MARK GIBSON: Death of Liberia’s Forgotten ‘Midfield General’ Highlights Icons’ Neglect
Columbus, Ohio – Mark Gibson was the ultimate footballer. At the peak of his game, he engineered the midfield of the Liberian national team, the Lone Star to key victories in regional African qualifiers and tournaments, aptly winning the admiration of fans and his peers who dubbed him, “The Midfield General”.
Until his death last Thursday, April 11, 2019, family and close friends say he spent his final days in and out of hospital in Columbus, Ohio, his of residence for several years. When he was finally discharged from a hospital in the nursing home because of his poor medical conditions, he had lost his memory and could no neither speak or remember anyone, with the exception of his wife. He had limited communication, restricted to a wheel chair, and close friends and loved ones had to send messages to him through his wife, Charlotte who, according to family and friends, was his everything.
“He was an honest man. very disciplined and humble,” Charlotte says. “He loved people regardless of your status. He loved what he did. Playing football. He was the most valuable mid field player Liberia ever had. He was Liberia’s Midfield General.”
Born in Monrovia’s Bassa community, Mark grew up in a rough neighborhood. He attended the G. W. Gibson School on the Bye-Pass and jumpstarted his career with the young giant killers’ local side, Cedar United.
It didn’t take long before the big guns came knocking and Mark was soon applying his dribbling skills for the Rollers, Mighty Barrolle before winning call-ups to the national team, where he served as captain for ten unbroken years.
The late Mark Gibson is survived by his wife, Charlotte Gibson, two sons Mark B. Gibson Jr. and Fred D. Gibson, two brothers George Gibson and Edwin Gibson, two sisters Naomi Gibson and Ruth Gibson, his grandchildren, several nieces, nephews, cousins and a host of other relatives and friends.
Those who were on the opposing end of his on-the-field antics agree, he was the best in his time. “Mark was arguably the best midfielder of our time,” says Jonathan Sogbie aka Boye Charles, who played for Barrolle’s main rivals, Invincible XI before turning professional in Switzerland.
Sogbie recalls playing with Mark on the national team: “He played with both legs perfectly. Most time, I will run in space in anticipation of the ball but I kept looking back to make sure he was looking in my direction and he said to me; Bomper, (which was what he called me) just make the runs and the ball will come. And sure enough, he played them right to my feet. He will be missed.”
Sarkpah Nyanseor aka “The Rock of Gibralta” agrees the Mark was one of the best midfielders in the history of Liberia. “Mark Gibson was one of the best midfielders in the history of the Liberian national team. He was a very talented player. May his soul the souls of all the departed rest in perfect peace.”
Kai Jerbo, who also played for IE and the national team says he too is saddened to see Liberia lose one of its best. “What an uncertainty world we live in.”
Mark’s death is just the latest in a long-line of former football players, who brought joy to Liberia with footballing skills, only to die abandoned and most times forgotten as a new generation of stars follow their footsteps.
Another one of those was George MacDonald Sacko who in September 2011 died at the age of 75 at the St. Michael’s Hospital in Newark’s Central Ward, homeless, penniless and almost anonymously.
A local New Jersey newspaper put out an SOS for anyone who had information on Sacko’s next of kin, to claim his body.
Years before Mark Gibson came on the scene, Sacko was regarded as the “Wizard” and a shining star in Liberia.
Like Mark, Sacko was also a midfielder, who captained the Lone Star into the 1960s.
During his last days, Sacko wandered the streets of Newark, New Jersey, spending his nights at Penn Station – most times going to bed without food to eat.
When the LFA learned of Mark Gibson’s death last week, Mustapha Raji, President of the Liberia Football Association posting on the Association’s Facebook page, extended sympathy to Mark’s wife, Charlotte. “Your husband was surely a gem of a person. He will be missed for his goodness in life. Stay strong and know there is a whole community at your side,” said Raji.
According to Raji, the LFA was planning to come to Mark’s aid prior to his death, the help never came. “We were alerted few days about his deplorable health and were planning something for a man, who dedicated his life to serving his country. “Mark was truly an incredible soul, full of strength, love, and much more. Sadly, he has been called from labor to rest. Kindly accept our deepest condolences for your loss,” said Raji.
James Salinas Debbah, a former team mate of Gibson told FrontPageAfrica, “The guy was exceptional, both on and off the pitch. On the pitch he never a rival – ‘top notch!’ The best midfield player I ever played with, excellent with both feet. A leader on the pitch, inspirational, the kind of player ever young player wanted to play with.
“I was a big fan of Mark Gibson. When I was acquired by Union Sportique De Duoala on a three-year contract I facilitated a try-out arrangement for MARK GIBSON to come to Cameroon.”
Last October, another famous former national team player, William Glay succumbed to death after a long illness. After his death, a group of former footballers under the banner of Senior Professionals Soccer Legends, led by Sogbie, visited Glay’s wife to offer the little they had gathered to help with Glay’s funeral.
A long-time admirer of Mark Gibson, Gray, who once played for Mighty Barrolle and the Lone Star, was a left back. He died at his Bardnersville, Dry Rice Market residence after a protracted period of illness – and neglect by authorities.
Dubbed the “Brazilian Bulu”, Glay was famous for his spectacular penalty kicks during his days for club and country. Gray was the father of 19 children and grandchildren.
Liberia has a long history of great footballers. Going as far back as the 1960s when legends like Mass Sarr Sr. aka “18 Yards”, who died in June 2013 and the great Wanibo Toe wreaked havoc on the football pitch.
The details of Toe’s death have been sketchy for years but the mystique surrounding his unique skills resonates with a new generation of followers of the game. His death, as painful and shocking as it was to many, at the tender age of 25, spoke to the high-level of respect which unrivaled his peers during his time.
Toe, who played for both IE and Barrolle, died in 1967 at the Catholic Hospital. He reportedly had some kidney issues and was hospitalized after sustaining an injury to the rib in a game between Barrolle and a team from Ghana.
As the family of Mark Gibson prepare for burial in a few days, memories of the contributions he and others made to the beautiful game in Liberia will continue to linger. For those in their footsteps, a front-door seat to the history books paints a gloomy picture of how neglect and abandonment from authorities can impact a life, long after hanging up their boots – and the cheering stops.
IF YOU GO
HOME GOING SERVICES FOR MARK GIBSON IS AS FOLLOWS:
Wake keeping: Friday May 3rd, 2019 Viewing: 6pm – 7pm Wake: 7pm – 10pm Christ United Methodist Church 1480 Zettler Road Columbus, Ohio 43227 All sympathizers and friends will make their tributes at the wake.
Funeral Service: Saturday, May 4th 2019 Time: 8am – 11am Christ United Methodist Church 1480 Zettler Road Columbus, Ohio 43227
Rest Cemetery East Main Street, Reynoldsburg, OH 43068
• Charlotte Gibson (Wife): 614-226-6477
• Mark B. Gibson Jr. (Son): 614-598-7988
• Ahmadu Sarnor (Friend/Brother): 614-374-9136