The landscape of personalities across football in Trinidad and Tobago is peppered with egos that are less guardians of the game’s best interests and more protectors of their patches of dominion. It is also salted with other temperaments, willing masters to willing serfs and willing serfs to willing masters, who are ultra cautious of those who do not render them patronage and tribute or relevance and survival. Richard Fakoory, to my assessment, was neither of these defensive, sharp-edged and unfortunate dispositions. He was approachable, collaborative, down to earth, engaging, frank, humble, transparent and non-triangulating. He appreciated that football would outlast him and that his responsibility was to the enduring greater good of the sport locally, rather than to the convenience of his fleeting present. In my estimation, this is one reason why he resisted participating in the arms race of escalating player wages that often lured fine players from his club on to perceived greener pastures, but that also occasionally bounced them back to Rangers as prodigal sons.
As it turns out, Richard was being pragmatic, not malicious. Over the years, rejected by fans and elusive of investors and sponsors, the artifice of a properly monetized and commercialized professional league in Trinidad and Tobago has persisted only as a subsidized illusion. In sum, Richard’s decision-making was “tempered ambition” that resisted what Wall Street types would regard as market insensitive impulses.
In the face of the recent injections of UEFA ASSIST expertise, we, the collective people of football, just had been receiving a sense of comfort by Fakoory’s presence in the room, during the transitional deliberations aimed at reconfiguring the governance model within domestic football in Trinidad and Tobago, at the moment of his passing. As such, his departure presents as untimely, particularly in the instance of inserting a check and balance on the overreaching of others who possess penchants for the excessive exercise of power. If we regard football as the community project Richard envisioned, his passing should encourage us to redouble our efforts to leave no stone unturned in binding to family, village and nation, and to achieving for the good of the game, rather than for the exclusive benefit of self and acolytes.
My first impression of Richard Fakoory was that he was not a person one should or could bullshit, and that was fine by me. My second impression of Richard Fakoory was that he was economical with words, deliberate in his thought, a practitioner of attentive listening, not one to rush to decisions, and a man committed to whatever path decided and commitment agreed. My third impression of Richard Fakoory was that he was a meticulous and proud record keeper of the provenance of the footballers who played at Rangers across the decades.
While I cannot profess to having known Richard for a comparable period, it is testament to his manner that I sense that I knew him for much longer than the brief years I did. He made communicating easy. He shared insight-filled anecdotes that were occasionally related to football and always pertinent to life. And, the importance of family shone through his being. Unknown to him, within my household, Richard was affectionately “the cousin” and I anticipated that one day the ‘cousins’ would meet and engage their legacy of diaspora. Lamentably, that will not happen.
In addressing attendees at the Minnesota State Fair, some days before assuming the presidency in the wake of William McKinley’s assassination in 1901, Theodore Roosevelt, then Vice-President of the United States, popularized a saying that he, perhaps conveniently, attributed to African oral tradition: “speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far”. The adage is sometimes amended to state: “walk gently, speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far”. Although soft-spoken and perceptibly gentle, Richard Fakoory did not need a big stick to affect outcomes; and, his temperament ought not lucidly to have been confused with weakness. He went far and, as some will testify privately, frequently beyond.
To his credit, he recognized that a vacuum in Trinidad and Tobago’s social order needed to be filled in order to preserve hope and possibility for those distantly situated from the chalices of plenty and he set about leveraging sport as a constructive tool of opportunity and community and national engagement. In the context of the evolution of football in Trinidad and Tobago, it is certain that he acknowledged that footballers needed to live rather than merely to subsist. However, although the persistent challenge of making that happen has never been exclusively his alone, in some ways he was rendered a silent standard-bearer of achieving that insulating responsibility, long before a visit by Anthony Bourdain kindled public expressions of private truths.
The T&T Pro League brass are said to be seeking to identify ways in which to honor Richard Fakoory. Agreeing with him or not, one less than elaborate way to do so would be to honor Richard by recalling his voice in future discussions and by injecting his perspective into issues mooted for discussion. Richard Fakoory’s legacy merits at least that.
In my goings and comings, I meet many people who are interesting in their own right, yet who leave no discernible, compelling or distinctive, impression. Richard was not in that category. Following the ceremony marking the pairing of MIC Institute of Technology and Rangers, I had the privilege of touring MIC-IT’s physical plant with Richard and what transferred was the projection of his humility in an otherwise arrogant society and his precise appreciation of the tenor and condition of Trinidad and Tobago.
When the phone sounded and the caller informed of Richard’s passing, instantly it reminded me of the indispensability of dotting and crossing my i’s and t’s today, without any presumption of certainty in deferring life’s puzzles until tomorrow or next week. It is my hope that players such as Che Benny, Micah Lansiquot and Kathon St. Hillaire will embrace that mandate and can press on to extract all the benefits of the football gifts and potential they possess. Mr. Fakoory would want it so.