Thu, Dec

FIFTEEN YEARS after he led the famous Strike Squad team to the brink of the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy, Everald “Gally” Cummings is keen on doing his part to ensure that Trinidad and Tobago regains its place as a powerhouse in the CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central and Caribbean Football) region. The 55-year-old Cummings, currently recovering from knee surgery, stated that “we have too much of young talent going astray.” “If we have something positive in the society we can solve some of the problems,” he continued. “If I could play a part, in any way, I will be willing to assist.”

In a recent interview, Gally spoke at length on his career as a coach, which saw him guide the Strike Squad to within one point of World Cup qualification; as a player during the heyday of TT football in the 1960s and ’70s; and as the current technical adviser to the South-based Pro League Starworld Strikers club. After returning home in 1984, following professional stints in North America and Mexico, the Ministry of Sport employed Gally as a football coach. With the senior national team’s fortunes dwindling and empty seats at football venues, the then Director of Sport Cecil Walker urged Gally to take up the mantle as the team coach. That he did in 1987, because “I felt that the country needed something good. To me, it was one of the best teams Trinidad ever had.” And his record spoke for itself.

Already entrenched as one of the best strikers ever to represent TT, Gally earned a Canadian National Coaching licence (while playing in North America), followed by Brazilian Basic and Advance licences, and two further certificates in England and Germany. During his playing career in North America and Mexico, Gally stressed that his unique playing style stood out, therefore, “when I became national coach I decided to go back to my roots and (employ) a kind of football that Trinbagonians would appreciate and be able to understand.” The brand of football was termed “kaisoca soccer.” But the national frenzy came to naught when the team suffered a 1-0 beating by the United States in the infamous November 19, 1989 World Cup decider at the National Stadium.

Following the loss, Gally reflected: “I was removed as coach, and we saw the effects that had on Trinidad football up to this day. Other people came in (and went) but the fact is that I focused more on the local players because if I wanted the team at any given time, they were always available. “I always believe that the foreign-based players should be the icing on the cake and not the cake.” Gally noted that “football is now a form of entertainment and, if you can’t entertain or you can’t bring out the people then something is wrong. Football should be entertaining and it should be organised in such a way that people should get their monies’ worth.” But Gally is pleased at the work that members of the Strike Squad are doing to uplift the standard of the game locally with their various coaching assignments. Born and raised at Dundonald Street, Port-of-Spain, Gally was inspired to play the game by his elder brother Philbert, who represented top club Malvern.

“I had the opportunity to play at a very early age (eight),” he remembered. “I was representing the school team (at Richmond Street Primary). I never really played with my peers. I always played with older players because of my ability.” He then attended Tranquillity Boys (where he played for 1964 national senior football champs Paragon) and then Fatima College, where his exploits as a striker helped the team to the national Intercol crown in 1965, its first since it entered the fold in 1951. At 15, he earned his national debut, playing alongside notable names such as captain Sedley Joseph, Alvin Corneal, Jean Mouttet, Pat Small, Selwyn Murren, Richard Nieves and Aldwyn Ferguson among others. In 1967, the quartet of Cummings, Leroy De Leon, Warren Archibald and Jean Steadman were the first local footballers contracted to play in the North American Soccer League (NASL).

Gally was awarded both the Humming Bird medal and the WITCO Sportsman of the Year award in 1974 (the only footballer to date to cop the annual title). He was also inducted to the WITCO Hall of Fame in 1989. Since the start of the 2003 Pro League, he has been technical adviser of Starworld, and is high in praises of the coaching staff of Michael Grayson and goalkeeper coach Michael Maurice. “What I try to do is give an opportunity to the local players because there is this feeling that Trinidadians don’t like to work hard and that’s why clubs like to bring (players) from outside,” Gally noted. “My role is basically to initiate a team structure of play to ensure uniformity throughout and liaise with the coaches from time to time.” Away from the game, Gally admitted that he’s a lover of family life, with two children Renee (a former journalist who is pursuing her post-graduate studies in criminal justice) and Gabre (a former footballer with St Mary’s College and now a chemical engineer at bpTT) and two grandchildren Yja and Zhara.

“I’m not too much of a party person but I love steelpan and calypso. I like to keep things in the right perspective. I’m basically an easy-going person and I like to stay in the path of righteousness.” Married for 35 years to Roslyn Khan-Cummings, a diplomat at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, the Chaguanas resident stated, “I’ve been very comfortable. I’m a very contented person with very high morals and values and a very proud person.” Finally, how did he get the nickname Gally? “When I was growing I was a very athletic person, and I liked to box. There was a black boxer who came here in those days by the name of Galliento and I had the same large tummy as him. And they started to call me Galliento but Gally for short. That name was only assigned to the community but when I started playing football and getting popular. The priests and teachers at Fatima College started calling me Gally and then it reached the newspapers and that was it! It’s better I swear to an affidavit for that name because nobody calls me Everald again!”