The last few weeks were extremely gratifying for me as I was part of a committee involved in selecting sportsmen and sportswomen for the T&T Hall of Fame, a few of them footballers who were either my contemporaries or players whom I had the pleasure of managing as members of the national football team.
Two of those contemporaries, Richard Nieves and Aldwyn Ferguson (deceased), were members of national teams for a number of years. “Fergie” was a member of the first T&T team to play in World Cup qualifiers and that was in 1966 against Suriname at the Queen’s Park Oval. He was also a member of the only T&T team to have won a medal (bronze) at the Pan American Games and that was in Winnipeg in 1967.
In addition to being selected for football, Fergie, like Richard, was also selected for hockey. The hockey team won a silver medal in those same Games in Winnipeg. I had the pleasure of playing with Fergie for a number of years in old boys’ football for BWIA Graduates and one could not have wanted a better teammate. May his soul rest in peace.
Richard was the nemesis of many rival teams. He never seemed to stop running and always popped up anywhere the ball happened to be. A difficult forward to mark
I remember the first time this team toured to Suriname that Richard was selected as a forward but the team had a number of forwards in Alvin Corneal, the late Arthur Brown, Carlton Franco, Kelvin Berassa and Ronnie Gray, so Richard was not selected in the first match of the three-match series. At that time, the system we played was the third back system but it did not work well against Suriname and they beat us 3-1. So, a decision was taken that we would try the 4-2-4 system after convincing Coach Noel Pouchet to try something different.
Richard was suggested to play the midfield role with yours truly and this was exactly what the doctor ordered. Suriname was shocked; it was a different cup of tea. Richard never stopped running and when he was substituted late in the game, victory was assured for us – something that a T&T team had not achieved before in Suriname. I always preferred to have Richard on my team than to have to play against him. The teams that were unfortunate to meet his team Shamrock in 1959 came out on the losing end, as Shamrock made a clean sweep that year. Richard eventually decided to play hockey instead of football.
Dwight Yorke and Russel Latapy need no introduction and thoroughly deserved being inducted into the Hall of Fame. In addition to representing the country on a number of occasions, they have both played at the highest level – Dwight in England and Russel in Portugal and Scotland.
Russel was one of the most skillful footballers to have graced the football fields in T&T and outside and it was unfortunate that Coach Leo Beenhakker did not see it fit to introduce him in the World Cup in Germany in 2006 earlier than he did. He was also coach of the national team for a short period and although he was not successful, I don’t think he was to blame. He just did not have the material with which to work.
Dwight, on the other hand, made a name for himself in England, his glory coming during his time at Manchester United when the club was victorious in the English Premier League and also in Europe. The climax of his T&T career was his election as captain of the national team in World Cup 2006. How deserving and probably the greatest honour in his T&T career.
These two giants certainly deserved being made members of the T&T Sports Hall of Fame and the members of the Sports Foundation were very happy that they and most of the others were present to receive their awards.
Another footballer for whom I have the greatest admiration, Victor Gamaldo, was unable to be present to receive his award but he was extremely honoured to have been inducted. Again, I was fortunate to have had the honour of playing with Victor for a number of years before he migrated to the US. He was a stalwart for QRC and the Regiment and he also played professionally in the US.
Congratulations to all those honoured at last week’s function and I’m hoping to see some of our youngsters emulate the stalwarts of the past.