Saturday, June 23, 2018
Mombasa Boy's World Cup
As a Goan boy growing up in Kenya in the 1950s, I saw football change and history being made
While the writer battled adolescence and longed for the most beautiful girl in the world, history was being reshaped at World Cups.
By Hartman de Souza
I knew there was something called the World Cup courtesy an eccentric mother who kick-started a thick scrap book dedicated to football, to get me to start reading the newspaper. I was ten years old, and lived in Mombasa, on the coast of Kenya.
In it, my mother had gummed various newspaper and magazine articles and features on football. In 1960 when she handed it to me to continue, the last entry was her exhaustive coverage of the World Cup in Sweden in 1958, with reports of every one of the qualifying rounds and all the international friendly matches leading up to it. The very last clippings were news-items and commentaries talking about the next World Cup in Chile, in just two years’ time.
My tasks were cut out. Armed with a dictionary, I may have been one of the first ten-year-old kids in Kenya if not the so-called Commonwealth, to discover Brian Glanville, a very bright and daring football columnist; a man who still writes about the game as if it was the only pleasure worth pursuing.
I spent days and nights reading and re-reading my scrapbook. I replayed countless matches in my head so that I could tinker with them and change the results. I always changed the results in my head, so logically the teams I supported always won.
I kept that scrapbook going with gummed clippings denoting anything and everything to do with football in Kenya and anywhere else in the world if it appeared in print and caught my beady eye. No magazine or newspaper was safe from me. The executive committee of the library and reading room at the Goan Institute, Mombasa, for instance, was never to find out who mysteriously cut out articles and news reports on football from all the papers – and then, to cap impudence, chop up the football-related pages of papers and magazines from England that came a good week or so later…
That scrapbook was duly pasted and updated and read and analysed until 1963 ended, and I was uprooted from Mombasa and moved to a small town called Embu in the foothills of Kiri Nyaga – ‘The-Mountain-where-God-Lives’, a sacred tribal space that the British for reasons best known to them, listlessly named ‘Mount Kenya’.
The town of Embu banished the Indian Ocean from my head. I saw the mountain every single morning that was free of cloud, standing tall and coal-black with its sharp, jagged, gleaming summit. We lived in a house with a huge lawn. The only saving grace was the formerly ‘Whites Only’ Embu Sport Club with its wood-panelled bar, two dart boards, a table tennis table, 3 tennis courts and a squash court. I learnt to play ping-pong, tennis and squash with my dad, but life, as such, was shit for a thirteen-year-old. I remember having no friends my age to play football with. I ended up kicking a ball against the side of the house; and in sheer viciousness, used it to bomb my mother’s rose plants…
A few years before Kenya got its independence [in 1963], at a time when many Goans still thought of themselves as ‘Portuguese’ subjects and not ‘Indians’ – because that’s what they were prior to the December of 1961 – there were about six to eight teams in the First Division league in Mombasa. Matches were played at the Municipal Stadium in Mombasa. It had a football ground that to any ten-year-old appeared as beautiful as the lush baize of a billiard table.
If you were ten years old and knew your football, you supported one of two teams that topped that league every alternate year. The best team in Mombasa as the ’50s were coming to an end was undoubtedly Feisal, a team that played with dark blue shirts in league games, and with all-white with a blue trim when they reached the finals. Feisal was supported by those Kenyans of West Asian origin who had intermarried and settled on the coast, and who were mainly Muslim by religion. Over time, they were known as the Swahili, a people who had no problems being Kenyan, given that its national language, in fact, was born and nurtured among them and those who lived on the islands off the East African coast. They just wanted to be seen as ‘different’ and football gave them more than enough opportunity to play in a style distinctly their own and construct their own identity.
There were some great football stars in Feisal and they all featured in my scrapbook:
Ali ‘Sungura’ or Ali ‘Rabbit’, a fleet-footed winger working from either flank, who danced his way down the wing, then cut into the penalty area and headed for goal, darting and wiggling and jumping till he rounded the keeper and bulged the roof of the net with the ball. Then there was Ali Kajo who played at the centre, who had no dribbling skills whatsoever, because as everyone knew, he was lazy and hated to run. The rest of the team just fed him the ball as he grudgingly ran to the edge of the penalty area, where if it was given to him on the plate, two to three feet from his right leg, he could kick it so sweetly it would fly five feet off the ground and even burst through the older fraying parts of the net. The crowd would go wild even as the ground staff rushed to darn the net.
