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Tumbu: A legend unrecognised, unhonoured & without his flowers while alive

By Osman Benk Sankoh 

The late Brima Attouga Kamara, who played for Mighty Blackpool and East End Lions locally, and at the international level with El Mansoura of Egypt, was probably the best goalkeeper that Sierra Leone has ever produced. In his heydays, he was the last man standing between the goalpost and the jaws of defeat.

He was the lone player for the National team against spirited opposition at the Zone Two Amilcar Cabral Trophy, the West Africa Football Union Cup (WAFU), and several Nations Cup qualifiers. Against the Lone Stars of Liberia eons ago, every attempt by the Liberians to penetrate the inside of his goalpost was met with stiff and dogged resistance.

Attouga’s dazzling acrobatics left the Liberian commentator wondering whether the goalkeeper was a human shock-absorber or like a monkey (not in derogatory terms), plucking off goal ‘saves’ effortlessly and seamlessly.

On the other hand, the late King Kama Dumbuya, who played for Mighty Blackpool, was one person with the brilliance, pace and dexterity of a Junior Parade, a Lamin Junior Tumbu Conteh and a Mohamed Kallon combined. His thunderous shots were a goalkeeper’s nightmare. Think of Roberto Carlos of Brazil and Real Madrid, and picture King Kama. Memories still linger of how he dazzled and outwitted Malian goalkeeper Karamoko Dianne (Janneh) during an international match at the stadium in Freetown. His booming shot in the 85th minute left the talismanic goalkeeper, considered one of the best in the continent, helpless and stranded. However, this version of the story is contested. The National Stadium, as it is, never existed during the days of Kama, I was reminded. His artistry was witnessed at King Tom and Recree (Recreational Facility ), and his sizzling exploits were against goalkeeper Okala of the Super Eagles of Nigeria and not Dianne ( or Janneh ).

With all the glory they did for their clubs and country, Kama and Attouga Kamara never received National honours like many others. According to the Sierra Express Media website, after his retirement in 1979, ‘‘Kama became a neglected person eroded by poverty and hardship’. He became a driver for a private Lebanese merchant, later, a shop attendant before retiring from retirement.’’

But probably, the first Sierra Leonean player to ever venture out internationally was the late Ishmael Dyfan- first with Africa Sports of Ivory Coast and later, Arab Contractors of Egypt. The dazzling midfield maestro began sculpting out a name for himself in the school leagues in Freetown with the Methodist Boys High school and, in the national league, for East End Lions. The Ivory Coast Tribune described him thus, ‘‘a virtuoso of the ‘Jogo bonito’ with an unparallel skill of execution who arrived from Freetown, a breeding ground for pearls.’’

As a coach, the late Dyfan’s philosophy was to tap young talents at the U-16, U-17 and U-23 levels, ensuring that the senior National team was well oiled with the necessary lubricant and never in short support of the brightest and best that the country can offer.

Like those before and after him, he never received national recognition, nor anything named after him. Dead. Buried. And forgotten.

Besides Dyfan was the ‘wizard of the side-lines- Brima Mazzola Kamara. He earned the middle name after Sandro Mazolla of Italy. Mazolla played for Real Republicans from 1974 to 1981 before moving to Africa Sports in Ivory Coast from 1981-to 1984. The Ivory Coast Tribute decorated him with superlatives such as the former boy-wonder and the prolific goalscorer from the banks of the Rokel River.

A stadium at Up-Gun was named after Attouga, but what else? The statute at the cemetery at Circular Road in Freetown? Legend has it that before Attouga, there was a goalkeeper called Goaler Queen. Sources say he was a mende man named Queen, but fans resorted to the moniker Queen because they may have had a struggle pronouncing Q.U.E.E with an N at the end.

Quee or Queen, they say, was the darling of fans and the nemesis of the opposition. On the other hand, it was believed that the only player who stood a chance of scoring past Goaler Queen was Balagoun Thunder (pronounced Tender, and his shots were like the flash of thunder, earning him the nickname). The rivalry between Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo is nothing compared to Queen and Thunder. It was said that the only way to determine who goes home with the bragging rights and a trophy was for a penalty challenge. Both agreed, and a date was set, but Goaler Queen made one mistake outside of the pitch- eating heavy mounds of foofoo.

To cut a long story short, they said he saved the penalty with both hands at the back of his neck. Still, the aftermath was his death, leading to rumours that the trophy like -statue at the cemetery was erected in honour of Queen’s penalty exploits against Balagoun Thunder. Whether this is true or not, this was a story only handed from word of mouth and never recorded by historians.

We have never attempted to recognize and honour most of our heroes, especially our soccer ambassadors, both the living and the dead.

A day ago, the nation woke up to the death of undisputedly one of the best and most famous footballers to be born on its soil. Like old times, tributes started pouring in. RIPs and images of his footballing days took over social media. Lamin Junior Tumbu Conteh, Sierra Leone’s football magician, one who was to Sierra Leone what Jay-Jay Okocha was to Nigeria, died after a brief illness in Kenema, eastern Sierra Leone. Mohamed Fajah Barrie, Sierra Leone’s sports encyclopaedia, was among the first to break the news.

Tumbu was my neighbour at Peacock Farm, Wellington. He bought a house for his mum, apparently from his income as a professional player abroad. But it was on the dusty fields of junior leagues at the Wellington Community Centre and the Approved school I first encountered the wizardry and brilliance of the young Tumbu. He got his nickname owing to his David-like size while playing against the Goliath-looking giants. He was a performer on the field of play. He feared no one, not even Abedi Pele of Ghana also known as the African Maradonna and the only player then to have won the Africa Player of the year award for three consecutive times (1991-93) or the Cameroonian Captain, Stephen Tataw, notwithstanding their Italia 90 performance at the World Cup. In one encounter with Ghana, Tumbu, we were told, held Abedi at bay. He outclassed and outmanoeuvred the former Ghanaian captain to the delight of spectators that they quickly coined a song, “Tumbu card Abedi, Abedi fordom. Pissa-bedi Pele, e gari don done, go Ghana! go Ghana!” (Please don’t ask me to translate).

Our players, our entertainers, our Ebola and COVID-19 heroes – the health workers, our educationists, and the list goes on deserve better.

I pray that the soul of Lamin Junior Tumbu Conteh rests in peace, hoping that Mohamed Kallon, Kei Kamara, John Gbassay Sesay, Musu Pele, Musa Jarzhino, Osaio Marah, and Junior Parade and all our soccer heroes receive their flowers while alive other than RIPs and floral tributes.

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