Friday, June 15, 2018

Cyprian Fernandes: Reynold Pereira, a Star Next Door

Reynold Pereira

THEO DE SOUZA wrote this piece as memorial to “Renny” on January 2013, which would have been Renny’s 65th birthday. Theo lived in Mombasa, Kenya and now lives in Toronto, Canada.

I shall forever remember where I was when I learnt that my friend, fellow classmate (Class of 1965),  Kenya International hockey star and Olympian, Reynold (Renny) Pereira,  had passed away.  The serenity of an idyllic Bastora (Goa) village was quickly dispelled as I read in the Navhind Times that Renny had died on June 1, 1979 as a result of head and chest injuries sustained when a scooter he was riding hit a flooded pothole on a street right outside his favourite haunt, the Mombasa Institute. 

Renny was born in Nairobi on January 9, 1948 - the only son of Alban and Lira Pereira and brother of Janet and Blanche.  He attended Sacred Heart School in Mombasa (formerly the Goan Primary and Goan High School).  After school Renny started work as an apprentice auto mechanic at Bachu's Garage.  He later joined Williams Africa as an Electrician trainee and,  at the time of his passing on,  was employed as a Shift Electrician at the Bamburi Portland Cement Company. 

Like many a young lad growing up in the Ganjoni area of Mombasa,  sports was his main interest,  and  Ganjoni's  "Wembley Stadium"  (actually a piece of land through which ran a dirt road and which was surrounded by flats and the Government Quarters) the stage on which to develop and showcase his talent.  Our School Sports Teacher,  Mr. Joe Fernandes  lived in one of these flats, and a number of our School's athletes, hockey and soccer players, including Renny, were 'scouted' by Mr. Fernandes at this venue.  It was also at this venue that Renny organised a number of 'World Cup' six a side hockey tournaments,  and he,  as one of the captains,  always had first dibs on the name 'Kenya' for his team - he was indeed a true patriot. 

And this brings me to his passion,  his first love - Field Hockey!   Renny was proud, disciplined, focused and driven by some internal force to one day play for the national team and his life revolved around achieving this goal.  He was helped in this quest by former Tanganyika cricket and hockey captain, Alban Fernandes,  who had an even  loftier goal for Renny,  to get him into the Kenya team for the Mexico Olympics.  Under Fernandes' mentorship,  Renny raised his  fitness level,  developed into a more disciplined, mature and self-confident 'Team Player' and his dream of playing for Kenya was fulfilled when he won his first international cap, representing his country at the East African Championship in 1967.  His coach's dream also came true when Renny was selected to represent Kenya at the Mexico Olympic Games. 

We met in Nairobi,  prior to him flying out to Mexico City, and he recounted his experiences at the Kenyan high altitude training  camp.  He proudly told me that he was the only 'muhindi' who could keep pace with Kenya's renowned middle and long distance runners during cross-country training.  He truly had the three "S's"  - Skill, Speed & Stamina needed to compete with the elite. 

After Mexico,  Renny's own determination, discipline and experience led to more hockey accolades - he went on to represent  Kenya at the 1972 Munich and the 1976 Montreal Olympics; World Cups in Barcelona (1971),  Amsterdam (1973), Madras (1977),  Perth (1979);  the All-Africa Championships in Cairo(1974);  the Inter-Continental Coppa in Rome (1977) - where he was the Vice-Captain.  His exceptional dribbling abilities, amazing fitness and technique and clinical finishing won him a  trophy for the  leading goal scorer of the tournament.  He was  also nominated for the World XI in recognition of his achievements at this tournament. 

His teammates Raphael Fernandes,  Patrick Martins & Michael Fernandes put together a list of teams Renny played for - Sacred Heart School, Falcons, Young Goans,  Mombasa Institute, Aryans Sports Club, Mombasa Rovers, Railway Institute(Nairobi), Baobab Hockey Club, the Coast XI and the Kenyan National side.  It was at Baobab that Renny,  I  believe,  achieved his crowning glory - guiding the team to victory in the 1978 M.R. De Souza Gold Cup tournament - the "Blue Riband" of East African hockey. 

 Just a side bar on the Young Goans team that illustrates the lighter side of Renny and the lengths he would go through for his mates!  Renny initially formed this team in order to play against Mombasa Sports Club(MSC).  MSC would play friendly games every Friday, and after the game, invite visitors for soft drinks & beer!!  So Renny set up a team so that we could get free beer!!  Occasionally, the team would deliberately lose a game against MSC so as to make them feel good,  and they would give us even more beer to drink - and invite us to play against them more often!!

Besides athletics and hockey, Renny represented the Mombasa Institute and later Hatim Karimjee Sports Club in cricket.  I recall that the running between the wickets, as well as some pretty unorthodox batting stokes (a cross between hockey hits and cricket shots), that Renny (and a couple of other MI players) displayed, frustrated many local cricket teams.  Renny also played soccer for Gome Football Club - a 2nd Division Coast League team.  He was a pretty useful snooker player too.  And a die-hard fan of Elvis Presley.  Patrick Martins remembers him as a stalwart defender of his weaker or smaller teammates and friends, both on and off the field.

Sadly, the life of this very talented young man, who, from humble beginnings became a legend in his own right, was cut short in his prime.  Such was his popularity that his body 'lay in state' at the Mombasa Institute for two hours so that friends and the hockey fraternity from all over Kenya could pay their last respects to him. 

A person is judged not only by his achievements but also by the legacy he leaves behind. Prior to the mid sixties, selection to the national side was primarily the domain of Nairobi based players.  Renny shattered this glass ceiling in 1967, and in so doing,  paved the way for several Mombasa youngsters to break into the Kenya National squad.  He was their role model, their hero and they strove to emulate him. This was his legacy to hockey in the Coast Province.  And as a tribute to this great player, the Coast Hockey Association founded the Reynold Pereira Memorial Fund to support hockey in the Coast Province. 
Renny's 1st Anniversary Mass Memorial Card had the following two lines inserted under his photograph:

started his game: 9 Jan 1948 
reached his goal: 1 June 1979

On what would have been his 65th Birthday, we can add a third:  still fondly remembered: 9 Jan 2013

Rest In Peace, Renny 

Acknowledgements: This tribute would not have been possible without information, photographs, anecdotes, recollections and encouragement from: Maureen De Souza  (Mombasa), Alban Fernandes (Edmonton), Said Mbarak (Dubai), Raphael Fernandes (Toronto), Patrick Martins (Edmonton), Michael Fernandes (Mombasa), Albert Diniz(Toronto) 

Thank you all - Theo de Souza 

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