Both were products of the mixed marriage Swahili found along the coast, Muslim by birth and faith, but dark-skinned and with crinkly hair. If Ali Sungura won the penalty, hacked down in the area as he danced his way through, it was Ali Kajo who took the shot because the whole world knew that the goalkeeper would quake. Between both the ‘Ali Boys’, as they were called affectionately, was a player who was their fulcrum, who created all the chances and space for them: His name was Jimmy Linden, an expatriate manager from Scotland in his late twenties who worked as a technical manager at the local cement factory at Bamburi, bang next to the big and very popular public beach now jam-packed with resorts that have divided and colonized it. Same place we once played football at picnics.
Jimmy Linden was short, had blond spiky hair, and was very nimble playing as a right-side forward, drawing everyone’s breath with the felicity of which he placed the ball ahead and jumped over the beefiest of tackles. He came for every match driving a now defunct German two-stroke car, the DKW (a car made by the Auto-Union company that many years later, after declaring bankruptcy, was to morph into the Audi). He drove it into the stadium always accompanied by his blonde wife and their blonde son, and was a great hit with Feisal supporters. His nickname in Kiswahili was ‘Baberu’ or ‘White Goat’, a term commonly used to describe a white man, but in this instance used with great affection and love restricted as it was to his football skills.
Linden was also an exception because he was the first player in Mombasa to wear the new, light Brazilian-inspired, better-studded boot that Puma had started manufacturing. Barring a few players who had moved to lighter English-made Gola boots with leather studs, all the other players were barefoot, using thick white elastic anklets that left the toes and heel free and protected the soles. These were stitched onto stockings that were folded just below the knee.
Ali Sungura, Ali Kajo and Jimmy Linden were given the freedom and space to move by a great half back called Ahmed Breik, a tall, gangly, fair skinned player of Omani origin with a squeaky voice who could make the ball stick to either of his feet. Six and often seven players of the Feisal team, including the Scotsman, Jimmy Linden, made it to the Coast Province team to play the Remington Cup, the trophy pitting Kenya’s provinces against each other. Jimmy Linden, Sungura, Kajo and Breik were also capped by Kenya in internationals of that time.
Interestingly, Linden was not the first white-skinned man to play for Mombasa or Kenya: that distinction went to Mauro, an Italian who played goalie in a team of expatriate Italians from Mombasa and Nairobi (families of those who stayed behind in Kenya after they were captured in North Africa and Ethiopia and held prisoner in Kenya). They called themselves Juventus and even played in those familiar black and white stripes. The ‘All-White’ Kenyan ‘Juventus’ were given training facilities at one or the other of the posh ‘Whites only’ sports clubs in Mombasa and Nairobi that played more rugby and cricket.
Just after Kenya’s independence, in fact, one more person without colour was to play for Kenya. His name was Duncan Erskine, a fantastic goalkeeper who may even have played professionally in England. At that time he was serving in the Scots Guards regiment stationed just outside Nairobi to ensure the natives didn’t stage a leftist coup or whatever…
I supported Feisal for very clear reasons. They had a fabulous goalkeeper called Dodoma, who was a very big hero of mine; there was a girl I was sweet on at that time who was also a Feisal supporter; and my sworn enemy at that time in the Standard V, supported Feisal’s fierce rivals, the number two team in Mombasa, ‘Liverpool’.
Like their English counterparts, Liverpool wore red and white uniforms. They were a team owned by a consortium of local businessmen of West Asian, Indian and Pakistani origin who just loved the game and wanted nothing more than to win the local First Division league and crow in the bars with their many supporters how good their team was. One of the distinguished players of this team was a Goan, Albert Castanha, nicknamed ‘Paka’, Kiswahili for ‘Cat’, who was capped by Kenya several times. He joined two other Goans from Nairobi who made it to the Kenyan team: Oscar D’Mello, an amazingly athletic goalkeeper, and Lucas Remedios, an elegant and commanding midfielder who also captained Kenya. While my mother taught me to think about football, my father showed me what it actually meant. He had played football for his school, college and university in India, but was also a very well-known football referee in Kenya. He was president of the Coast Province Referees Association, and later something or the other in the Kenya Referees Association and worked closely with the Kenya Football Association. So there was quite a bit of him in my scrapbook too, given that he organized the first ‘strike’ of referees demanding protection against crowd violence after one of the referees was attacked after a match. Those were pre- yellow and red card days with matters left to the discretion of the referee. When the strike was resolved he still had the balls to kick out four players, two from either side, in a match between Feisal and Liverpool to stamp out as he said violence on the field of play that later moves to the stands. The next day’s sports pages carried the headline in bold, with dad’s photograph: “Mombasa’s referees will not tolerate rough play,” says Referee de Souza.
