Wed, Dec

Flashback, 2017: Former national footballer and coach Everald “Gally” Cummings at Woodford Lodge, Chaguanas.

HIS parents grew up in downtown East Port of Spain. On St Paul Street, to be exact.

His mother’s name was Ramirez. It was she who told him to love unconditionally.

He was born at the Port of Spain General Hospital, and grew up on the corner of Dundonald Street and Melville Lane at in the heart of the residential and business district in West Port of Spain. His mother told him about loving unconditionally.

He grew up two blocks from the Queen’s Park Savannah, which was at the time the sporting mecca in the city. From early, he was fascinated by the roars and sounds emanating from there. At Richmond Street Boys’ teachers recognised his natural talent from early.

He was proficient all round. In athletics, cricket and football. He ran from the 100 metres to the 400 comfortably. But it was with football that he scaled ordinary heights, effortlessly, even though it required hard work and dedication.

But this autobiography Gally Cummings, The Autobiography is more, much more than the ascent from the streets which in today Trinidad and Tobago, and in Port of Spain in particular, are as mean as they have ever been, to the heights of international fame, respect and adoration wherever he has been. But what stands out above it all is the manner in which Everald “Gally” Cummings narrates a script from which can be learned many of life’s most important lessons along this road, richly, frankly, unsparingly told.

He talks right at the beginning of having “also admired and gained inspiration from some of the renowned sportsmen and artists at the time”, such as Pat Gomez who lived a couple houses away from him. His brother Marcus saved for Shamrock in the Port of Spain Football League (PoSFL). Mike Agostini, the national 100-metre champ of his day, was in the mix. The Lord Christo, known for his popular calypso about the women caught with the “cold box ah chicken chest, under she nylon dress, one morning at Hi-Lo”, was his great-uncle. Bert Inniss lived next door. Christo was also a natural in the role of emcee, and some of that definitely found a place in Gally’s genes, the way he describes many of his encounters and interactions with people at almost every juncture.

How ‘Gally” was born

He talks about being taken to the Savannah with father and falling in love with the game of football.

He went to the venerable Richmond Street Boys’ school, a breeding ground for young talent back in that day. The Gamaldo brothers, his two elder brothers Ellis and Philbert, coming right down to Russell Latapy, are included here.

He describes what it was like as a youngster in his early teens playing for North against South, with players such as Kenny Joseph, Warren Archibald and pros and the like. Fr Knolly Clarke, then a young Anglican priest, played an influential role in his overall development.

He was deeply influenced by the prowess of a man named Anthony Gouviea. “He was known all over town,” Gally writes. “I would hold his gears while on the way to a game, and looked on eagerly as the other boys cleaned their boots and prepared for the game.”

He was six years old when he got the nickname that would follow him until now. A man named Leonard Gilbert thought he looked like a famous boxer of the time, named Galiento. He had also liked boxing. It was, as is usually the case, got shortened to Gally.

He first got his name in the papers after scoring two goals in the Richmond Street Boys’ 4-1 win over Rosary Boys’ in the north zone Primary School championships.

Everyone in the neighbourhood bought the paper to see his photo, another huge motivator for him to do better.

Love for the game

Growing up on Dundonald Street was like a blessing in disguise. Life wasn’t easy at home, but being so close to the Savannah provided him an outlet for his talent and for his ambitions and his dreams, and for the exposure to others who were of merit.

He was ten when he was observed by a Brazilian man watching at the Savannah.

He played mas as a boy in All Stars with his father. The family moved to Nelson Street, and the Dry River was the boys’ playground. “Nelson Street had a lot of life back then. The only small threat of violence was the preserve, exclusive, of the panmen from Renegades, Desperadoes Sun Valley and Tokyo in their territorial wars,” he writes.

He begins talking about his love for the game and how his talent continued to develop. It was in a period in which his parents separated and he moved back to Dundonald Street with his mother. Again closer to the Savannah, the canvas on which he would continue to paint the tapestry of the rest of this charmed life.

He starts going to Tranquillity Intermediate and meeting a lot of older talented boys. On the school team, in an early encounter, he scored four of the six goals they netted against St George’s College. He was 14, but was playing for the under-17 team as well.

At this age he was being propositioned by Paragon, in the PoSFL first division.

“My older Paragon players were very comforting given the circumstances. They gave me the support I needed and respected my talent at that age,” he writes.

He conveys delight at going to Grenada on his first plane trip, at age 17, his side beating the Grenada national team five-nil and then walked over the Grenada league champions four-two. His name was well known over there already, and he describes the experience of being mobbed for his autograph, for the first time.

Turning point

In 1965, at age 17, he was named T&T National Footballer of the Year. It’s important to hear him say this. “When I was coming up you had to put in work playing good for your community and minor league football teams and if you were good enough then you might play for your district in the Port of Spain Football League. If you excelled at the PoSFL you could gain selection to play for the North Zone team against the league All Stars from the other region of Trinidad and Tobago.”

Moving to Fatima from Tranquil and helping the team to win their first Intercol title in 1965 was also a major turning point. He scored both goals in Fatima’s 2-1 victory over St Mary’s, the second one coming after having been dealt a cut over the eye by a St Mary’s “hatchet man.” The joy which came with that, on the jump up from the Oval back to Mucurapo Road was like Carnival Tuesday. “When I saw this huge crowd lifting me up while dancing, laughing and crying, I truly understood what Intercol football was all about,” he writes

Again, there’s something in him that finds expression in his assessments of people. He says of Conrad Braithwaite, that he was someone who was soft-spoken and kind, as a national coach, and what he lacked in terms of tactics and strategy for the ground game, he made up for in kindness and encouragement.

