Let me leave that heading as it is, unexplained for a while. However, if you were around and can still remember Port of Spain sporting life from the 1950s, you may know what this column is going to be about.
Back in the fifties, and sixties there were no sports stadia in TT. Football in Port of Spain was played in the Savannah, in front of the Turf Club’s Grand Stand. Players came out of the grand stand, ducked under the railings of the horse-racing track and entered the field. However, while some fans paid a few shillings and sat in the grand stand, most patrons stood on the grass along the line markings of the field.
Being among the crowd along the lines meant that if the play was ongoing, say in the southwest corner, everyone near the southeast corner would drift onto the field to be able to see. Naturally, this interfered with the play at times, and the assistant referee, who was called the linesman back then, struggled to keep the line clear. So the line was controlled by police horses, which would patrol the touch line, moving sideways against the encroaching crowd, literally pushing fans back off the playing area. If you were there, and had encroached on to the field, you listened for the urgent murmur “Horse! Horse!”, and the pressure— a shuffling wave through the crowd, would carry you back behind the touch line. Sometimes just in time! For a sliding tackle could bring ball and players crashing into the crowd!
This was real “Sensaround,” long before “reality” came to the cinemas. As a spectator you could feel the thud of a hard tackle, and hear the “oomph!” of the player being hit—all this in the scampered retreat of sideline fans and a horse “backing back” against them.
This was how it was in the Big Yard, where even our international matches were played, with horses and all!
In the 1950s the top clubs in the league were Maple, Malvern, Shamrock, Casuals and Colts. Please feel free to add, delete or curse me if your club is not in my list! The clubs largely represented the existing social strata in the city, and each of them was also known by a popular nickname. These were, in the order listed above—The Government, the Glamour Boys, Cafe Boys, the Maroons and the Belmont Battalion.
And last Sunday the Government and the Glamour Boys renewed old rivalries, with the original players, on St Mary’s College ground. Maple celebrating 100 years, and Malvern, celebrating 75 years, met on the field again.
So now you see where my headline comes from!
Coaches—Conrad Brathwaite for Maple, and Robbie Greenidge of Malvern, looked down from above, as did Malvern’s skipper Arthur “Jap” Brown. Maple’s captain Sedley Joseph looked on from the stands.
The turnout was tremendous, wonderful for those of us with bad back, bad knee or just too decrepit to play, to reminisce from the sidelines. Great to see Maple’s Alvin Corneal, who must be over 80, sending in pinpoint crosses from the left wing and Malvern’s Buggy Haynes, in his 70s, showing touches of the dash he once possessed!
I had posted about this on Facebook, and one friend asked what had happened to these two great sports clubs? They are still there, friends, playing in the lower division of the North Zone football. Malvern is still very strong in hockey and with women members playing hockey and football. But why did they slip from the top? A mix of circumstances I think:
Up until 1974, most workplaces closed at 4 pm and we all worked half-day on Saturdays. Also, back then, we played football matches over 60 minutes. After the Haiti debacle, TTFA changed to 90-minute football matches. At the same time, government and most offices cancelled Saturday work, and added a half hour to each working day. So our footballers, and their audiences needed to leave work earlier to get a 90-minute match played, and this was a problem for many, especially for the genuine club teams.
Teams like Defence Force, police and the oilfield teams in south gave their playing employees time off and provided their own buses to transport players. This, plus the start of the national league, made it difficult for the “social” clubs to field teams and to arrive at matches on time, and they began to fade away. But it is important that we do not forget those days, and that we commemorate an era which meant so much to so many.
Oh, the result? Maple 3-Malvern 1. And yes, you know that would have been the opening sentence had Malvern won! Thanks for the memories!