Johnson's family renewal: Mother of Tobago sport stars on healing through God

Cheryl Johnson, mother of footballer Kennya Cordner and cricketer Iraq Thomas. Photo by David Reid
Cheryl Johnson, mother of footballer Kennya Cordner and cricketer Iraq Thomas. Photo by David Reid

If you’ve ever been to Roosters’ Shirvan Road or Crown Point branches in Tobago, chances are you’ve seen Cheryl Johnson.

You may have spotted her in the fast food restaurants’ kitchen supervising the staff or observed her quietly interacting with customers at the cash register or serving counter.

What you may not have known, though, is that Johnson is the mother of top footballer Kennya Cordner and cricketer Iraq Thomas, both of whom are based overseas.

Cordner is arguably the greatest forward TT has ever produced with 38 international goals to her name.

Thomas has yet to play for TT but has carved out a name in the shorter format of the game while residing in the UK.

Johnson, 50, said she has never been one to boast about her children’s accomplishments on the sporting field but she is extremely proud of them.

“I am not a person who likes to show off and say, ‘That is meh son or meh daughter,’” she told WMN in an interview at Roosters’ Crown Point outlet, ANR Robinson International Airport.

“I love my children and as long as they know it, that is what is most important. I am proud of both of them representing TT in cricket and football.”

Turkey-based footballer Kennya 'YaYa' Cordner, the daughter of Cheryl Johnson. Photo courtesy TTFA

But while most women will celebrate Mother’s Day with their children, Johnson will more than likely spend the day at work or speaking to them via cellphone.

Johnson, who is a staunch member of the Church of God Seventh Day, said she no longer celebrates occasions such as Mother’s Day.

“But my children still call me to extend best wishes.”

Cordner, 33, a former student of Signal Hill Secondary, plays as a forward for Turkish club Fenerbahce. She is enjoying a sensational first season with 32 goals for the league leaders.

In 2015, Thomas, 29, who grew up playing cricket in Speyside, won a scholarship to travel to England for two months to play with the Barnes Cricket Club. The scholarship was made possible through an Atlantic/Kieron Pollard initiative.

To date, the powerful batsman holds the record for the most centuries in T20 cricket by a Tobago cricketer and the most sixes in a single T20 innings. Thomas currently plays with the Congresbury Cricket Club.

Despite her children’s busy schedules, Johnson said she speaks to them as often as she can. They also rely on her for guidance and support, she said.

“I communicate with them very often, sometimes for the whole week we chatting. But sometimes, I deliberately stay away because I know they might have training and matches and I don’t want to disturb them.”

Johnson said she last saw her son just a few days ago, on April 26, when he left TT after participating in the THA Chief Secretary’s Bago T10 Cricket Blast at the Cyd Gray Stadium, Roxborough. Thomas was a member of the Buccoo Reef Divers who were crowned joint winners.

“When he was going back, after so many years of not seeing me, we hugged and cried. I was really emotional because I don’t know when I will see him again.”

Johnson joked she is also afraid of flying so she won’t be visiting England any time soon.

“Nine hours to get to England. I ain’t doing all of that flying. I hardly even want to take the 20 minutes from Tobago to Trinidad.”

She added, “I will miss him terribly because I am living alone and although he used to go out a lot when he was here, he still used to keep me company.”

Johnson, who has been employed with Roosters’ since its inception some 23 years ago, said she has not seen Kennya since before the start of the covid19 pandemic.

Cheryl Johnson says her faith as a Seventh Day Adventist has helped her renew her relationship with God and her children. Photo by David Reid

“I have not seen Kennya for the past two and a half years. She makes me feel sad sometimes when we talk, saying she wants to come home and how much she misses me. When I am talking to her I does feel to cry. But that is the life.”

Although she shares a close, loving relationship with her adult children, Johnson admitted this was not always the case.

She said Cordner grew up with her maternal grandmother and aunt in Speyside.

“For my daughter, I never used to be around much. But when she would go out and play football, people used to meet me and say, ‘Your daughter real good in football.’ I didn’t know because I never used to be around. I was living in the townside and they were in the country.”

Johnson, who lives at Plymouth Road, Whim, said numerous people encouraged her to attend her daughter’s matches.

“When Kennya started playing with the national team, I went down and watched her a few times and when she got the opportunity to go abroad and came back, I said, ‘This girl really good in truth at what she is doing.’”

The former Roxborough Secondary School student said she began to follow her daughter’s career.

Johnson said Thomas lived with his father during his early years.

“So, I never really grow up none of my children.”

Thankfully, those days are behind her. Johnson said she relies on her deep spiritual faith to assuage the hurts of the past.

At the urging of a friend, Johnson said she attended a service of the Church of God Seventh Day several years ago and never looked back. The church has branches in Bagatelle, Golden Lane and Belle Garden.

“I never looked back. It was as if they were speaking to what I needed at the time.”

UK-based Tobago cricketer Iraq Thomas, the son of Cheryl Johnson. Photo by David Reid

Johnson, who was baptised on March 31, 2019, said the church has helped her both personally and spiritually.

She said the teachings of the church have caused her to change her physical appearance as well.

Once a flashy dresser, Johnson said her clothes and hairstyles are now more conservative. She also does not wear jewellery and make-up.

Her life, she said, is simple.

“I have dedicated my life to doing things that are pleasing to God and my family, especially my two children and grandchildren.”

Johnson said although Cordner and Thomas are both grown, with lives of their own, she misses them terribly and constantly advises them to “put God first in everything."

“When they call me with a problem, I does tell them, ‘Don’t worry, go to God in prayer and I will pray for you also. I love to pray.”

She believes it is important for parents to have conversations with their children.

“Regardless of what they do or what people say, parents need to tell their children about life and the things that are happening in the world.”

Johnson said her children are also very close.

“Kennya always calls to talk about Iraq’s children. He already has four and a fifth one is coming either this month or next month. So, at 50, I will soon be a proud grandmother of five.”


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