Fri, Jun

Everald "Gally" Cummings

Gally Cummings paid me the high honour of reading a draft of his autobiography as he readied it for publication. When someone entrusts you with the task of reviewing and editing his life story, and that person is national royalty, you feel a great weight of responsibility.

I do not think he understood when he handed over his work that I already had the highest opinion of him as footballer and person—an opinion now greatly enhanced having read it, and seeing the depth of his reflective power.

My great task was not to alter in any way the purity of what this remarkable talent and patriot had to tell us about his life. He had earned the right to tell his story in his own voice. He had travelled the world pursuing his gift and passion. You do not interfere with a line laid down by Kitchener. You might make a suggestion here and there, respectfully.

This was phenomenology at its best, a movie of Gally’s life, made by him, played back on the pages of his text with greatest detail, with intelligence, and perceptive insight. This was a life of richness. It could have been so much better had the local FIFA establishment (with other Concacaf countries) not agreed in 1975 to play all our World Cup home games in Haiti! Even so, we got to the final game, in Port-au-Prince, winner goes to Germany. The FIFA cabal, in their heyday then, had it all fixed. We had three goals disallowed in the deciding game.

Gally was voted the outstanding player of that Haiti tournament, and it is a crime that he and other players, among the best we have ever produced, did not get a chance to play in the World Cup.

In 1989, Gally’s Strike Squad was to come up against an American team with Chuck Blazer, their FIFA man. The game brought together Blazer and our own FIFA man Jack Warner. Both were to become bigwigs in Concacaf.

Both to suffer ignominy.

I am happy that Andy Johnson has reviewed the now-published work, Gally Cummings—The Autobiography, in a recent issue of the Express, and think that he did justice to it, and to the man Everald Cummings, who has accepted “Gally” as a name of endearment.

This work transcends football. It is about the life and times of a boy born in Port of Spain in 1948 under what, on the surface, are harsh circumstances. He is kind to his father, who leaves the home.

I share that circumstance with him.

He speaks kindly of his father’s carpentry skills, to be seen on display in the living room. His mother is the rock. His elder brother is his footballing role model.

It is the picture of the life of a young, poor, African boy in Port of Spain that Gally paints—life in the 1950s in Port of Spain barrack yards, that makes this book so much more than football, and so much a contribution to our literature. As this boy grows up, he is seeing Eric Williams go by, and has encounters with him. The founding father of this country waving to this boy each time they encounter each other. Later in his life he was going to have conversations with Williams and would suggest to him the need for a national stadium.

In his boyhood he sees a host of people, now known to be luminaries, go by—Olive Walke, sprint champion Michael Agostini, Bertram Innis, Pat Gomez, national goalkeeper. Lord Christo is a relation. So, on the surface it is a harsh life, in Port of Spain. It is different from a life on the edges of Port of Spain, in places like, say, St Clair or Cascade. But what he sees around him, the people, their talents, is qualitatively rich, and I think a key to understanding why this boy held the memories of this across adulthood.

Then there is the family move to Nelson Street. Here Gally describes football played inside the Dry River, and the river is coming down one day, and a man raises the alarm, causing the boys to scamper up its steep banks, because their lives depended on it. I have seen that Dry River come down—the turbulence reflective of the surrounding hills.

In his prize-winning book, While Gods are Falling, Earl Lovelace paints pictures of Laventille, and talks about the water, but not just water, flowing down the hill, into the city below.

What does a young boy do today if he lives on Nelson Street? Where does he play? Gally reminds us in this book that Port of Spain was once a cultural centre where poverty was the wellspring of creativity, not crime. Where a boy could play.

Has the society not declined?

In 1965 I started travelling from South to attend John Donaldson and made it a point one day to see Gally play for Fatima in an Intercol game. This was a man among boys. An African prince, playing a game different to all others on the pitch. He trapped a ball on his chest. The ball remained there until he shook it off. I had never seen that. He played in an unhurried manner, with lots of time. When I went back to South that evening, I told my Marabella team-mates and friends what I had seen.

Fatima became a nationally known school because of Gally. He was at the heart of their fund raising. And yet, sadly, he writes of the principal, Fr Ryan, ostensibly writing a “recommendation” letter as part of his quest for a football scholarship at an American university, only to find out that the letter cast aspersions on his character. He writes of the principal; thus, “Father Ryan was a Catholic priest of Irish descent. I’m sure he was a good man... but his colonial thinking and racial bias towards me was obvious” (p26).

Some of these prestige schools want the footballer but not the boy. Use them up: spit them out. St Benedict’s under Dom Basil saw both the boy and the footballer. Now the Catholic establishment wants to demolish St Benedict’s, which many believe to be a heritage school.

Why is that recreation ground on Mucurapo Road opposite Fatima not Everald Cummings Park?

On Page 21 of the book, Gally talks in two paragraphs about the biggest game I have ever seen locally. This was national Intercol final between Fatima and St Benedict’s, in Skinner Park, 1965 or ’66. The game was scheduled for 4 p.m. I was there at noon. Rain. Water in my socks. Yes, the roof of one of the stands did come down, with people on it, as Gally describes. Gally was the reason for the crowd. He alone against St Benedict’s. Fatima scored first, but Benedict’s won the game 2-1, with the winning goal by skipper Adrian Chandler coming late.

Gally Cummings’ autobiography is a seminal contribution to our literature, one of the deepest phenomenological accounts we have had. It is a reading on the social history of Port of Spain—an inspiring story about a boy who realised his dream of being a great footballer, travelled the world, then returned home with his family intact, his childhood sweetheart as he calls his wife Roslyn, his anchor; his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren never far. And he, still with that big, warm smile. Still here in this country.

A gentleman to the core. Here, because is here that conceived him. This man, indeed, a national treasure.

SOURCE: T&T Express