CURIOSITY alone is bound to lure many people searching for good local literature to read Gally Cummings: The Autobiography – The 60 Year History of a T&T Footballing Treasure. Although I would have preferred a snappier title, the book doesn’t disappoint.
Sport stories naturally lend themselves to exciting descriptions of important games and invaluable life lessons learned from courage and perseverance. Cummings succeeds in delivering these lessons. He tells his own story and the struggle of Trinidad and Tobago football with brutal honesty.
Cummings is perhaps best known to most people in this country as the coach of the Strike Squad, the team that came within one point of qualifying for the World Cup before its 1-0 loss to the US on November 19, 1989. His autobiography builds up to the excitement and disappointment of that day. Along the journey, Cummings outlines the support system necessary for success.
In the opening line of his book, Cummings writes, “I grew up at the doorstep of the Mecca of football in Port of Spain in the 1950s, living on Dundonald Street, only two blocks from the Queen’s Park Savannah.”
Capturing the sights, sounds and excitement of his neighbourhood teeming with hope and talent, from aspiring footballers to Peter Minshall, who lived across the street, Cummings writes in vivid detail about family, friends, neighbours, school and his early football experiences.
He says that at four, he was already driven with a sense of purpose: football. By 14, his reputation and accolades were growing. There are triumphs and injuries, opportunities and opposition.
The story builds to a pinnacle of hope and excitement. A tug-of-war between independence and conformity drives Cummings to make agonising decisions all athletes have to. A team sport requires a fine balance between individuality and sacrifice for the team, Cummings reveals how he faced these challenges.
By 18, Cummings is playing professional football in Atlanta, where he presents a first-hand view of racism.
“I had experienced discrimination as a child growing up in TT, but nothing could be as dreadful, distasteful, disgusting and humiliating as the systemic racism, oppression and violence inflicted upon black people in America during the Civil Rights era,” he writes.
New challenges emerge when he marries Roslyn Khan, who has her own aspiring career in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Balancing family with a football career adds new challenges and conflicts to the story.
Never afraid to mince words, Cummings exposes the jealousies, prejudices and incompetency of government-run sports programmes in this country. It is a stinging indictment of how TT has bungled sports programmes.
Opportunities abroad present new experiences, but there are always the challenges of acclimatising to new cultures and fitting back in when returning home to Trinidad.
Readers follow Cummings’ progress from a successful international footballer to an admirable local coach. Ultimately, this is a story of perseverance. Cummings remains determined even when facing daunting challenges both personally and professionally.
Detailed descriptions of numerous games, both as a player and a coach, may feel cumbersome to some in spite of the many exciting twists and personal revelations, but readers always have the option to skim over some passages, which is better than leaving them out.
Of course, there is no way to read this book without anxiously awaiting Cummings’ description of his time coaching the Strike Squad, the pivotal point of his career. Again, Cummings is highly critical of that loss.
By the end of Cummings’ autobiography, readers will feel that they have read an honest description of the subject’s life and experienced important snippets of TT history from the last 60 years.
Cummings’ autobiography is a lesson in how success relies on passion and dedication. It is a lesson that individuals can succeed even in a toxic environment that sometimes seems bent on thwarting ambition.
You can find Gally Cummings’ autobiography in most local bookstores.