Kenneth Tan caught up with former Gombak United and SAFFC legend Ballamodou Conde to chat about his best S.League memories, playing against Jay-Jay Okocha and the current state of Singapore football.
At the turn of the millennium, the S.League was undoubtedly in its prime with quality foreigners like Brian Bothwell, Sutee Suksomkit, Ernie Tapai, Kiatisuk Senumuang and Tawan Sripan plying their trade for various sides. Among them was a certain Ballamodou Conde, who first stepped foot in Singapore in 1999.
The graceful playmaker captured the imagination of many fans with his ability to pull the strings from midfield and power long shots into the net – first with Gombak United for three years until 2001, before spending another three at powerhouses SAFFC.
After having his contract terminated midway through the 2004 season, Conde returned to Australia to play for semi-pro side Bonnyrigg White Eagles and FC Bossy Liverpool for the new three years. He did return for one final crack at the S.League title with Geylang United in 2007 before retiring the following year at Wollongong FC.
Nowadays, the 41-year-old is busy developing the next generation of players – assisting former Gombak team mate Tony Basha in running the Australasian Soccer Academy and New South Wales State League side Rydalmere Lions, as well as helping African players who reside in Sydney get exposure and games at a higher level.
FFT caught up with him in January after his Lions side fell to a 4-1 defeat against Hougang United during their pre-season tour of Singapore….
A warm welcome back to Singapore! So what brings you and your team over here?
Since retiring in 2008, I’ve been helping Tony with this team. My role is as a player-coach and we just got promoted to the third division in Australia. We’re now in pre-season mode and we flew here after having two games in Kuala Lumpur.
The boys did very well against Felda United as we just lost 4-3 and we then beat Real Mulia 4-1 the following day. These are good boys and [this loss to Hougang] was just because they are not used to the weather here. My dream is to bring them up one more level to play in the second division.
You’re still widely considered a S.League legend despite having left the league for a number of years. Tell us more about what attracted you to play here and some of your best memories…
It was a very good experience playing in Singapore in the past.
I still remember how I came here – it was down to my former coach Moey Yok Ham. He coached me in Malaysia when I was playing for Penang FA in 1997 and I kept in contact with him after I went back to Australia the following year.
In 1999, he was coaching Gombak United and he called me to come over here. That was it and I really enjoyed my time in the S.League. It was a quality and competitive S.League at that time, where I played with a lot of good foreigners like Egmar (Goncalves) and Peres (de Oliveira). Thus I feel very proud to have participated in the league.
My best memories came with Gombak. Before I came, they finished near the bottom, but after I came, we finished in the top five for two consecutive seasons. Also it was memorable winning the league with SAFFC in 2002 under Fandi Ahmad – we had good players like Rezal Hassan, Ahmad Latiff and Mirko Grabovac.