By: Muhammed Lamin Drammeh
On a very odd Thursday, February 25, 2021, my favourite Gambian football coach succumbed to the cold hands of death. I recalled the last time we met, and tears rolled on from my eyes down to my nose. He had gigantic dreams for Gambian football. Sulayman had gone. His dream of qualifying The Gambia for the FIFA World Cup will not be actualized but his records as a football coach should never be obliterated. Legends don’t die, their memories and impacts live!
I can recollect vividly, on the 16th day of February last year, Sulayman Kuyateh sent me a voice message on WhatsApp telling me that he was not feeling too okay and that he would send me a picture of him a day or two after. I wished him quick healing. Little did I know that it would be our ultimate conversation. I told him that I was going to wait for him, but death had a different plan. Sulayman never had the chance again for us to continue working on his bios as a head coach of Brikama United. What a missed opportunity for anyone interested in the life of a man who had spent all his life developing football and footballers in Brikama.
Gladly, I defeated the common saying that Gambians don’t celebrate their legends when they are alive. Yes, I did. In 2021, on January 24, on one of my Light Shows on Bollundala Radio, I invited Sulayman. I had a 48-minute radio programme with him, a month before his demise. The young, ambitious, and enterprising Sulayman voyaged me through his evolution into the football game from being a small boy in Brikama Mansaring Suu to becoming one of the most successful football coaches in Brikama if not the most. Sulayman was on the show to inspire fresh and budding coaches who are roaring to be football coaches in the future. “Be ready to learn and work hard if you want to be successful as a coach,” he recommended this to any young person striving to be a football coach.
Sulayman Kuyateh, known to many as Saul Kuyateh, was born on the 5th of August 1981 and grew up under the care of his grandmother in Brikama Mansanrig Suu. Sulayman only became aware that his grandmother was never his biological mother late in his life. He attended Santo Suu Nursery School, Brikama Lower Basic and junior secondary school before proceeding to Bottrop Senior Secondary School. Sulayman, having been possessed with the desire of becoming a lawyer, went to Gambia Technical Training Institute (GTTI) to acquire his certificate and Diploma in Law. He completed his Law programme in 2004.
Growing up, Sulayman designed a dream for himself. He wanted to be a lawyer, a profession he so much loved before 2004. When Saul was doing his Diploma in Law, his dream of becoming a lawyer crashed. He had another dream — a dream of becoming a football coach —a coach who will take The Gambia to the FIFA World Cup.
Interestingly, Sulayman’s indomitable desire in pursuing his dream of coaching discontinued the lawyer in him and would skip his classes at different times to go to Gambia High School where he would watch his Mentor, Sang Ndong’s Hawks train.
“I will do this almost every day and Sang would sometimes give me fares to go home. He advised me on several occasions to go to school, but my passion will not let me stay away,” Sulayman told me in our conversation.
However, Sulayman completed his Diploma and worked briefly with Lawyer Ousainou Darboe’s law firm as a record clerk. He only worked there for eight months and left. He resigned from the job because it was denying him a chance of watching football and training.
Fast forward, Sulayman shunned law and put all his heart into football coaching. I wondered why he would disregard fortune in law for coaching in The Gambia. Interestingly, he told me that his enthusiasm for the game led him to take that unpopular decision, a decision he would never regret.
As expected from a go-getter, the ambitious Sulayman worked on himself as he followed his dream of becoming a coach of high value.
The turning point of his career in the game came in the 2010/11 nawettan season in Brikama when he took Soccer Stars from the Naweetan qualifying round to winning every trophy staged in the Naweetan that year. His Soccer Stars won both the league trophy and knock-out, plus all individual trophies except the leading scorer.
A new, young, and ambitious coach of incredible features then announced himself in the beautiful game in 2011. A few years after that, Saul will win The Gambia Football Federation Division One league, FF Cup and a Coach of the Year Award. In addition to that, Sulayman acquired several coaching certificates. His highest, a CAF B license.
Saul shaped the future of so many young players within and outside Brikama. He would, to some extent, even house certain players playing for Brikama United. Among the players that he helped in reshaping his career is Saikouba Ceesay of the Gambia Armed Forces. Saul transformed Saikouba into a lethal attacker who scored goals from different angles in the 2015/16 league season.
As a young sports reporter, I have constantly been in touch with Sulayman when he was alive. At the beginning of my journey, I was not his friend, but he later understood that it was the job that required certain questions. We had numerous encounters before later mending things around to become great friends. Anytime I needed the man, he would make himself available. Sulayman would never shy away from speaking to the press.
Aside from his success with Brikama United, Sulayman Kuyateh won the GFF League trophy with Gamtel. He won the league in his first season there as head coach. He was only signed to rebuild the team for two years and then later go for the trophy. Surprisingly, Sulayman produced magic by winning the league in his first season with the telecom boys.
