Short Stories: Chapter 8 – Immigrants! – By Geoff Burrowes

– By Geoff Burrowes

Rugby was my sport – never played soccer competitively, but when my sons’ soccer coach said “Would you help me coach the team?” I said “Sure!” figuring I could learn on the job!.

I never regretted it! The boys, eager and believing we knew what we were doing, played their hearts out, relishing in the water and orange slices at half time.

Frank, the coach was a tall, lean Englishman who did know soccer and I was learning on the job. I knew what constituted an off side by this time and a foul tackle and would harass the referees when I felt that they weren’t giving our boys a fair shot. Not knowing the game properly I coached by encouraging the boys when they played hard and made good plays.   

One Wednesday evening after the game Frank took me aside and said that he was going into hospital for an operation and asked if I’d coach the team on an interim basis until he was well enough to return. I was pretty naïve in those days and said “Sure!” without hesitation. That was the last I saw of Frank! I hope his surgery was successful!

Our team had a wide variety of talents. The roving energetic  centre forward was Mike, the other coach’s son. Tall and rangy for his age he was experiencing the young strength he was growing into and was always a threat to the other team as he was both fast and strong was developing good ball control and an accurate shot.  My own son Brian was tall and hard working and displayed both an aptitude for and a love for the game. My second son Dave was young enough so that his conversations with David, a fresh faced boy, who was the other coach’s younger son, was more important than the state of the game and they both had to be reminded to tackle the opposition and clear the ball. They were protecting the goal.

The goalie was Nelson Yhap, a boy who was round and tough as a rubber ball. He gave up his share of goals, but never got down on himself. The first time one of the boys complained about a goal I reminded them that the goal scorer had got past the their 10 players before scoring. Shared responsibility! That squashed the blame game!

One of the boys was named Craig. He still hadn’t grown into his young strength and was therefore not one of the outstanding players. He was enthusiastic though and loved it when he was put into play. (we had fifteen players and so substituted four periodically.)

During the playoffs that year our team was on the brink of elimination and I asked the substitutes if we could leave the stronger players on the field. They all agreed and I left the strongest players on but we were still eliminated.

After that I called all the player’s parents and thanked them for their support.

Craig’s mother thanked me for coaching and she said that Craig loved playing and was crushed at having to sit out the end of the last game. I never saw Craig again and came to the reluctant conclusion that I had killed his love for soccer, by my sitting him out at the end of that crucial game. I determined never to do that again and after that every kid got their playing time regardless of the state of the game.

The next year I coached again, touched by the pleasure of the boys at playing soccer! The sponsor for our team was a friend from St Phillips Church, Peter Scott. and we dressed in yellow jerseys with “Scott Contracting” in white on the front and back.

The team was potentially very good with my son Dave, a year older, on defence with Jason Scott, Peter Scott’s son who was tall, with flowing blond locks and a thunder foot. When we were under attack he would get to the ball and with one thunderous kick clear the ball into the opponent’s end of the field, relieving the pressure! We had the two hardest working halves in Gerry Mariani, who lived at the top of the hill on Warden Avenue and Harry Duckworth, from Milliken. My eldest son Brian had developed a feel for the game and a good shot and was promoted to centre forward. I hate to admit it, but the weak spot on that team was the coaching! For me the important thing was the boy’s enjoyment of the game and I did my best to keep it fun, regardless of the result. Just as well, as we didn’t win a single game in the regular season.

In the playoffs that year however Scott Contracting caught fire. We won the first game against one of the better teams! Harry and Gerry outworked the opposition and the defence stood strong. Our goalie, Colin Moore, with his blonde bowl cut, pulled off outstanding saves and our forwards scored goals!

We moved on to our next match, with the best team in the league and surprised them by beating them, in their red and white jerseys, handsomely.

The next game, the final, the blue team were ready for us and came at us in waves. Again Gerry and Harry were rocks against which the attacks broke up and those who got through found Jason and Dave and our goalie, Colin rock solid! And our forwards, slashing and passing accurately and shooting straight into the corners of the large net scored the crucial go ahead goal.

As you can imagine going from the doormats of the league to champs was intoxicating and encouraged me to coach again the following year. I was never more than a mediocre coach but was rewarded, many years later, when one evening a TTC bus pulled up at a bus stop I was passing and the young driver called out “Mr. Burrowes, you still coaching soccer?”

I regret to say I didn’t recognize the tall young man in the TTC uniform but the fact that I was still recognized by one of my young players still warms my heart to this day!

It helped me integrate into my new country

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  • detow  On 06/12/2021 at 5:49 pm

    Good article Geoff, just wondering what is the relevance of hair texture and colour to soccer.

    Just wondering how you would describe a soccer player of African descent, an Indian, Mexican or none white. Sticking to the KISS principle might be best. Just wondering.

  • wally n  On 06/12/2021 at 6:45 pm

    Nice read…was never a fan of team sports even though I played soccer in Primary School. As a cadet at the Mazaruni dock, I decided to play with the shipyard workers. As we lined up I noticed their forward was a guy, who played full back for Bartica and later Guyana, was also someone I made fun of at a crowded event, causing him some embarrassment, I could see the hatred in his eyes, I knew I was in some trouble.Me playing as a half back (lousy) made an attempt to take the ball, he blasted me in the chest, I went,down, out, got up and left the field. I had promised to never to play that crap again…but I did much later in Germany, that was even more embarrassing, and will not discuss.
    Like reading you adventure/s

  • geoffburrowes  On 06/13/2021 at 11:06 am

    Thanks for sharing Wally!

  • wally n  On 06/13/2021 at 12:31 pm

    Thank you, brings back memories good (and bad) long forgotten. Always enjoy reading of your experiences.

  • ROBERT H GONSALVES  On 06/14/2021 at 8:14 am

    I had similar experiences with coaching soccer in Scarborough between 1979 and 1989. To this day I wonder how my boys are doing. Many of them now have grown-up children of their own.

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