Football buffs that supported the sport in the early eighties would experience nostalgic memories when they reminisce on the quality of players that graced the field back then. Those die hard fans would also lament over the infamous defection of the mid eighties when the cream of the crop disappeared while on the stopover leg, at the Los Angeles port, en route to Mexico for the World Cup qualifiers. The pundits are adamant that after that defection local football has never been the same.
Despite such a dismal prognosis, local ball weavers continue to practice their trade and it was refreshing to note that stalwarts of that era continue to work diligently to restore local football to a semblance of its former self.
Neil ‘Grizzly’ Humphrey is a former national footballer of the previously mentioned era but was not a part of the ill fated squad that disappeared on American shores. However, he would have conformed to life’s vicissitudes when, while engaged in Champion of Champions tournament in Berbicein 1982, he breached the rules and received a red card. He said that the incident sparked off a furor among spectators which prompted an inquiry and his subsequent appearance before a disciplinary committee. For his indiscretion the former striker was given a five years ban from competitive action.
This was an extremely hard sanction and the former ball weaver admits that his decision to hang up his boots was precipitated by the harsh punishment.
All was not lost, however, and after several years on the sideline ‘Grizzly’ demonstrating the fierce propensity of the animal after which he was dubbed, returned to the sport, this time in the capacity of a coach. It was not long afterwards that Michael DeSouza formed the Hearts of OakFootball Club (HOOFC) in St Elizabeth Road, New Amsterdam. After establishing this institution, Mr. DeSouza formed a similar club further up the Corentyne called ‘Corriverton Links’ and ‘Grizzly’ joined forces with a few other football stalwarts to carry on the affairs of the HOOFC. The club initially comprised veterans who relived their youthful days organizing matches against their counterparts from other clubs. However, as time progressed, the administrators of the HOOFC broadened their membership base and included other youths interested in the intricacies of the sport. Today the HOOFC despite yet to fully establish itself as a force among other contemporary city clubs, is tiding by reasonably well and according to Mr. Humphrey includes a broad based membership of youths between the ages of 4-16 years. “We organize lots of school competition and are currently tutoring youngsters in our annual ‘Teach them Young’ initiative which involves the very young football aspirants,” intimated Mr. Humphrey. He said that this year marks the fourth anniversary of the programme which commenced on July 18 last and concludes on August 19 next.
The young footballers are also exposed to theoretical sessions which are usually held in the clubhouse of the New Amsterdam Prisons.
But what is the next step after coach Humphrey churns out the best talent in the Ancient County? “This is only the beginning of the process,” he assures. “Usually we collaborate with the coaches from all four clubs in the county—Cougars, Arsenal, Pistons and New Amsterdam United—who engage in a process of spotting talent,” he continued. After the coaches recognize the best talent the young ball weavers are installed into one of the clubs to continue honing their skills. Those players unlucky not to have been selected in a particular club are accepted into the HOOFC where they continue to hone their skills.
Currently, a plethora of past football stalwarts join forces to enhance the skills of the Simon Pures. Among them are Adrian Forde, Nigel Felix, Randy Sears and Kenrick and Colin Bowry. Mr. Humphrey intimated that another veteran, overseas based Shawn Semple, is expected in Guyana sometime soon to join his contemporaries in coaching the youngsters. “This is all about reciprocation,” pronounced Mr. Humphrey. “We are merely giving back as we have received,” he concluded.
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