It is said that sports has an advantage over literature, song or cinema — it does not need words. The free flow of a Brian Lara cover drive is appreciated as much in Barrackpore as in Brisbane, the clever feints of Russell Latapy look as artistic in Port of Spain as it did in Porto. Which is why when we watch the truly great in sports, what we are admiring and taking pride in is not just the achievement of a Trinbagonian or a West Indian, but the heights to which man’s consciousness can rise. I took the opportunity recently to have a sit down with former National captain Sedley Joseph at his home in Valsayn. Now 81 and undergoing dialysis treatment, Sedley was a standout for Maple in the 1960s, leading them to 28 trophies in nine years and was named Trinidad and Tobago’s captain of the century. He recalled his journey in an extensive interview that can be viewed on TTFA's Youtube page but what stood out for me was his recollection of what football was like during the 1950s, 60s and 70s. We have all heard it said before. - that sport is like religion and moreso football in some countries. According to Sedley it was in fact so in the years gone by and he wants to see a return of those times. The annual cycle of major football events such as the North/South classic and the Port of Spain League mimics the yearly sequence of rituals by which traditional religions transform “profane” time and space into “sacred” moments and places. These were the scenes at the Queen’s Park Savannah back then, according to Sedley who guided T&T to bronze medal at the 1967 CAC Games.
“The ground was not the best in the world. In front of the grand stand particularly when it rained on the left side, going west was difficult to play on. But it was what we had and we made use of it. All the teams had grounds on the Savannah. So you had Maple ground on the north, Malvern ground on the west, Dynamos up the road, Colts on the East. People used to go to see teams practice as if it were a match,” he recalled. "The supporters would come to you after practice and say “ Hear nah Skip this player should play and this one should be on the bench such was the interest that they had in supporting their teams. It was really good in those days. “I imagine there are still talented players in the teams now. I don’t know if the the rivalry we had then still happens now. You had Malvern coming with most of the players from Woodbrook, the Woodbrook glamour boys, Colts from Belmont, Shamrock with their club house at Queen’s Park East and Casuals by the corner heading towards QRC. The tension was there. I could recall riding my bicycle heading to games from my home at Observatory Street, East Dry River. If we were playing Colts that evening, you would have the Colts fans telling me on the way 'Sedley we go beat all ya this evening'. Spectators didn’t make joke in those days. The support was strong. When you reached the Savannah you knew you weren’t playing just for your club but also for your supporters,” he said.
“I grew up on the Savannah looking at the elders play. I grew up in that football atmosphere so it wasn’t difficult for me to move on from being a youngster looking on from behind the goal post to being in front of the goal post when I grew older,” he added, recalling the assistance he received from his three brothers and sister, particularly his brother Alan who skippered Maple in the 1950s and would take him to training or matches on his bicycle.
“I don’t know but I think the camaraderie we had in the 60s and 70s is what we need to get back. I can’t say for sure because I am not that close enough to the teams these days. Although we played against each other in the league on a weekend, we became friends when we had to play for North or South, or on the national team. The camaraderie that we had was strong. We enjoyed each other’s company. Matter of fact, people wondered how Carlton Franco and myself were so close, Carlton was captain of Malvern and I was captain of Maple. The closeness was always there and there was no question of animosity. Of course it was different in the actual games."
Clearly, most team sports elicit a sanctity between the players and their fans. Is sport a ritual activity? I believe so. Sport can increase spiritual awareness in so far as persons embracing the tension between success and failure from moment to moment. In these times of tension, sport no doubt is a far greater option for us whether as a fan or a participant. Well, once the lockdown is over.