FONDLY remembered for his quiet and unassuming personality, former national striker Raymond Roberts, was equally memorialised for his reputation on the pitch as “explosive” in front of the goal.
Roberts was laid to rest yesterday following a funeral service at the Los Bajos RC Church, located in his home town Palo Seco.
He died last Friday at the age of 68 following a lengthy bout with cancer. He left to mourn his wife and two daughters.
Roberts’ contributions to his club, south Trinidad and the nation itself, are something to cherish, said former TT football team coach Edgar Vidale, who trained him at all stages.
And, according to Vidale, there was one particular attribute about Roberts that stood him out from any other footballer that he ever managed, which was “his shot, his powerful and accurate shot.”
“One of his assets as a footballer, one that brought him on to the national team, was his powerful kicking,” said Vidale.
“I’ve never seen anybody since then or even before, there may be very few, if any at all, who had that ability to shoot that ball so powerfully.”
In reminiscing on Roberts’ footballing career, Vidale recounted a series of incidents that stood out to him, which brought Roberts into football prominence.
During the years of the Inter League – a championship featuring the top teams from the various zonal competitions across the country – zones and teams from the north were dominant.
“It happened on two successive weekends. The SFL, which was the league we played in down here, of which I was coach of, played the Port of Spain League in the final which would determine the winner of the Inter League that year and it would have taken away the supremacy of the north.”
As Vidale recalled, with the scores locked at 1-1, he introduced Roberts onto the field with 20 minutes remaining in the match.
“In fact, Ray Roberts got to be known as the ‘20-Minute Wonder Boy’,” Vidale said.
“The people there didn’t really know him. So he hurried onto the field without a warm-up or anything. And this was about 30 yards from the goal and there was (national) goalkeeper in goal, Gerald Figeroux.”
“Because of his power, whenever he had a free kick, he was asked to hit it to the neck or the face of the wall and I don’t think anyone was so stupid to put their head on a ball like that.
“For this particular evening, he did exactly that. And I always said to myself, like in the bible, like the miracle of Moses parting the sea, the wall just moved. Because anyone putting their head on that ball ending up in the hospital. And that sank into the...the goalkeeper didn’t even know what happened. So with that, we won the game 2-1.”
One week later at the same venue, the Queen’s Park Oval in St Clair, according to Vidale, a very similar incident occurred.
“Well, the first was an indirect free kick. This was a direct. And again, I did the same thing. And now the players knew. So it made it worse because they’re not going to put themselves in the path, and he repeated it. He repeated it!”
Vidale recalled the height of the north-south rivalry and Roberts’ game-changing influence.
“As far as I’m concerned, Ray Roberts helped take away the supremacy of the north on those two occasions.”
But there was one more incident, which left a lasting impression on the veteran coach.
“No one else remembers this... It was a game against Suriname.”
The match determined the team, either Suriname or TT, which would advance to Haiti for the final round of CONCACAF qualifiers for the 1974 FIFA World Cup in West Germany.
“The situation was that Suriname was so confident that they would’ve been the team going that they decided to play both their matches in Trinidad because they were repairing their main stadium. So they came here and in the first game in the Oval (our home match), we beat them 2-1,” said Vidale.
The second match was played two nights later at Skinner Park, San Fernando, which was recognised as Suriname’s home leg.
“Almost the same thing happened, but 15 minutes before the end of the game. I got the opportunity to put him in. They were playing better than us with a powerful midfield and I gave him the same instructions. And this was no free kick. (I told him) ‘Any time you get free (space) anywhere 30 yards away, shoot to goal.’ Because apart from the power, he was one of the most accurate kickers of the ball in those times… Even now.
“Anyhow, sometimes these things make you a genius and sometimes it doesn’t happen and it makes you a moron.
“So, it happened. Just as he went on to the field, he got one (shot) just on the 18 yard and he really exploded. There had a fellah named Lilac in goal for Suriname – he missed it and that ball was so powerfully hit, when it hit the crossbar, it came back out to Steve David, who was just standing near to Roberts.
“He (David) took it on his thigh and before it hit the ground, he let go a volley when Lilac didn’t even recover from the dive yet. And that, that caused us to go to Haiti. But it was not David’s shot. It was Roberts shot that gave David the opportunity to do that.”
Three weeks before his first leg goal against Suriname, Roberts scored his first TT goal in a 11-1 win over Antigua and Barbuda.
Roberts went on to feature in the final round of qualifiers for the 1974 World Cup. He played for most of the infamous match against Haiti in 1973 in which TT were disallowed as many as five goals, a couple of which he helped build up. Haiti won that game 2-1.