THE covid19 pandemic, which put a halt to sports both locally and globally, has offered a chance to reminisce about the glory days of sports in TT.
One of the sporting events that brought delight to western Trinidad was the Port of Spain Football League (POSFL) in the Queen’s Park Savannah.
The Savannah has been the birthplace of a plethora of cultural and sporting activities since it was bought from the Peschier family over two centuries ago.
Despite the main attraction of the Savannah being the celebration of Carnival or the occasional concerts and picnics in the Hollows, sport was equally important in bringing people to the former sugar land daily. Cricket, football, horse racing, and in the later years, hockey and rugby were all played at different areas in the 260 acres of the Savannah. Football and horse racing competitions were held in front of the Grand Stand,
In the 1950s, the Port of Spain Football League (POSFL) gained further popularity, and by then, it included ten teams from the area, During this period, the majority of the national teams comprised players from the league. The teams were: Maple, Malvern, Colts, Shamrock, Casuals, Sporting Club, Providence, Notre Dame, Queen’s Royal College (QRC) and St Mary’s College (CIC).
In the later stages, the school teams combined to form the Colleges Team. The Regiment (Defence Force) joined the league, with many of the top players branching over to it. There was also a second division of the POSFL, which was played on the “second-class” field, which was a platform for the reserve players to get much-needed playing time as well as for other teams to participate.
Furthermore, the Northern Amateur Football League (NAFL) also played their matches every day at the ground, obliquely opposite the Emperor Valley Zoo, where rugby is currently played. Clubs who were victorious in this league, such as Dynamos, Paragon, Luton Town, all earned the right to participate in the POSFL.
The dominant team in POSFL’s history was Maple, winning a total of 13 titles with 11 trophies during the 50s and 60s (1950-53, 60-63 and 67-69). Casuals collected ten trophies while Shamrock was victorious on nine occasions.
At that time, matches were played every day from 4 pm and lasted 60 minutes. The teams were vying for the Best Dark Virginia (BDV) Cup, Port of Spain League Cup, Constantine Cup and the FA Cup. All teams registered under the then Trinidad Amateur Football Association (TAFA) participated in the Haywood Trophy (A tournament between the All-Star teams of the zones) and Roy Joseph Cup (North vs. South Classic).
One of TT’s most gifted footballers Everald “Gally” Cummings, recalled his precious days in the Savannah. Gally was fortunate enough to be exposed to the myriad of benefits the Savannah possessed from a young age because he accompanied his older brother Ellis and Philbert. They played with the iconic football team Malvern.
“It was a playground for the PoS environs, we all got to know each other, whether you were from Woodbrook, Belmont, Laventille or wherever...Children from all over would use the Savannah as a meeting place to relax, but it is not as safe as before.”
He added, “You can stay for the entire day without becoming hungry because it was surrounded with fruit trees.” He vividly remembered, “The chenette tree was very close to the exit of the Grand Stand, while the balata tree was near to the All Saints Anglican Church. There were also numerous mango, sapodilla, and gru gru bef trees.
You couldn't use match fields for fun or practice matches. "There were groundsmen and staff to ensure that the venue was maintained and kept clean after every match. You literally couldn’t get a space to practise because of the different teams using the Savannah. Every team had their own spot, and you respected that.”
Gally, who made his national senior team debut at 15, said, “The environment was more relaxed long ago because it was respect all over. As a youngster growing up, you could have gone to see your favourite player practise, and that aided in development.”
The dressing rooms were in the Grand Stand so players ran out of the tunnel and headed towards the field (where the North Stand is usually constructed). The boisterous spectators would have a close view of the players coming on and off the field. Police, usually from the Mounted Branch, maintained order among the large crowds that usually burst into celebration after goals or crafty dribbles. The snowcone vendors painted their carts in the colours of the teams and nutsman “Somebody Called” was among the entertainers who created a family-oriented festive atmosphere.
TT was still under British rule in 1962, and there were social classes and ethnic divisions evident in the composition of the teams. As Gally explained, “Most of the teams had a social aspect behind them, as players represented the areas they lived, skin colour or by their socio-economic class. The colleges were the feeding ground for most of the clubs in the POSFL.”
The Colts team accommodated players from the Belmont areas. The Maple Club, known as the “Government Side” was a middle-class team based in St Clair, and the majority of the team were black and light-skinned players who attended St Mary’s College, Fatima and QRC. However, Malvern catered for the black players who didn’t have the opportunities to play for Maple or Shamrock. Malvern was called the “Glamour Boys” because they played with flair and style, which many considered the best brand of football in the league, and their home ground was opposite QRC.
Shamrock and Casuals had predominately white players on their roster, which comprised former Fatima and St Mary’s students. Shamrock occupied the eastern side of the Savanah, with a clubhouse close to the Belmont entrance. Casuals’ ground was on the western side of the Savannah obliquely opposite the Queen’s Park Hotel.
Sporting Club and Notre Dame comprised Chinese players, French Creole, and light-skinned African players, whereas Providence consisted mainly of players from Woodbrook.
Dynamos and Paragon joined the POSFL later than the other clubs because it had to be promoted from the NAFL, so it catered to everyone. The Paragon clubhouse was in Cocorite, just after were the West Shore Hospital is now and they were known as the “Caribana Boys.”
Luton Town derived from past players of the colleges team who decided to form their own side rather than joining any of the established teams. The Colleges Team was a combined team with players from QRC, Fatima, and St Mary’s: they played together for the POSFL, but in the School Intercol Tournament, they represented their respective schools. Several top players joined the Regiment team because it offered stability and an opportunity to play football while earning an income.
Cummings, who was the 1989 Strike Squad’s coach, explained why the clubs had constant support, something that is lacking nowadays.
“There were always spectators present because all of the clubs represented a certain area, and people were attending matches from different districts. Also, the football clubs had other sports representing the club, so that is even more supporters. Most clubs didn’t have a clubhouse, so they used schools to keep their social events, so teams invited each other after matches, which boosted camaraderie.”
He expounded on an aspect of development that helped many players.
“Most players played in the multiple leagues and used the lower leagues as a training programme. Sunday morning football or minor leagues catered for players who weren’t yet of the standard of the POSFL.”