By Sulayman Bah
Simon may not have believed months back when told he will be representing Gambia internationally in March. But it happened, rapidly than he may have expected.
An enquiry and a follow up from the Gambia Football Federation coach set the motion button on. It occurred that Sang Ndong wanted an overhaul in his approach of the 2019 campaign for Cameroon Africa Cup of Nations.
With a raft of identified new players, two test games –first against Morocco and Central African Republic – were arranged to avail the gaffer to take stock of the quality at his disposal. Simon was one of new faces summoned for the games in Morocco.
And coming at a time the defender is at his peak –age 32. But it was still a moment of incredulity.
‘It was a crazy great experience and I did not see it coming,’ the defender says in reminiscence.
‘I was barely fifteen minutes on the field just when we led 2-1. It was just about fighting to get the victory’
Donning the number 8 jersey, the Danish-born Gambian was brought on in the final minutes of the triumph over the Central African Republic after arriving rather late in the Scorpions’ defeat to Morocco.
That victory was Gambia’s first in thirty-six (36) months and the coach’s maiden in five attempts.
And understandably, of serene and delight was the mood in the team’s camp in the aftermath of the win and the bogging pressure off Sang’s chest.
The players, like the coach, refused to admit of being piled by pressure but it was visible and hovered over the camp.
The draws against South Africa, Namibia and Zambia aside, it’s been all but catalogue of disappointments for the manager. Sang Ndong’s first spell as national team coach wasn’t much of a success and, by the legion of defeats he was raking up, doomsayers were convinced his second coming wouldn’t yield much and therefore headed for the lane, down under.
And the victory against CAR outfit, albeit a friendly, was a temporary sigh of relief for the coach and anyone who cared to take notice.
‘It was Gambia’s first victory in three years, so people were very happy, although it was only a friendly. Especially the coach seemed relieved. He has been little under pressure,’ Simon chips in.
‘I think there were 200 people or something at the stadium in the match against the Central Africans, so the pitch wasn’t even full to capacity. But conditions were fine and it was a great experience’
Born to a Danish mother and Gambian father, the rock stopper qualified to play for Gambia through the latter. Having spent the last 32 years in Denmark, despite holidaying in Gambia several times, Richter was ambivalent when the invitation came to play for his father’s birth place.
‘I was a little unsure about it at first, but I must admit that right now I’m very proud to be playing for Gambia because it was really, really big thing’
‘The feeling of playing for Gambia is equivalent to me playing for the Danish national team, I think.
‘I have been in Gambia lots of times and I’m proud of my roots in the country. It’s really great to play national team football.
The current crop comprising the Scorpions’ set up is a match-up of different players drawn from varying divisions.
Inevitably, competition for places will be intense.
‘It’s hard to say, because there are players at very different levels. There are both people who have played in the Premier League, and people who will play in the quarter-final of the Europa League (referring to team captain Omar Colley). There are players from the highest level and people who play in the lower leagues.
‘Fortunately, I have experience from the Super League, so in that way I am reasonably well equipped to play there. I have a good tactical understanding in relation to the general level of African football,’ the erstwhile Nordsjælland star defender weighed in, responding to questions regarding prospect of being featured consistently considering the rivalry for a starting berth.
‘The national coach was positive about my input and in relation to the energy I imparted in the team. All in all, it was a very positive experience, and I think that the chance that I will be selected for the national team again is great.
Gambia plays Benin this June before taking on Algeria the following year and Simon knows the herculean task ahead.
‘These are two very important matches and people are very keen to achieve something that Gambia has never done before – to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations,’ the 32-year-old tells DR.
But of priority for the powerful defender now is focusing on helping second tier side fourth-placed Roskilde securing promotion to the Danish Super League next campaign.
An 8-pointer splits Roskilde from table-topping Hobro with eight games to end of the season.
Simon is twin brother to Jonathan’s a disabled footballer. The duo played together at top flight side Nordsjælland in the early days of their careers prior to Jonathan’s leg getting amputated.