Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Power of Nostalgia

 I would have liked to have been able to pop over to Serpentine Road on Saturday for an hour or two. Circumstances of life however, did not permit. I’m sorry that they didn’t.

That road has a special place in my memory bank of good things. It’s the pathway I used for years to get from home in St James to the school at the top of Hayes Street by the Queen’s Park Savannah. And on that road are places that translated into good times. First, as you round the bend from the Western Main Road is the Harvard Club, which for me meant cricket on a Sunday morning at the coaching school. It was there I first came across two fellows named Ian Bishop and Brian Lara. Had no idea at the time that our paths would cross in the future many times because of my line of work. Small world.

Anyway, the mornings at coaching school, and in the football season, football clinic, were also interesting because we got to do some of our drills on the adjacent St Mary’s ground. I was not a St Mary’s boy, but I always liked the setting, especially the big samaan tree over on the eastern side and the northern range, hovering silently over proceedings. I especially liked the walk when it was not so hot and sunny on a morning. Those mountains seemed even prettier then, and more majestic as I was heading past the ground on the way to school. The clouds would come down low, covering the top of the range, almost as if they were curious to see who was playing.

Those images have never left my mind. So nostalgia, sport and CIC ground have always gone together for me. The opportunity therefore to enjoy those things again through the Nostalgia Football Festival was one I’m sorry I missed. The attraction would not to have been to see men past their sporting prime running around in uniforms now significantly larger than when they were in school. But it would have been good, helpful even to hear them speak of past battles on the field, of InterCols won and lost. It is always fascinating to listen to doers of great deeds explain their doing of them; how their minds worked; or to decipher from their ole talk just what made them tick. It is one way to learn how to do things better.

I know the intention of the organisers is not just to facilitate an old boys lime. According to a spokesman, Ken Butcher in yesterday’s Express, one of the goals is to help students identify with their schools and to pass on the “values and standards” from past generations. What that comment hints at is that “values and standards” have fallen away—on and off-the field. It is nigh impossible for anyone past 30 to disagree with that, so obvious is the deterioration.

The slide in playing levels of course, is not confined to football. Arguably, it is across the sporting fields. What really can take a person aback however, is that these declines do not appear to be cyclical, tied to just a dip in talent or the temporary disarray of an administration. The breakdown seems to be comprehensive.

Even though some cases of deterioration of institutions may last for more than a couple years, there are usually structures within those institutions that remain constant, characteristics that define the organisation, that remain in place and help with an eventual recovery. So even in the mid-1980s to the early 1990s when Australian cricket was struggling, you could still identify a certain aggression and competitiveness in those who wore the baggy green that marked them as Australians. The nature of Australian cricket was retained, which when coupled with the re-jiggng of their running of the game, produced another era of champions.

And even before the era of the Pep Guardiola-coached Barcelona, that Catalan side was expected to play with a certain flair established from the club’s very inception. One just does not associate FC Barcelona with defensive, kick and rush football. The same with a team like Tottenham Hotspurs, perhaps not European powerhouses like Barca, but who from their glory days of the 1960s have come to be known for attractive football. In all three cases, generations of players and club officials have inherited a tradition and a way of doing things that they have basically tried to uphold.

What the organisers of the InterCol Nostalgia have recognised however is that recent generations—not just the present one—have lost the plot. They didn’t even know it to begin with. There is no one reason why this has happened. But the lack of a sense of community may be one factor; community, not only in the sense of neighbourhood, but also in the sense of school and club. 

Whether the sport is football or cricket, teams, rather than clubs play those games nowadays. There will of course be exceptions. But what now exists are groups of players who come together, usually lured by money. They play and then they go their separate ways. How much they know about their teammates or about the other people in the organisation, or the club’s  history is debatable. One doesn’t get the impression there still exists a culture of older ones passing on their knowledge of either the game or their club to the younger ones. Lost in that breakdown is a sense of commitment to the entity one is representing. There is no sense of belonging.

I have followed with interest and some sadness, therefore, the decline of Wanderers cricket club. A Premier Division side up to 2012, Wanderers did not take to the field in 2013 because their owner David John Williams--boss also of Pro League football club W Connection—had taken legal action against the Trinidad and Tobago Cricket Board (TTCB) on behalf of other another club (Preysal) affected by a decision of the TTCB’s disciplinary committee. John Williams claims his actions were based on principle, but the effect of withdrawing his team from competition last year and keeping them out again this season has meant that Wanderers the cricket club is virtually dead. 

We are talking about one of the country’s oldest cricketing institutions, founded in 1949 by then general manager of Caroni 1975 Limited, Frank Blackburn.

 The “Sugar Boys” were powerhouses in the 1980s and 1990s with a large following. Guarcara Park would be packed on final nights when they played the likes of Moosai Sports or Queen’s Park in the Witco-sponsored limited overs tournament which they won ten out of 14 times. Out of that club came West Indies player Nyron Asgarali, and several national players, including former chairman of selectors Dudnath Ramkessoon. So it seems inconceivable that for reasons which are not clear, Wanderers have faded from the landscape just so. Some 65 years of history snuffed out, just like that. It is yet another example of how local sport has been pauperised by the breakdown of organisations and all that goes with them.

It is oh, so difficult to turn around decline when the break with the past is so, sudden, so complete.

All power then to Serpentine Road and InterCol Nostalgia.