Pa Dembo Touray is unquestionably the country’s most successful goalkeeper. He’s also well known in Sweden where he played for Djurgården, one of Stockholm’s biggest football teams.
Read below our exclusive interview with the former national team goalkeeper:
What’s On-Gambia: How did you start your football career?
Pa Dembo:I started from the nawettans. I was playing for a team called Young Musa Njie’s in Bakau. From there I moved to Sait Matty FC, where Pa Faye was the head coach. My stay with them was short-lived, because I got a contract with Real de Banjul.
When were you selected to play for the national team?
It was in 1996, when The Gambia was having a Swiss coach. I was with Sait Matty then and not very active. The team was not using me that often. During a warm-up session at the stadium, the Swiss coach saw me and was impressed. He invited me to play for the Scorpions. I think he adored my height and physique.
In those days, we had the likes of Ebou Sillah, Edrissa Sonko, Saul Faye, and some very good players.
What about Jato Ceesay?
He was busy playing in Europe then.
Let’s talk about your international career. How did it all start?
I went to Sweden in November, 1999 for one month trial, and returned with a three-month contract.
But who discovered you?
It was a Swedish guy, who was in The Gambia on holiday with his family. He saw me playing and was impressed. After two years, he contacted me to find out if I was still playing football. I told him I was selected for the national team, and he asked if I would like to play in Sweden.
He returned to The Gambia to see my performance again. We also had a private training session. He immediately called Djurgården to recommend me.
How was it like playing for a big team like Djurgården?
It was great! I spent my first year playing with the second team, because I had to learn more about Swedish footballer. In 2001, Djurgården bought Andreas Isaksson from Juventus, and decided to loan me out to Assyriska, another Swedish team.
I played for Assyriska for two seasons and was named best goalkeeper in the First Division. But in 2003, I returned to Djurgården.
In the pre-season training, I performed remarkably well that all the fans thought I would be made the first-choice goalkeeper. But I missed that opportunity after Andreas was selected for the national team of Sweden. You cannot have a national team goalkeeper as second choice.
I became fed up with sitting on the bench, and complained to the team managers. They decided to loan me out again to a Norwegian team. I played for them six months, and helped them a lot because they were almost relegated.
While I was away in Norway, Andreas got a contract in France. Djurgården called me back and I was made the first-choice goalkeeper.
How come you became one of the most famous footballers in the Swedish league?
Djurgården was a big team, and in those days I was the only black goalkeeper. So you can’t miss me (laughs). I quickly became a public favorite and had my own fan club. The fans also created a special song, Hey Hey Dembo Touray.
We played Champion League qualifying rounds, and the biggest match was against Juventus. It was a great experience for me.
Coming back to the home front, are you still playing for the Scorpions?
I decided to quit and this was three years ago.
Some people felt I should give chance to the young players. I was at a press conference and a journalist asked why I don’t want to let the youngsters take over. That question really pissed me off, because I was still active. I asked him, if he was following my games abroad. But he still insisted that I should quit, and that was what exactly I did.
Some players were contacting me to return, but I refused. Even Bornu Johnson and Omar Sey wrote to me. The young players were committing blunders and they needed senior players to guide them on the pitch.
So since then you never played for the national team?
Yes! And when Paul Put was sacked, I said game over for me. Paul was the best coach in the country, no disrespect to the other coaches.
Are you still in touch with the Gambia Football Federation (GFF)?
I do. I received an e-mail from Bornu inviting me to their match in May, 2014 (now cancelled).
What is your opinion on the current crises at the GFF?
I don’t want to make any comment on that. But I think it was unfair for CAF to issue a universal ban on The Gambia. They should only suspend the U-20, and not all the other teams.
Was it a right decision for the ministry to suspend the GFF executive?
I am not going to answer that.
Do you know the president, Mustapha Kebbeh?
I don’t know him personally.
Which people would you recommend to run the affairs of Gambian football?
To be honest, I had my differences with the GFF sometimes ago. This was in 2007/2008; I was sick before our match against Guinea and decided to take a rest. They thought I was sabotaging the match because of a previous misunderstanding we had.
I returned to Sweden, and they suspended me. Seedy Kinteh was the president, and his executive wanted me to apologize. It was Paul Put that brought me back.
So you are not a Seedy Kinteh fan?
Although we had our differences, I would love to see him as the new president.
How often do you visit The Gambia?
I go every year. But this year I am not going.
Because you guys wrote that I won a lottery, and some people still believe it (laughs).
Who are your favorite young players?
I don’t know most of the young players. I brought one of them to South Africa on trial. That boy is amazing!
Are you playing in South Africa now?
Yes. I moved here in 2011 and playing for Santos FC in Cape Town.
How do you intend to contribute to Gambian football?
I would love to share my experience as a goal keeper trainer. When I was a teenage player, I was lucky to have Wandeh Njie. He helped me a lot! I also want to offer the same opportunity to the young players.
Any final words?
I hope the problem we are facing right now is amicably resolved. Although I am not playing for the national team now, I always wish them good luck.
My advice is – let’s try to guide the young players. Sometimes, a simple mistake can ruin their whole career. A good example is Musa Camara. He was the second goalkeeper during my time. A very talented young boy!
But now, Musa is the fourth choice and this happened after he committed a mistake. I felt sorry for the boy, because they killed his promising career.
Thank you for your time. You’re a legend!
(Laughs) you welcome.