Thanks to him, I got to see just about every 1st Division match played at the Municipal Stadium in Mombasa, including the Gossage Cup when it was held in Mombasa. This was a British-instituted trophy competed for by Kenya, Uganda, and the former Tanganyika and – since the revolution hadn’t happened yet that would create a new country in East Africa called Tanzania – the then tamed and disembodied island of Zanzibar, once the summer capital of the Kingdom of Oman, and in the early ’60s ruled by Prince Jamshed Abdullah, descendant of a dynasty that once ran a flourishing industry trading slaves from Africa.
My father refereed quite a few international matches, the most memorable being in the early ’60s, when the Ghanaian national team, the famed Black Stars (so named because they had a black star on the back of their yellow shirts) played Kenya at the stadium in Nairobi, as part of the Republic Day celebrations. By now everyone played in stylish Puma or Gola boots and everyone drank Coca Cola like there was no tomorrow.
The only problem was that the Black Stars hammered Kenya 13-2. At one point of the game, they made a circle of players and had the Kenyans running after the ball. No one in Kenya had ever seen such powerful football juju.
The score ought to have been in excess of 20-0, given it was 10-0 at half-time, but I think the High Commissioner of Ghana had a word with them and they benched their forward line and played the second half at a canter, letting Kenya score two goals in the last ten minutes. The Ghanaians were given a standing ovation and lustily cheered but the police were called in to protect the Kenyan players who were booed and stoned with whatever came to hand. ‘Black Stars outplay Kenya’ is how the headlines politely put it.
“It’s supposed to be a bloody goodwill tour,” my father who refereed the match muttered to me that night at dinner in our hotel, “How are they going to spread bloody goodwill if they thrash us like this?” The Ghanaians may have been spoken to sternly. Two days later, when he watched the second match with me from our special seats, Ghana fielded all their reserve players and Kenya struggled to hold them to a 2-2 draw. Both teams were given a standing ovation and the news made the front page of The Daily Nation and The East African Standard and had a picture of the Kenyan team bus surrounded by cheering supporters. ‘Ghana holds Kenya to Draw’ were the bold headlines.
It helps to recall that before they hammered Kenya, Ghana had already shown spectators in England what they were capable of when the Black Stars toured there after their independence and won and drew against an English amateur team; as did a team from Uganda, just before their own independence. Both teams played without boots, wearing elastic anklets that were part of the stockings they wore, and both said they would have hammered the English if only it wasn’t so bloody cold.
So till I was 13, days and even nights for me in Mombasa, were beautiful and innocent. They had to do with playing football every single evening, with watching football at the Municipal Stadium every Friday and Saturday, and dreaming about it as often as I could.
1966 signified for me the death of a revolutionary moment in football gifted to the world, such that it did not seem likely a second revolution would ever take place.
It is an interesting coincidence that my mother ended her part of the Kenyan scrapbook for me, with the World Cup in Sweden 1958: I ended that scrapbook in 1963 with the World Cup in Chile in 1962.
In both tournaments, for contrasting reasons, Brazil played an important role. So, at the outset, it ought to be said that the style of playing they gave the world – by virtue of stamping their imprint on the game in 1958 – continues to be the universal model aspired to. You can always find reasons to deny this, rationalize matters, but when push comes to shove, the whole world knows who plays authentic football!
This is largely because the Brazilians continue to bring their gifts and place them on a football field where everyone partakes, rival players as well as spectators. The élan with which they play is an inspiration that is duly acknowledged, respected, bowed to and imitated, in every single part of the world where they learn to love playing with a ball and get to see re-runs of Brazil’s old matches. While rival players may hate them with a vengeance, no spectators whose teams have lost to them ever bear them a grudge.
There are only five notable exceptions when the Brazilians left their magic at home and travelled abroad to a fate that was nothing less than reprehensible. These are the World Cups of 1966, 1974 and 1998, all three, ironically, immediately following World Cups where they had won!
