Biri & the British Olympic X1

Biri & the British Olympic X1

On Monday December 14 1970, the Rams played a friendly match at the Baseball Ground against a British Olympic X1 team preparing for the 1972 Games in Munich. The game was one of a series of matches against professional clubs, with other teams including Oxford United, Watford, Reading, Preston, Southampton and Sheffield Wednesday. The Munich Games were the final Olympic competition entered by Britain’s amateur football team.

The four page programme, priced four pence (two new pence), listed Derby as playing in blue shirts and blue shorts with the opposition in white shirts and blue shorts. Kick off was 3pm so the attendance would have been low.

The Olympic team won 1-0 with a goal from Ken Gray in 70th minute. Michael Carey’s match report for the Guardian described the goal as ‘the one genuine flowing movement of a match that was often untidy, naively controlled, and played on a muddy pitch that cut up down the middle and defied anyone to hit an accurate pass of any distance.’

Carey continues; ‘[The Olympic team] made little impact in the first half against a defence that included McFarland, the England Under 23 centre half, but solid performances by Delaney and Powell in the back four provided the basis for gradual improvement….Derby were pushed back for much of the second half with Clements, of Skelmersdale, looking remarkably reminiscent of his former colleague Heighway, now with Liverpool, and took part in the smooth four-man move which led to the goal.’ Despite the Olympic X1 representing Great Britain, all eleven starters were English.  The team line-ups were as follows;

Derby County:- Boulton, Richardson, Daniel, Bailey, McFarland, McGovern, Bourne, Biri, Marlowe, Sheridan, Hutchinson

British Olympic X1:- Swanell (Hendon), Gamblin (Leatherhead), Delaney (Wycombe Wanderers), Powell (Wycombe Wanderers), Moffatt (Leytonstone), Payne (Enfield), Day (Enfield), Haider (Hendon), Clements (Skelmersdale United), Gray (Enfield), Hardcastle (Skelmersdale United)

The programme lists several Derby players either in the starting line up or as substitute; Lewis, Walker, Sims, Butlin, Blair, Toon, Wignall, and Hinton did not play. The friendly was the first opportunity for fans to watch a new trialist from Gambia in action. Biri (real name Alhaji Momodu Njie) was a winger and is listed as a substitute in the programme, but was named in the starting line up.

Biri playing for Spanish club Sevilla – from http://www.gamfootballfans.com/biris-15-minutes-impromptu-training-session-on-the-streets-of-derby-recalled/

On Biri’s performance in the match, Carey reports that he ‘wore a pair of green mittens to help keep out the cold, but there was little else he could do to make the transformation from equatorial Africa to the grey industrial Midlands a happier one. With mud around his ankles and defenders breathing around his neck, he had little chance to show the qualities that brought him some 400 goals on harder pitches in warmer climes. Occasional neat touches endeared him to the sparse crowd, but his modest positional sense did not help colleagues to give him the ball in space.’

His trial was not a success. Biri returned to the Gambia then in 1972 joined Danish club B.1901 Nykobing FL, becoming the first Gambian footballer to play overseas and the first African footballer to play professionally in Denmark. He moved to Spain in 1973 to play for Sevilla and stayed for five years, becoming a fans favourite. In an interview with BBC Sport in 2005, Biri stated that the best moment of his career was when he helped Seville to promotion to the Spanish first division in his second year with the club. Biri remains a household name in the Gambia and is regarded as the best footballer the country has ever produced.

This article was first printed in issue 10 of Derby County Memories in September 2015. If you enjoyed reading it, why not buy a copy of the magazine? See the About section for further details.


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