Wednesday, April 16, 2008

'Football is like love'

Legends Winston Chung Fah and Johnny Barnes

Admit it. During the World Cup, we are all slightly distracted. Telephone conversations become disjointed as we see a ball heading for goal. Trading on the stock market goes flat, and relationships take a beating ("Sorry, darling-I didn't say 'go', I said 'goal!'"). I had to discuss this global frenzy with my friend the legendary Winston Chung Fah, widely regarded as the godfather of Jamaican football.
I asked Chungie why football had this ability to transfix us and he said the great Pele had one short answer, "Football is not a game; it is an emotion." Chungie likens the game to love and asks, "How can you really define love?" How indeed. There are really no words to describe that day in November 1997, the day we took to the streets to hug each other, wave flags and honk our horns, when Jamaica drew with Mexico at our National Stadium to qualify for the World Cup.
Winston Chung Fah took me back to the year 1950 when post-World War II euphoria reached an all-time high as Brazil hosted the World Cup. They built the gigantic Maracana Stadium, capacity of over 200,000, with the expectation that Brazil would triumph. Brazil lost and gloom engulfed the country. Several fans committed suicide and the once-popular president lost the elections held soon afterwards.
My friend quoted Bill Shankley, the great coach of Liverpool who said, "You're acting as if football is a matter of life and death-let me tell you, it is much more than that!"
Chungie created the Santos Football Club in 1964, describing it as "the tent under which all classes could meet-uptown, downtown and cross-town". Before that, he said, the less fortunate youngsters did not have an opportunity to hone their skills. "This is why I cherish my long-time friendship with Excelsior star and National player, Patrick Chin. He could have gone with the more elite teams, but we had the same vision. He and other colleagues used their resources to help others in the team."
The nucleus of the team was Chin, twin brothers Niah and Shiah Hardie, Peter Lee, Karl Hans from Maiden Lane, George Burke and Tony Holbrook. Santos went on to win Division One, featuring the famous Alan "Skill" Cole and Michael Levy. My husband Hubie Chin, Patrick's brother, was on the junior team, the first Santos team to win a championship (I have the picture to prove it).
Chungie sees football as a unifier and motivator. He remembers the tremendous contribution made by Winthorpe "Jackie" Bell and Dennis Ziadie who tragically lost their lives in a bus accident when they attended the World Cup in Mexico in 1986. He believes that his best moment in Jamaican football was a World Championship match with Mexico in 1965, when Jamaica "mashed up" the field at the National Stadium, showing world-class mettle although Mexico ended up the winners. He knew then, that one day Jamaica would reach the World Cup.
So why is Jamaica not in Germany? Chung thinks it was a blunder to have England-based player Darryl Powell, the leading goal-scorer for the Jamaica team, on the bench for the Jamaica-USA match. However, he does not want to "bad-talk" the local coaches because he believes that while Rene Simoes did a good job, Jamaican directors have never been provided with the same tools as the foreigners.
Who will win the 2006 World Cup? "Well, Brazil is my team," says Chungie. "But it's early days yet, and their centre-backs are slightly suspect. Sixty per cent of the game is played in the middle of the field, but if they do more passes, the defence wouldn't have much to do.
Offensively, Brazil should be the best. But Argentina looked very good on Friday!" He warned that some of the stars have come into the World Cup from "very physical" leagues and we have not been able to do a proper evaluation of their injuries. Moreover, he says that Brazil is under great pressure as "everybody is playing against them".
Chungie is very proud of Trinidad and Tobago's performance so far. He had worked with them for a month, before the arrival of their Dutch coach and was congratulated by Jack Warner for the role he played in motivating the team.
He remarked on last week's report that there were discussions with Johnny Barnes about the possibility of coaching the Jamaica team. "Johnny would be able to lift us up. Remember how we all switched to supporting Liverpool when he went there? He could do a lot-they should try to secure him!" he said. Well do I remember that golden day at Chukka Cove in 1989 when Chungie teamed up with Johnny to conduct a Football Clinic for school boys and girls. Both had the kids' rapt attention-it was amazing what they achieved in a single day.
The popular coach hopes to return to Jamaica from Cayman one day to set up a Centre of Excellence to develop the best young football talent in the country, blending sports and academics. "Last year alone in Cayman, I was able to get 12 scholarships for the kids here. Imagine how many more I could get with all the talent we have in Jamaica.
I would like us to work out a system where we work with the inner-city youth, get them through university and bond them to return after they graduate to work with other youngsters. When our young people hear one of their own talking about studying and achieving, that will be the best motivation."
Chungie thinks that PM Simpson Miller has sent the right signal about her commitment to youth and sports by retaining that portfolio. "I think sports will definitely go forward. With the wealth of experience that Eddie Seaga and PJ Patterson have, it would be a great plus for them to be sitting with and advising the prime minister. We have to bury the past and move on."
Chungie wants to use football to turn young people away from crime. "That is what I want to leave for my country. I met with George Phang and I told him, 'Pepper, this has to stop.' Too many bright youth losing their life. I want to give them hope."
He singles out Ricardo "Bibi" Gardner and Ricardo Fuller as footballers that our youngsters can emulate. "I hear Bibi's name being mentioned as the next captain of the Bolton Wanderers-that would be big business. He has a lot of class and character. When he was going to England for the first time, he asked for his mother to stay with him. That told me a lot.
"We are going to go places. We should give Portia a chance," he says. "Don't be too hasty to judge her. I remember Foggy Burrowes saying that we shouldn't be afraid to make mistakes-the only people who don't make mistakes are those who do nothing."

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