In all three instances they gave signs that they had ignored the subaltern roots of their style of play and forgotten their own postulates surrounding the game. The other two instances, the World Cups of 1994 and 2002, when they actually won the World Cup, they had already succumbed to the mystique surrounding marketing. We knew before it happened that the possibility they would lose the semi-final 0-6 recently, was with those who recognized Brazilian football did not come from prosperity and plenty, who sincerely wished they lost.
If one harks back to 1958 in Sweden in fact, it is because the Brazilian team was the harbinger of a major change in the way the game was played. They sparked the first revolution in football.
To understand exactly what they managed to achieve, is to first know the magnitude of what they were up against. This wasn’t a rich, prosperous beef-driven Uruguay untouched by war winning the cup by luck in the World Cup of 1950, at a time when Brazil as a nation, and its players as a team, were yet to find their feet or even know what it meant to be ‘Brazilian’.
In 1958, this was a team of largely uneducated players who had come through the ranks of Brazil’s black-skinned populations from the slums, intent on finding a voice for themselves through their football. In fact, the picture was far bigger: as Pele said a few years back in an interview on TV in his inimitable way: “In 1958 when we go Europe nobody they knew where this Brazil is…where this country they ask? (laughs) They only knew of ‘Amazonas’ (laughs). But when we won the cup that year (laughs), the whole world she knows (laughs).”
The ’58 Brazilians took their magic to a continent literally at the other end of their world, reaching there in a journey that involved several days travelling by ship to the US, possibly Miami, then an overland trip to New York and even more days on an ocean liner across the Atlantic. As yet, planes had not started their trans-Atlantic flights. Given past cultural ties and the need to train before the actual cup, and have some friendly matches to tune up, it is likely the Brazilian team of 1958 stopped over in Portugal or France before heading via another ship or propeller plane to Sweden.
It helps to remember that thanks to India’s own freedom struggle, the late ’50s also heralded opposition to Colonial rule and influence right through Africa and Asia and indeed much of Latin America at that time. This unity of purpose and shared freedom was later to coalesce in the Non-Aligned Movement, a phenomenon that was anything but – premised as it was on the existence of a ‘Third World’ and a very real ‘us’ versus ‘them’ situation.
In weather they must have shivered in, the Brazilian players of 1958 forced the first glimpse of what these revolutions in the former colonies could be all about, because they too were fighting for their place in the sun as black-skinned people. As Sartre was to say of Fanon not that many years later, this was a case of the ‘Third World’ very much speaking to itself.
In expressing themselves through football the black Brazilian players gave themselves an identity few could even dream about, built as it was around something as simple as a ball. They set this in a rousing counterpoint to the more prosperous and largely white Brazilians of their own nation – later-day settlers from Portugal and Europe – and indeed, to white-skinned people all over the world.
In 1958, for the first time perhaps after Jessie Owens had faced Hitler down, peoples of the prosperous and ‘free’ world were to see black-skinned players with crinkly hair wearing the same clothes they did, playing with an effervescence and style they could only be dazzled and stunned by.
This was not the USIS taking Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington on tour to Europe and Africa – or organizing tours of the all-black, Harlem Globetrotters basketball team – to show the world that all was tickety-boo curtailing well-fed, homegrown racism. This was In-Your-Face-Here-I-Am-revolution. Quite literally, the Brazilians of 1958 ran rings around their befuddled opponents and you understand the sheer audacity of what they did when you watch old clips of those games, and, indeed, listen carefully to the sheer disbelief and grudging admiration and respect of the commentators.
How important the Brazilians were in 1958 can also be gauged by the fact that it was to take another two World Cups – eight years in all – before a nation from the Northern Hemisphere (Portugal in the World Cup in England, in 1966) would have a non-white football player in their team.
Pelé fights for the ball against the Swedish goalkeeper Kalle Svensson during the 1958 World Cup final. Photo credit: Scanpix/Wikimedia Commons
Contrary to popular mythology, the 1958 triumph was not just about Pele, but a very lively ensemble that did not march through their opponents with martial music and harry them with bayonet and boot – but, literally, danced past with the ball stuck to their feet…
Almost unanimously, the phrase ‘Samba Football’ came into being, thanks perhaps to Brian Glanville who may have been the first to use it as a descriptor. The names from that ’58 team that danced to glory still resonate from my old scrapbook – Djalma and Nilton Santos, Vava, Didi, and a man often ignored, Zito – the solid bass, percussion and rhythm section that gave a 17-year-old prodigy called Pele the space to improvise.