Here is where he describes as The turning Point. It was 1970.

He got married to his childhood sweetheart in January that year, and got involved in the Black Power protest which swept the country at the time. His wife was a dougla girl from Central, going to Bishop’s and staying with relatives in Port of Spain. He had been home after playing professional football for the previous three years in what he called the Jim Crow South, living in Atlanta. This was during the height of the civil rights movement, with Dr Martin Luther King’s operations head-quartered in Atlanta.

The marriage counsellors advised and warned them of the sure disaster which lay ahead. They thought they were too young. He was 22. And there was what he describes as a slight clash of cultures because of her biracial heritage.

“They predicted disaster but we were determined to show them the most successful relationship they had ever seen. Well 50 years later, it’s still standing.”

‘Patriotism builds’

The marches in Port of Spain may have been new to people at home, but not to him at that point. He had been living it. “I marched the streets with Geddes Grander and Dave Darbeau as they were known at the time,” he says.

He defied the advice of the Atlanta coaches to stay off his knees, both of which had been operated on, and joined Malvern in the PoSFL.

In a chapter he calls “Patriotism builds,” he talks about being invited to and taking up the offer to join the New York Cosmos, the team that Pele had played for, when the US went into professional football.

He says in comparison to other teams in the then US pro-league, the Cosmos was like the United Nations, a kind of exception. He recalls the famous game at the Oval against the Brazilian team, with Pele. It was dinner at the Hilton and the Prime Minister, Dr Eric Williams, asking to speak with him. The discussion led to the start of the plans to build a national stadium.

With his meeting Jack Warner for the first time, we get an insight into the mind of the ultimate dealmaker. Thirty-five dollars and a picture of Gally and Pele, if he would play in a benefit match for a player in the Central League. He agrees to play. He accepts the priceless picture but foregoes the $35. It is the start of a long relationship between them.

There’s a whole chapter on the famous game against Haiti in 1973, when T&T was cheated out of our first real shot at the World Cup finals.

He was awarded the WITCO Sports Personality of the Year award in 1973. Meeting Sir Gary Sobers and Rohan Kanhai who presented him with the award at that function. He shared the award with Bernard Julien.

He kept a lot of newspaper clippings, such as one from Trevor “Burnt Boots” Smith, essentially questioning how the panel could have equated Bernard’s performance with that of Gally’s, notwithstanding Bernard’s own achievements.

“After winning the CONCACAF Most Valuable Player in December 1973 and then receiving the Sportsman of the Year Award 1974, I was exhausted from the associated media attention and awards ceremonies,” he writes.

Opportunity denied

Then he went to play in Mexico.

“My grasp of Spanish was weak, but I improved my understanding from watching TV and talking to the Brazilian players who spoke Portuguese, Spanish and a bit of English.”

He would then be nominated for the Humming Bird Medal Silver. Whereas he had a special audience with the Prime Minister at dinner after the game with Pele and company at the Oval, he would be invited to meet with the Prime Minister privately.

While on a tour in Suriname, he hears about an opportunity to play for Ajax Amsterdam, reported in the Surinamese press, but nobody in T&T appeared to know anything about it. “I may never know exactly what happened, but it’s certain that I was denied a special opportunity to advance my professional career in Europe. My disappointment felt even more agonising because the ‘lost’ opportunity came at a time when I really needed a professional team to play for. The opportunity of a lifetime escaped me all because of an unknown entity’s contrasting vision of my future,” he writes.

Eric Williams was known for showing his appreciation to progressive women, who were passionate about sports, he writes, reporting on the story of how one Euadne Gordon was appointed secretary of the National Sports Council, and played a pivotal role in setting up the first professional football team in the country, the Pro-Pioneers football club.

There’s also the story about deciding to go to Toronto when his wife was appointed Vice Consul at the Consulate in Toronto in 1977, making the determination to give his children the benefit of that experience.

Juicy inside stories

There’s also this narrative in the book about an experience with Alvin Corneal being appointed national team coach because Edgar Vidale had been sent on training in Germany. Corneal hired his friend Ken Butcher as his assistant, and sent word that if players such as Gally would come to him personally he would consider him.

“I was appalled by his suggestion because players qualify for national selection based on merit not from flattery. At age 31, I had been a national senior team fixture for the past 16 years and I was one of the most recognised and accomplished professional footballers in the CONCACAF region.

“Alvin and I were both Fatima College alumni but different life experiences gave us contrasting perspectives on most important social issues. People should be able to have differences in opinion and still respect each other, value someone else’s talent and appreciate their contribution. I felt disrespected by Alvin’s proposal because I understood exactly what his intention was.”

You must read on from here to see where he went with that. And then there are those tales of the experiences he had with being the head coach of the national team, including the development of what he himself coined Kaisoca Soccer. Also, of being a single parent when his wife took up a scholarship to pursue advanced diplomatic studies in Spain.

There are other juicy inside stories, never really told, such as the one about how Lincoln “Tiger” Phillips defected while the Trinidad and Tobago national team was on tour, in transit, passing through the US, and of how he embarrassed his 12-year-old son during a football camp in DC. He referred to it as a most disgusting affair.

Overall, one gets the sense that this is someone grateful to have had the opportunities to live the life he wanted, pursuing dreams and passions, wisened by learning to handle whatever was thrown at him, remaining rooted, grounded and committed to high ideals, graduating at the top of the class in the school of life.

SOURCE: T&T Express