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The Spiritual Nature of Football

Updated: Aug 18, 2020


I was introduced to football as a lonely, sickly boy of about five. I was being cared for by a usually morose, single mom, who sewed cheap, children’s dresses for a living and pedaled them from store to store along the East West corridor, in Trinidad. From from Sangre-Grande to Port- of Spain, I was either inconveniently dragged along, or had to be left by some unwilling, relative baby-sitter in dingy, smelly excuses for houses. Or I would be occasionally locked up at home alone, looking on at other kids playing games in the street. And always, always it seemed to me, I had to be indoors. I never thought for a moment that my mom didn’t love me though. She just had to work a lot for us to survive. Often, we would have little or no food when she couldn’t sell her quota and her credit line had run out at the China-man's shop.

But it appears, now that I think about it, that one of the really important things my otherwise married and absent father did for us, was to secure lodging in an enclosed, single room cloister under his relative’s house on Moreno street Arima. The house was surrounded by a tall fence and a gate that was always locked. It belonged to Madam Chapeaux. It was her nickname around the town, I never knew her real name.

It was sometime while living there and before I turned five and started school, that I contracted pneumonia which had followed on from a bout of flu. According, to my mother, I was almost killed by it. Severe bronchitis became standard fare, as did regular visits to the doctors office, which always occurred indoors. These bronchial attacks frequently followed any minor cold or flu; a serious flu-phobia, a fear of being wet in the rain and a dread of the outdoors, was the upshot. My mom, God bless her heart, protected me with her life and so I never got to to be outdoors and never had any exercise, except after I was enrolled in school and happened sort of at recess and at lunch. Those jaunts were usually to get into fights and or idle mischief.

At one point, while I had just begun to wear a school uniform, I would sit indoors, in our landlady’s hat store opposite the Arima Savannah, staring through a window at pedestrians and cars passing by. I used to look forward however, to watching the big, strapping, fit men playing a game in colorful uniform, often in torrential rain, It seemed like they would never get sick. I was always too far away to make any sense of the proceedings, all I knew was that I wished I could be out there, running around and sliding about, high-fiving my pardners and having a great time. I wished I didn’t have to be alone and indoors. It seemed that what they were doing was the most exciting way to spend an evening.

All I can remember about my early primary school days, was lying about how much I loved my father and about how good of a scuba diver he was. He had to be away often in the deep, deep ocean on missions. Yea right, I took that as far as my tiny imagination could stretch it. Other than that, I had vivid memories of the embarrassment of never being picked for any games or being left for last as a numerical after thought. To tell you the honest truth, I didn’t enjoy primary school at all and on sports days in particular, when I was supposed to have represented a house called Landeau, so named after some former principal, I absolutely loathed it. I never placed in event to give my team points.

I would be occasionally at my only school friend's , Kester Mitchell’s, playing some cricket game and just begin to cry quietly and then little by little burst into uncontrollable fits of sobbing for no apparent rhyme or reason. I couldn’t understand it and neither could his parents who would often try to console me. I didn’t like my life i think and I could figure out why.

Thank God for books and a library close to Madame Chapeaux’s hat store, though. The store which by this time, had been relocated from around the Savannah to nearer the center of the town, called the Dial. It was situated now under Jadoo’s gambler’s club, but I could go by myself a few yards away to the library and there be able to escape the daily drudgery. I would lose myself in all kinds of fascinating books. I looked forward to going there every evening and borrowing books to take home. I became an avid reader. With Madame Chapeux and my mother’s approval and encouragement.

But one day, when I was about 11, we had moved by this time, to rent a room in another woman’s house. We were now at the corner of Church and Queen streets, still in Arima. I found a discarded, old rubber ball in the street. it couldn’t hold any air at all and every time I kicked it, I left a huge indentation in it. I would have to kick it again from the other side to fill it in somewhat. But finding it, was one of the most memorable discoveries of my life up to that point. I would spend hours kicking it against the Girls RC School wall.

Eventually, I started to run away from home and hang with a bunch of weed-smoking, adult street footballers who for some strange reason, banned me from ever puffing a cigarette with them. We would all, some twenty of us, jump over the girls school fence but we had to be vigilant though, because the police who often patrolled the area would come to arrest us on allegations of possession of marijuana and or possible trespassing charges both of which were real crimes at the time. Thank God I was never caught. and I don't think anyone else was either.

Still, these strange happy-go lucky-fellows, allowed me to watch their games and occasionally they would even pick me and teach me as we played. I remembered Coxy, of whom it was whispered about, had been at one time, a possible Trinidad and Tobago international, except for the fact that now he was always high and his eyes forever red., he could have been on the squad still. For some reason, the most popular and highly respected player there, took a liking to me and often encouraged by teaching me some of his ball wizardry before the pick up games actually started. He was like a father in that sense or big brother, like the one I never had.

Pretty soon, by at least 12 or 13, I was accepted and moved up the picking order. I am not sure which brought me more joy, being outdoors, learning and enjoying a game I had always dreamt of playing or of being accepted and appreciated. I guess all of those reasons came together to make me feel love. So I loved the game back. I loved it so much, it pretty much took over my life until it even became my religion.

Stay tuned for the second installment. Curt H.

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