I can’t even remember the goalkeeper in that team…was it Gilmar? Who cared? The European press laughed at Brazil’s goalkeeper like they still laugh at all Brazilian goalkeepers. It doesn’t matter how many goals the poor guy lets in they said, these Brazilians will just laugh, pick the ball from the back of the net and go up and score two more. That’s exactly what happened in the final that year.
The early ’60s may not have been as conducive to the playing of the game for the rest of the world as it may have been for me. The British and French empires in Africa were in full revolt, Apartheid South Africa was the beacon of freedom for the West; Fidel and Che were known figures, linking the aspirations of wanting more with their original root of rebellion; the Cold War was at its height and the world was even more divided into ‘us’ and ‘them’; Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard were still the rage and James Dean crashed his Porsche and went to heaven; and the US had not yet cottoned on – as they were to do in 1994 when they staged the World Cup – that very much like Coca Cola in Africa in the ’60s, they could have marketed and used the Latin American thirst for football.
Instead, they chose to cut their teeth encouraging right-wing juntas with arms and ammunition to keep socialism, the ‘terrorist’ of that time, at bay.
In those days when they really thought they had a right to rule the world, the US take on Brazil was a testament that was not as crass as it is today, post-Snowden, but their view of the ‘other’ was not based on the need for reciprocity but on working out the best deals they could get for themselves.
The World Cup of 1962 was demanded by the Latin American countries against the threat of a boycott if it was played in Europe. In 1960, though, a savage earthquake tore Chile apart, destroying several cities where matches were to be played. Amidst calls from Europe to shift the venue, the Chilean government battled to repair and relocate matches successfully. One stadium for the matches was provided by an American company with interests in mining.
In 1962 moreover, it was even obvious to those twelve-year-olds who documented the World Cup in Chile, that all was not indeed well with the world. While it is agreed that Brazil caught everyone’s eye in the World Cup of 1958, that year the French too were also discovering their own different style; the Soviet Union were showing they were not just soldiers drafted in from the army; and the Welsh team discovered the raw energy of players of good working-class stock.
So, while Brazil gained the right to be world champions in 1962, it was other parts of the world that had come to the ground to show themselves. The host nation, Chile, led by the talismanic Leonel Sánchez, was flamboyant in play and that may have sparked the renaissance in the game that Latin America so badly needed to get out of Brazil’s dark shadow. In Chile too, the battles were not over. The match between Chile and Italy was possibly the most violent game ever played, and the Italian team needed an armed escort while they were in the country.
Garrincha in action during World Cup 1962. Photo credit: Pressens bild/Wikimedia Commons [Public Domain]
It was a country no longer on the map however, that was the surprise of that year: Czechoslovakia, part of the ‘Iron Curtain’, intent on its own place in the sun away from the glare of the Soviets, brought a freshness to the game that surprised one and all; the Soviet Union itself, however, like Brazil, brought their 1958 team and paid the price. It was Yugoslavia though, itself today many countries, that was to show the world that year, that the whole world, if they really wanted to, could learn to play like Brazil.
The Brazilians themselves only provided palpable evidence of a stasis that would come back in four years to reduce the entire nation, and indeed one sixteen-year-old to tears. In 1962, Pele had got ‘white’ status and morphed into a highly successful figure destined to go even further up the social ladder. He was a pale shadow of himself and the team was largely made up of ageing players from the ’58 team who didn’t have to qualify for the event, and therefore took things a little too lightly.
It is more than likely that Brazil have won the Cup in 1962 on the basis of their reputation.
They unveiled at the tournament, however, a young prodigious talent known in Brazil by his nickname, ‘Garrincha’ or ‘Little bird’. Garrincha, born in poverty, also suffered from polio when he was a child so one of his legs was shorter than the other. Pele got injured and did not play a part in winning the Cup. It was Garrincha who almost single-handedly led the charge, sharing the top scorer spot that year – a feat that may have been his alone had he not been sent off in the quarter-final against Chile. He was stoned by Chilean fans and booed by his own supporters.
