Saturday, July 9, 2011

Most of the foreign players in Spain were not international stars, but exotica – and probably the most exotic footballer belonged to Sevilla. Biri Biri. What a name! Straight from adventure novel.
Biri Biri in action.
Of course, Biri Biri is a nickname, but his real name was no less exotic: Alhaji Momodo Nije. And true to adventure books, he hailed from Africa – Gambia, to be precise. Not exactly a country known for its football, so the exotic grows larger and larger… which at the end is not fair to the man. Biri Biri played 5 years for Sevilla – 1973-78 – which is a good testament of his qualities. Perhaps he was not exceptionally gifted player, judging by his checkered career: born 1948 in Banjul, Gambia, he moved from his local club Augustians Football Club to Derby County in 1970. Did not impress Brian Clough and returned home to play for Wallidan Banjul for the next two years. In 1972 went to Denmark – B 1901. So far – nothing much. Sevilla acquired him from the Danes in 1973 and things changed. He played well in Spain and became a cult figure – a section of Sevilla fans call themselves ‘Biris Norte’ after him. In 1978, already aging, he moved again to Denmark and played three seasons for Herfolge Boldklub.
Post-Sevilla Biri Biri – older player, but with more modern kit in Herfolge.
In 1981 he quit European football, returned to Gambia, played 5 more seasons for Wallidan Banjul and finally retired to become a civil cervant. He is considered the all-time best Gambian player. By European standards, his career is less impressive – rather ups and downs, peaking during his spell with Sevilla. However, Sevilla in the 1970s was not the mighty club of nowadays – in 1974-75 Sevilla was still in the Second Division, struggling to get back to Primera after humiliating relegation in 1972.
Biri Biri or not, struggling they were. Successfully, in a way – they clinched promotion, although they did not finish first in Secunda.
The honour went to Real Oviedo.
Winners of Second Division 1974-75: top, left to right: Dujkovic, Lolin, Tensi, Jacquet, Iriarte, Milovan.
First row: Javier, Carrete, Alarcon, Galan, Cortes.
Founded in 1926, Real Oviedo has a place in Spanish football history – it is the first club from the province of Asturias to play in Primera Division: in 1933-34. Alas, historic notability and reality are not the same – Real was mostly bouncing between 1st and 2nd Divisions. Modest club, never winning anything, except Secunda Division. Which they did in the 1974-75 season, climbing again to Primera.
As a squad, more conventional than Sevilla – no Gambians arriving from Denmark here. Instead, the typical Spanish combination of foreigners and oriundi. Two Yugoslavians: Ratomir Dujkovic between the goalposts came from Crvena zvezda (Belgrade) in the summer of 1974. He played 4 matches for Yugoslavia, hardly a big star, but experienced and reliable surely. The curious thing about him is his past: he started as a handball player, eventuallt switching to football. The second is defender, listed here Spanish fashion – only first name: Milovan. This is Milovan Djoric Gvozdenja, also former Crvena zvezda player, who arrived in Oviedo one year before Dujkovic. Djoric played 1 match for Yugoslavia and finished his career immediately after winning Segunda with Oviedo this season – rather yearly retirement, for he was only 30 years old. He became a coach and resurfaced years later again: in 2001 he was the national team coach of the last incarnation of Yugoslavia. His national team spells were brief both as a player and as a coach.
The two oriundi were Paraguayans of no fame: Bravo (not on the picture) and Jacquet. The former, if I am not mistaken, is coaching the national team of Paraguay nowadays.
If there was any other player of note, it was Carrete – he later moved to Valenica and played 2 matches for Spain in 1978.
More or less, Real Oviedo were standard second division team – nothing big and really famous. Good enough to finish above Sevilla, though.