Impressively, he was among, if not the first, Brikama-based coach to have won both the Gambia Football Federation Division One league and FF Cup (FF Cup with Brikama United) as a head coach. This would put him in the circle of the only few Brikama Coaches if not only him, to have coached two different teams in CAF club games.
I will, in my thin mind, outline why and how Sulayman Kuyateh’s name should never be erased from Brikama Football. I will put the current executive of the Brikama Sports Committee on task to start something huge in memory of the late Sulayman Kuyateh. The man had done all for the community of Brikama.
WHY SULAYMAN KUYATEH’S NAME SHOULD NEVER BE FORGOTTEN IN BRIKAMA?
When Brikama United won the pinnacle of the Gambian football league in 2012, Sulayman Kuyateh told me he was the assistant head coach of Brikama United. In that same year after the season, Sulayman left Brikama United because he was not given the needed platform to exhibit his skills in coaching. Understanding his potential, Sulayman went to Lamin United as a coach in the 2nd Division, two weeks before Brikama welcomed Senegal’s US Ouakam in the CAF Champions League preliminary round in Brikama Boxba.
After the first leg where Brikama lost, the Brikama Sports Committee sacked the entire technical team in a bold decision and went on to appoint the young Sulayman Kuyayeh without seeking his consent. The decision was taken and the then President, Basiru Bajo called him and notified him of his appointment. Sulayman was aghast but could not turn down this opportunity to salvage Brikama United.
“ML, to me, it is Brikama before any other thing,” Sulayman told me.
Sulayman then took a tough challenge by going to Senegal to record a famous win for Brikama United. He became the first-ever coach to win an international game for Brikama United, thereby becoming the first coach to have won a CAF club game for the team. Despite all the odds, Sulayman salvaged Brikama United, a win that took Brikama United to another round.
Another reason why Sulayman Kuyateh’s name should never be erased from Brikama Sports is that he was the first and the only coach to have won the FF Cup for Brikama United and the first coach to win the competition when it was changed from FA Cup to FF Cup in 2015/16 season after his Brikama side defeated Bombada in an all Brikama affair final.
Sulayman should be celebrated in Brikama. Do you know why? Sulayman had spent six good years as the head coach of Brikama United without signing any contract. For six years, his highest salary was D1500, and he would only be paid during the season.
“In my first two years, I was paid only D500. After two years, I told them I can’t work for D500 and then increased it to D1000. Then in my last two years, I approached the committee and they settled for D1500. This would be during the season only. And sadly, sometimes I will go for five months without being paid,” Sulayman told me on air.
These revelations paint a lot about Sulayman’s sacrifice for Brikama United and Brikama as a town. While serving Brikama with that salary, different teams sought his services, but he would never leave Brikama for another team without leaving something behind.
HOW CAN BRIKAMA SPORTS COMMITTEE KEEP SULAYMAN’S NAME ALIVE?
Well, this will be my little idea and I hope Brikama Sports Committee will consider my recommendations.
1. Name a section in the Boxba after Sulayman Kuyateh. Renaming Boxba after Sulayman Kuyateh could be a big ask but naming a section in the field after him will be a good gesture. The man had spent all his adult life in the Boxba. Like clubs in Europe will do in remembrance of their legends, naming a section after Sulayman Kuyateh will go a long way in keeping his name alive.
2. Create an award in the league and name it after him.
Another way of remembering the first-ever coach to have won an international game for Brikama United will be by naming a trophy after him. This could be a coach of the year award or any individual award. Naming the league or the knock-out trophy after Sulayman Kuyateh will be an enormous gift and remembrance of Sulayman Kuyateh.
3. Establish a game every February 25 in remembrance of Sulayman Kuyateh. This too will be a great event to celebrate a man who had lived and breathed football.
These three suggestions may not be enough but if taken into consideration, kids going to primary school today will know who Sulayman Kuyateh was when they grow up.
My long-time buddy and colleague in sports journalism, Ebrima KB Sonko told me: “Saul Kuyateh is a human being with impeccable character. He lives and breathes in football. Since I knew him, he has been an ardent football fan before being the great coach he was until his demise. I will never forget Saul; he is the coach who instilled the beautiful playing style in my boyhood club (Brikama United).”
At the time of his demise, Sulayman was the head coach of Samger Football Club.
Sulayman is gone but his legacy and name should never leave us. Long gone my favourite Gambian coach. Until we meet again, I will continue praying for you to continue resting in peace.
Note: This article was first published on Gambia Sports Online in February 2022.
The author, Muhammed Lamin Drammeh (ML Drammeh) is a Brikama-based journalist and Secretary General of Fortune Football Club.