Garrincha was known to be moody and have a temper. Lower life lore surrounding football in Brazil is full of stories documenting the lives of players who couldn’t handle success, fame, failure, or just retirement for that matter. For every one Pele or Neymar Jr., there must be another twenty to thirty if not more, who don’t make it. The ‘Little Bird’ faded as fast as he came, and passed away in total misery, a dirt-poor alcoholic forgotten by all but a few chroniclers of the game.
It may have been that I gave up on my football scrapbook in 1963 because Brazil’s fall of grace coincided with the tumult and toil of my own adolescent years. If being thirteen was a shit life as they say, the next three years before the World Cup could come around again in 1966, was more of the same coated in a smattering of sugar.
At the end of 1963, I was packed off to a boarding school in Nairobi, where I slept in a dormitory with seven other boys, was woken by a nasty clanking bell at 6.15 in the morning, went to classes and played football every single day. The football in boarding school was the closest you could get to being in heaven if you were fourteen years old and dreamt nothing but football.
Every day till I finished school in 1967, at 4.30 on the dot, we willingly went to the grounds and played football till the sun went down and it was time for showers. After that, you went to chapel if you were Catholic, bible studies if you were Protestant, or got sent to an empty classroom by yourself if you were unlucky enough to be Jewish.
That’s the way the football rolled those days.
In fact, if you were dark-skinned it was a lot worse, because prior to Kenya’s independence, like in South Africa or the rich white farmers’ regime of Southern Rhodesia before it became the independent country of Zimbabwe many years later, the boarding school I was sent to was once a posh ‘Whites Only’ school.
Aged all of fourteen, I was to find out that being ‘white-skinned’ was not a status Kenya’s English and European settlers were willing to relinquish easily. On my very first night in the school chapel, I got a taste of ‘white supremacy’. While the rosary was being recited, from behind me I heard, then saw, one of the seniors – thick set, twice my size at least, face covered with pus-filled pimples – nasally cursing me in a sing-song Indian accent: “Hey, chilly cracker, chooti boy, curry eating bastard, you can’t go to a fucking chootie school?”
Around this lumpen colonial coffee-planter’s son, white boys his age and younger all chortled like it was the funniest thing in the world. “Chootie, chootie, chootie” they all whispered an octave above the response to the prayer hailing the Mother of Christ.
Eyes focused on a quasi-baroque altar in a wood-panelled chapel and forced to ask tough questions of life, if a fourteen year old is unable to recognize, resolve and vanquish the contradictions inherent in religious belief and indeed its practice, he doesn’t deserve to play football.
It is more difficult if you begin adolescence with a complex but not uninteresting relationship with your father. In the face of racist taunts, two other younger boys from Goa in the school began telling everyone they were from Goa, pointing to the fact that they were also Catholic, and hinting without actually saying it, that thanks to their unique colonial connections they had Portuguese blood in their veins and were therefore ‘white’. Given that my father placed Jawaharlal Nehru a notch above God that was not an option.
When I made a ‘trunk call’ to him, going through a telephone operator at the exchange and ‘reversing the charges’ to complain about being bullied in the chapel my very first night, he was anything but sympathetic.
Get what’s good out of the school and fight back he said very simply. You’re Christian like them he added, so if someone hits you on one cheek you are duty bound to show him the other cheek; if he hits the other cheek, hit him back. And use your head, don’t pick a guy bigger than you, that’s asking for trouble; don’t pick a smaller guy because that’s bullying; Pick someone your size and have one good fight so that nobody picks on you again.
He was right. The racism didn’t disappear though; they just kept it to themselves and went through the motions of being polite, they steered their white girls away from you, didn’t introduce you to their parents, and never invited you home.
It is a truism though that a football team, regardless of its composition and skills, has to perforce work collectively. In 1964, I was one of five ‘persons of colour’ my age in the school of some 400 or so whites; three of us played for the school’s Junior Colts team that year. By 1967, the year I passed out, those same three boys played in the school’s First XI and they were joined by three others of the same colour. The balance of power had changed.
At fifteen, it was easier for white-skinned students of a former ‘All White’ school football team to transcend whatever incipient forms of racism still percolated in Kenya till the early 70s, than it was for those white students who couldn’t play for the team because they were not good enough.
It may also have helped that we were blessed with young coaches in their mid-twenties straight from England and Ireland, who looked like boiled lobsters till they accepted the Kenyan sun and who were as eccentric as they were liberal. They supported Labour, doubled up as literature or history teachers, assistant House Masters and introduced us to The Animals, the Rolling Stones and music that brought with it the first sniff of revolt.
It is not strange that my feelings of teenage angst reached its lowest in 1966, coinciding with the Brazilian team at the World Cup in England being put to the sword, squeaking through their first match without sparkle, and then losing 1-3to both Hungary and their former colonial masters of Portugal.
For a sixteen-year-old this ought to have been the World Cups to end all World Cups, when the Brazilians would bring their sunshine to England and, as if ordained, achieve a hat-trick of victories and keep the golden trophy for life, a sign for all that they were the custodians of revolution in the football world. Instead, we were both to mirror the same, hollow tones of woe and misery and defeat.
This was the year that the Voice of Kenya TV showed the matches in black and white from the quarter-finals onwards, either that very same day, or the day after. The image was blurred, and it shook and quivered if the antennae on the roof moved too much in the breeze, but I saw the World Cup as it was being played.
But being sixteen also coincided with discovering that girls were far more interesting than football; and that fathers, regardless of what they may have done the same age, can also be authoritarian. Just before the World Cup in 1966, and till the end of 1967, my father’s only reply to my question asking why I couldn’t do something was: “Because I said so…”
I am convinced that in 1966, out of sheer perversity, he chose to support England to win the World Cup. The dining table was loaded with his analyses of how England would not lose to Uruguay and would get past Argentina and Portugal and win the World Cup. He capped this campaign against his son by giving him the morning papers with the gleeful snigger, “Your Brazil lost!”
The papers carried the famous picture of Pele walking off, weeping, and wiping his tears with his jersey, for two days running. ‘The King’ had been shamed. “That’s your Pele,” my father said, sniggering even more gleefully.
I never figured this streak of proto-fascism he was struck with, because he had a far more interesting side to him. At the end of 1965, a year before my Senior Cambridge ‘O’ Levels exams, he confiscated my school history textbook that had the really grand title ‘A History of the British Empire and Commonwealth’, and forced Nehru’s ‘Glimpses of World History’ on me, carefully marking the book for the parallels I needed to read. Nehru would have been proud of me. I learnt the virtues of civil disobedience and took on my father.
It didn’t make life easier for a teenager.
In early 1967, I stood up to my dad. I was 17, The Stones were next to God and I went for a dance dating an amazing girl – and how life-changing can that be? We danced to The Shiftars, a Mombasa based Goan band and danced to Massachusetts, a huge hit at The Goan Gymkhana, Nairobi, while I wondered how come I waited so long to find out that a girl could smell so amazing.
It was a memorable evening, even though I sat at a table with guys all older than me. I was in my last year of school doing my ‘O’ Levels, the other guys were either at the University in Nairobi, or doing their ‘A’ Levels at Strathmore College. I was on this table courtesy my girlfriend who knew the girls with the guys. I was cool. Okay, maybe I was also worried that the guys on the table would find my ’60s fashion funny – a funky paisley shirt with a big collar, Irish linen bell-bottoms, and some wise guy who figures out that I’m wearing my dad’s maroon Byford socks and his swanky Bata suede loafers. Also, I was more preoccupied with figuring a smart line to get the girl with me to come out with me again.
In the middle of this, while I am leading to my line, a guy breezes past our table, with two gorgeous women on either side. When you’re 17, this guy is as dangerous as Al Capone. Everyone knows who he is, except me, and he stands there looking super-cool talking to the other guys.
“That’s Cyprian Fernandes,” the girl with me said, “he writes for the papers”. It wasn’t my imagination; she was looking at him like he was God’s gift to humankind.
“I know who he is,” I growled at her. Didn’t she know I was a literate who read his column every week? I still thought, aged seventeen, that he made my life unfair. Yes, he was a great sports writer for a younger guy; he went on to really great things, and wrote about it recently, but many, many moons later – that’s poetic justice – I get to tell him he’s a right-royal shit for ruining my line which I never got to use on that night on a girl whom he distracted.
After the Brazilian team allowed itself to be shamed in 1966, I shifted allegiance to North Korea, the guinea-pigs of that World Cup whom the Western commentators press derided for being short and stocky. They looked more like table-tennis players, is how they put it. I read the news-reports of their match against Italy several times and savoured the fact that the Italians, perennial pretenders to the tag of ‘good football’ were greeted back home with the derision and hoots they fully deserved.
The North Koreans fell fortunately to Portugal who presented little by way of a contradiction. I was not focused on the fact that the Portuguese had done to Goa what the British had done to the rest of the world, but on a black-skinned player called Eusebio, the first time a European nation would play a person of colour as they say. Although, interestingly, lighter skinned players from Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and even Egypt were regularly playing in France’s nascent professional league from the mid-50s but were just never considered good enough to play for the national team until a good ten years and more in the late ’70s.
In 1966, Pele had allowed himself to be so pampered he found his muscles soft and yielding. The continent of Africa was still considered neither ‘professionalized’ or developed enough to come to the party, so it was fitting that Eusebio took over his mantle. He was immediately dubbed ‘Black Panther’ and lit up the soggy English evenings with his powerful running, his stamina, and like Pele, his ability to go through players like a hot knife through butter. Single-handedly, he inspired the rousing display after Portugal had gone down 0-3 to the North Koreans, a match Portugal was to win 5-3.
When Portugal lost to England on a muddy pitch more suited to rugby, I boycotted the final between whichever teams made it that year and went into mourning as dark as my shitty teenage years. As far as I was concerned the World Cup of 1966 did not take place.
A few years later though, before Brazil itself would reignite the dying embers of its game, I found out Eusebio was originally from Mozambique. I had visited Mozambique courtesy of a two-week holiday by ship with my parents when I was eleven and still living in Mombasa.
It was in Mozambique however, even as Brazil was licking its wounds and I was decrying the vanishing rights of teenage life, that the first embers were glowing of a new resistance. Mozambique saw the rise of the late Samora Machel, the guiding light of the ‘Frelimo’ forces that would do battle with the fascist Portuguese government of António de Oliveira Salazar, aided and abetted by the South African armed forces.
The year 1967, came as it did the year before, life a total shit for a seventeen-year-old madly in love. Cyprian’s juju didn’t work even though the girl succumbed to my line. But she also didn’t cotton on to the fact that I was returning to “Mother India” as she referred to it. She wanted to go to Canada.
So it would be a backhanded compliment if you were to say I was one of the lucky ones – with my parents, moving lock, stock and barrel and boarding the last sea voyage of the MV Asia, a gleaming white with blue trim Lloyd-Triestinoliner.
These ships once regularly plied from Southampton to Sydney, around the cape, touching ports in Nigeria, Apartheid South Africa, Fascist Portugal, and the independent Tanzanian and Kenyan ports of Dar-es-Salaam and Mombasa. Once these were ‘all-White’ ships. If they had tried that in Kenya in 1967, when Colonialism was in its death throes, they would have burnt the ship.
I remember being with my dad and his friend when we visited the docks and I saw the biggest passenger ship since the SS Rotterdam that regularly docked at Mombasa with well-heeled tourists. Dad was there to make sure his beloved Mercedes which was there waiting to be loaded en route to the Alexandria docks, Bombay would not come to any harm. Dad was also in a wheelchair, the result of a recent surgery on his neck.
Then football – what began these musings, and what ends them – surfaced at the Mombasa docks and made a perfect circle. One of the Landing and Shipping Company (Lasco) staff handling the loading was in the early ’60s, a player with the Lasco football team, much known for his rough play. Dad had probably kicked him out of the field, more times than either could remember. In less than half an hour, all the ex-Lasco footballers were surrounding the wheelchair. The car was not a problem. Neither all the crates with our belonging. They were loaded in such a way that Dad’s goods were first to be off-loaded in Bombay. For good measure, two of the union leaders had a polite word with the captain of the ship. On those seven days of sea travel, we were treated like royalty.
All I remember was standing at the back of the ship, below its flag whipping in the breeze, watching the propellers churn the blue-green waters, and not knowing why, remembering the Lasco team and their red-and-blue colours, fighting back the tears, and hating the Indian Ocean for taking me away from the most beautiful girl in the world.
Hartman de Souza was born in Nairobi, Kenya. Living as a child in Lamu, Eldoret, Nanyuki, Embu and Mombasa, he finished school in Nairobi, before moving with his parents to India in 1967, where he lived in Goa and completed his post- graduate studies.
Excerpted with permission from Stars Next Door, Cyprian Fernandes. The book was published by Goa, 1556 in 2018 and is available via mail order from email@example.com.
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