It was 1981, sometime in October I’m guessing. It was a Saturday afternoon. InterCol final Saturday on St Mary’s Ground.
My first month in secondary school had been memorable; the memories having nothing to do with the classroom. Queen’s Royal College were having one of their better years in a long, long time.This particular Saturday, they found themselves in a final, the North Zone final. I can’t remember now who were the favourites, QRC, my new school or Fatima College. But I had my hopes.
I might have been a new student, but I already felt like an old Royalian. It was a family thing, father and uncle before me. I had grown up hearing so many QRC heartbreak stories in InterCol that this seemed a golden chance to put things right. Didn’t work out that way though.
QRC had not lost a match all season. But they chose the biggest game of the year to that point to do just that. Three-one Fatima beat us. And we scored first too! But my side lost their composure after Ronnie Simmons equalised before half time and in the second half, Brian Netto and Deryck Fritz finished the game off. Concern, then disappointment, then despair descended on me like a some of those clouds that shrouded the northern range beyond Serpentine Road.
I made my way through the big crowd that afternoon, heading straight for home, not keen on seeing people, especially those from primary school who had passed for Fatima! It was a difficult weekend. It’s 32 years now since that game, a fact which astounds me even as I type it. But the feelings and some of those images are still fresh. Needless to say, like that final, the season became one of unfufilled expectations, the first of many I would experience following that team. Still, some of my fondest memories of school and schools football go back to that year and that QRC team.
Ironically, a Fatima game was one of the highlights. It was a league match on Fatima ground which QRC won. I can’t recall the final score now, but I remember one goal in particular, a special from Lester Charles, a dynamite free-kick. I could still see it smacking into the top right-hand corner,causing violent ripples in the netting. Lester was not a big imposing type for a defender, but classy all the same; at least in my teenage eyes. He made the navy blue jersey with the sky blue sleeves look special at times that season. Not him only. There was the goalkeeper Kenneth Beach; defender Junior Noel with the big Afro and long, long throw; the late Shirvan Pragg--the future budding West Indies cricket talent before his life was tragically cut short by a car accident--doubling as a level-headed midfielder; Dexter Sandy, short, speedy, a top dribbler and “bound-to-score” over the first half of the season. Playing alongside him in attack was Neal “Buggy” Phillip, the scorer of the QRC goal in the North final.
I wonder what has become of the living members of that team. None of them went on to become big names in local football. But as might be evident from this reverie in print, they left an impression on one young mind.
Yesterday, Fatima played the “Green Machine,” St Augustine Secondary--another side that caused QRC grief in ‘81--in the 2013 national final of InterCol. More likely than not, the bulk of those who played in that final will not become household names. But to some ones in whatever crowd there was, their names will stick; perhaps even when they get as old as me. In ten to 15 years’ time, some of yesterday’s principal characters will be the insurance agents, police officers, maybe even media personnel of the day. Perhaps others will still be in the game, maybe national stars even. Whatever they become, their sporting years would have contributed to some dgeree to how they developed.
Whether to a greater or lesser degree, the Secondary Schools Football League has been a life shaper for thousands of us, whether as players or supporters. But I’m not sure how influential it still is.
I got to thinking on the matter while perusing a document by a group of football people with a genuine love for the game who are trying to make their contribution to its revival here.
The document speaks of “inculcating a new culture” at schools level and encouraging schools to develop nurture and maintain theirs.
The breakdown of discipline, the standards of coaching and the narrow focus of that coaching and the lack of continuity between the SSFL and other youth leagues were other concerns of the group. They are legitimate concerns.
Somehow though over the years, the SSFL administrators haven’t given the impression that they fully appreciate the true value of their product other than to give young people a chance to play.
The SSFL has a new president now in Anthony Creed. It would be good if he is bothered by the trends in the areas mentioned previously, because while the schools league may not be the most precious commodity in local football, it is an important one; with value beyond the playing field. And what a field of dreams it has been!
It was on those fields of my youth that I first saw this big, tall goalkeeper named Shaka Hislop who just seemed so difficult to pass in the St Mary’s goal. I spent some agonising afternoons on QRC ground too, watching a fellow called Clint Marcelle terrorise the Royalians defenders. And there was one wet day on the ground when an Arima team in their pomp put six past QRC with Kerry Jamerson in the lineup.
Like that InterCol time in ‘81, it was not a pleasant walk home that afternoon after the Arima licking. But those days I still remember, and without bitterness. I supposed I’ve learned to take the good with the bad. Another lesson learned from “school.”