Sunday, September 23, 2012

Malvern and me - the Peter O'Connor column

While the nation has been celebrating its Fiftieth Anniversary of Independence, one of our Institutions has quietly turned seventy years old this year. 

The Malvern Sports Club, of Woodbrook and “Glamour Boys” fame, was founded in 1942. Its founding members were a group of young men who had attended Tranquility School and Queens Royal College.

Malvern’s story has been unfolding in the media this past week, and it is an important piece of the City’s, and our Sporting Landscape’s history. In its early days, the Club was a football club, and later moved into hockey and cricket, and eventually into Women’s Hockey. And Malvern’s famous Wine and White colours were carried with honour in all of these sports.

But it was through football that I knew of, and was eventually accepted into this great Club. Growing up in the oilfields, I would listen to the matches between Shamrock and Maple, Malvern and Colts, Casuals and Dynamos, and wondered at the glory of playing or watching in such a Big Yard.

But I would have to wait until 1960 to have that experience. I was working for TPD, which was the dominant team in South that year. It was also a year in which Malvern and Maple were making waves in the city with sparkling football, of which we heard and read. So one Saturday in November we drove up from the Deep South to meet Malvern in the final of the FA Trophy.

It was the time of Malvern’s Cha-cha-cha Football, where the players danced Brazilian style through and around opposing teams. And so it was that afternoon. TPD lost, but I remained in wonder at the style of the Glamour Boys—led by Carlton “General” Franco, and with Kelvin Berrassa, Clive Niles, Ken Hodge and Eddie Hart—playing the brand new “4-2-4” system, and I began to support Malvern from afar.

I left the country in January 1964, and returned in July 1967, going to live in North. I had played football at University in Houston, and in that City’s “expatriate” Soccer League, and set out to join a Club. 

Shamrock had folded during my absence, but there was Casuals and Queens Park for people like me, members of the old white establishment. Now, I was no player in demand, like Ronnie Gray in South, or the Nieves’ or Hamel-Smiths’ in North, I was just an ordinary player who loved the game.

I met Robert Elias who was playing for Malvern, and he introduced me to the Club. Malvern would accept me? I could be a member of a club which played such “high” football, and have teammates whom I held in such awe? I put in my Application, pledging to pay $2.00 a month in “subs”, and started training with the team.

My acceptance by Malvern, and the privilege I enjoyed being a member, changed my outlook on life, my country and my people for ever. Robert “Robbie” Greenidge was the Coach, and had been for years. 

Robbie passed away three weeks ago, just before he would have been honoured again during these Anniversary celebrations. There was something about this gentle, quiet man which inspired so many of his charges and his teams to rise, dance and overcome oppositions threatening to dominate them. 

To watch such a man, as Coach, enter a quarrelling dressing room at half time and quietly settle them with a few words, and then tell them what they were going to do in the second half, and see that plan unfold, and victory result, was to watch real leadership at work.

I played for a few years in the Intermediate Division of the POSFL, but my greatest joy was “getting a run” with the first team in friendlies, back in South especially, against the oilfield clubs I had once supported. I played alongside some of the best footballers in the land, in terms of intelligence, simplicity, support, and understanding.

But Malvern had other plans for me! Since I could not make the first team, they sent me to Administration. I was elected as VP, then President, in 1972. And that was the year that Malvern’s Investment in Trinidad & Tobago bore fruit: Independence Bonds purchased in 1962 were redeemed for $10,000.00, and this provided the down-payment for our Clubhouse at 105 Woodford Street.

From Malvern and POSFL, I eventually found myself on the TTFA Executive, and between 1985 and 1991, I served as President of TTFA. Those were stormy years, of mixed fortunes, but I watched our youth teams develop some of our finest, and a couple of the world’s finest, young footballers.

But my heart has always been with Malvern, beating strongly and appreciatively between those two wine-coloured hoops on our white jerseys! 

Thank you, Malvern, for all that you have shared with me! Live on!

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai