cricket while we are in school. So by the time we left school we have already bagged the foundation.  Some of us even played international series while in school.  Dawda Njie was a school boy when he scored 50 runs in an international match against Sierra Leone.

Then we loved cricket and we’re not only encouraged, but worshiped by cricket lovers and promoters.

This momentum was lost for some time after our era because cricket was no more taught in schools and the league was also dormant.

However, it is now reviving - thanks to people like Rolling, Sony Manley Rolling, Kwame Elliotte and Johnny Gomez who show up total dedication for the revitalisation of the trade. The Department of Sate for Youth, Sports & Religious Affairs and its satellite institution, the National Sports Council are also doing extremely for the cricket association and its time that other parastatals come forward to compliment their tireless efforts.

You formed Wallidan Football Cub. What prompted you to form the club and in which year?

Yea... as a cricketer then I was also a football admirer.  It was in early 1969 when some boys (now grand parents) came to me asking for assistance to form a football club. These were people like Babou Sowe, Abdoulie Ngum and when they came to me for my support I never hesitated to give them a nod and that is how it started.

What is the secret behind Wallidan’s success in Gambia and regional club football?

I think the only secret is that we have been given it our time and resources since day one. For any sport, particularly football, to progress one needs to give it a time and resources and that is what we have been doing.

Then the boys don’t talk about big things, yet we provide them with football boots, jerseys and other incentives.

“For me Wallidan is my food.  It’s my second wife. I am married to Wallidan and I will not stop at anything to make sure Wallidan is always at the peak”

Wallidan have long since been an organised club with dedicated officials.

Our first year in the league was not easy because we were very younger in the face of some big guns, but we knew we’ll find our way out and eventually we took over the mantle right from our second year in 1970.

In a nutshell, the secret behind Wallidan’s success is steadfastness and dedication, passion for football.  For me Wallidan is my food.  It’s my second wife. I am married to Wallidan and I will not stop at anything to make sure Wallidan is always at the peak.

We have won doubles, triples and we have broken all the national records. And even at CAF Championships League level, we made great strides. We’ve reached the quarter-final at one time and we could have moved to the top flight of African football if not the lack of fund from the then football association
We also have great players who passed through the club. People like Alhagi Abdoulie Ngum, Babou Sowe, Abdoulie Sarr, Njok Njie, Pa Modou Faal(Gento), Solomon Nyassi (Dalasis), Kassa Gillen, Baboucarr Bouye, Alagi Biri Biri, Mango Ngum, Boboucarr Joof Njalah, Malamin Badjie, you name them.

As a founding father of Wallidan, do you expect the team to be wining a silverware each season?

Yes......for the past two seasons we did not do well and I understand knowing that we have young crops.  If not for luck even, we could have won the league title this season. It was just an inferior goal different that made Real beat us to the title.

But I can assure you that come next season it will be different.

What achievement(s) can you reflect on during your tenure as the Gambia Football Association’s president?

I think what I will always remember and continue to nurture in my heart is my role in developing youth football in the Gambia.  It was my time that we conceived the idea of forming the under 17 team. At the time, Musa Njie was the Technical Director and he was very instrumental in assembling good crops  for a start. We were having some doubters when we first started because the some people thought we’re asking for too much. But today I am happy  that what we have sown during my tenure is yielding positive result today. When we talk about youth football today, Gambia is second to none in Africa.

The current GFA executive must have made great strides in football development, yet there is room for improvement.  What area do you think they should improve?

The current executive under the stewardship of Seedy Kinteh has achieved a lot. But just like you said, there is always a room for improvement and what I would like them to do is to consolidate on what they have done in expanding Gambian football.  Football must be expanded.

Yes, Regional League is being played, but that is not enough. We can have these regional teams playing with other clubs in the same league. There are lot of talents hiding at the regions and we can only trace them when the national league is decentralised. Football must not be confined only at the Greater Banjul Area and Western Region. We should start to have teams in Banjul travelling to play against their owns in Basse and vice versa. It may require fund but we have to lobby for sponsors.

You are the first-vice president of West African Football Union (WAFU).  How did you find your way to this sub-regional Football Union Executive?

I am part of WAFU simply because of my involvement in African football.  I think I was only honoured for what I have done for the development of football in the Gambia and Africa as a whole. Such a honour is a credit for people who are ready to live and die for sports development.

I have been the WAFU vice-president for eight years now. I won by a record margin in my first election and during the second term, I went unopposed.

I have done my piece in sports and come next term I will decide to retire from both WAFU and CAF so that I can concentrate on Wallidan and the development of Gambian football. My term will expire in April 2008 and I have no intention to seek for re-election.

Any final word?

I would implore Gambian fans to nurture patience and support Gambian sports.

There is a bright future for all the sporting disciplines and we should all endeavour to have the self-belief that a day will come when Gambians will reap the benefits of the seeds they sow.

Our youths are excelling in the various sports including football, basketball, cycling, cricket, athletics among others and we should support and encourage them.

Author: by Nanama Keitah