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The legend of Egbert Fernandes



Tuesday, November 11, 2014

From left: Anthony Vaz, Cassius Clay (before he became Muhammad Ali), Egbert Fernandez and Cajie D’Souza during the 1960 Rome Olympics. PHOTO | COURTESY  
In Summary
·         Kenya Hockey Union Chairman, Nashon Randiek, led the union in paying tribute to the fallen legend, describing him as the perfect player of his generation who was dedicated to the game.
·         Egbert and Edgar were born in Kisumu and moved to Kiambu around 1951 and to Nairobi around 1952. Both Edgar (who was a couple of years older) and Egbert debuted for Kenya in 1958.
·         If Edgar was sheer class, then Sylvester (Silu) Fernandes was the larrikin genius on the other side of the field. He played some unorthodox blinders in his time.
By CYPRIAN FERNANDES
More by this Author
Kenyan hockey mourns the death of one of its most gifted players - Egbert Carmo Fernandes.
Fernandes died last Thursday in Canberra, Australia, at age 73 while undergoing treatment for a growth in his oesophagus.
In 1960, at just 19 years, he was the youngest Kenya hockey Olympian to don the No. 9 shirt and begin an illustrious career which earned him the respect of his hockey peers, the affection of his admirers the world over.
Kenya Hockey Union Chairman, Nashon Randiek, led the union in paying tribute to the fallen legend, describing him as the perfect player of his generation who was dedicated to the game.
“When he played his last World Cup,  I was only four years old but I got to watch him play for his club. He was one of the finest centre forwards, very skillful. We appreciate his services as a union and stand with his family at this trying moment,” Randiek told Daily Nation Sport yesterday.
 Egbert was among a rich vein of Kenyans who achieved stardom as triple hockey Olympians (Rome, Tokyo and Mexico) and played in countless internationals and made even more appearances for his club, the Nairobi Goan Institute.
PLAYED LIKE GAZELLE
He played like a dashing gazelle in full flight, like a cheetah, the flashing hunter, a little Nureyev as he twisted and turned, dummied to right, dummied to left, flicked a pass in either direction, or stretched like giraffe to push that just out of reach of the opposing full-back to whack in yet another goal. It is no exaggeration that he was not just poetry in motion but a very intelligent forward.
In the 1960s, Kenyans were really challenging and were soon respected by the best in the world. It was all in the speed, flick of wrist, speed and cunning, producing the unexpected and that legal hit that was unstoppable as a bullet. Kenya was ranked seventh in Rome 1960, sixth in Tokyo 1964 and eighth in Mexico 1968.
Egbert and Edgar were born in Kisumu and moved to Kiambu around 1951 and to Nairobi around 1952. Both Edgar (who was a couple of years older) and Egbert debuted for Kenya in 1958. Edgar was cut from the run-in squad for the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. They could not play in Kiambu because there were no flat, grassless patches of earth. In Nairobi, there was a ground at Dr Ribeiro Goan School, a better ground near Railway employees quarters in Park Road and a little patch of dust in Ngara.
NATURAL FLOW
Hockey came very naturally to brothers Hilary, Leo and Nereus Fernandes, Edgar and Egbert Fernandes, Sylvester Fernandes, Saude George, Aloysius Mendonca, some of whom got their first taste of the game at the Dr Ribeiro Goan School but it was fine-tuned and invented upon on a small patch of mchanga (Kenya murram earth) situated conveniently between the Government and Railway employees quarters in Ngara. It is here that individual genius found the time and space to experiment and bloom.
Edgar Fernandes was the thinking man’s Kenya half back. He was sheer class. Alu Mendonca, one of the most elegant left wingers (later a respected a coach) was recognised as perhaps the best player Kenya ever produced. If Edgar was sheer class, then Sylvester (Silu) Fernandes was the larrikin genius on the other side of the field. He played some unorthodox blinders in his time. Saude George is one of Kenya’s few double international goalkeepers. The hockey world respected his courage and calm, cool approach to the game.
NGARA MAFIA'S SKILLS
This Ngara mafia’s skills were further enhanced when they joined other great Kenyan players like Avtar Singh, perhaps, the most capped player of all time; Surjeet Singh Jnr, a classy centre half, Amar Singh a joy to watch forward, Reynolds De Souza, a charming, gentle forward with an uncanny killer instinct for scoring or delivering the killer pass, Surjeet Singh senior and elder statesman of the game with Pritam Singh as well as the crafty Santokh Singh Matharu. The pedigree of all the Kenya hockey teams was almost at its best and Egbert thrived in this exalted company.
The Ngara mafia were indeed a very close-knit group and Hilary tells the story of Egbert picking him up every morning on pedal bike. They happily went to school, Hilary operating the left pedal and Egbert the right. One foot up somewhere on the bike, they had not a care in the world.
Who could have imagined in those early days that this scrawny kid would be the only Kenyan to be nominated for an Olympic World XI (nominated after the Olympics). Of everything Egbert, one memory stood out for all time. Edgar explains: “His greatest memory of the best  game we ever played was when we beat India (then the masters of the game)in 1964 in two tests, lost two and drew one on their home soil But at Jubbulpore we beat them 3-0, Egbert scoring two and me one, as I played at inside right alongside him that year.” RIP hero, mate.

Egbert’s eulogy: No egg, no bacon

We said kwaheri (farewell) to Egbert Fernandes from this earth on a typically hot and dusty day in Canberra on Friday, November 14. It seemed as if the heavens had stood to attention in honour of a fallen hero. There was no wisp of breeze, there was a stillness in the atmosphere and we all held our breath as the casket was sealed and Egbert’s mortal remains began their final journey as the Eucharistic celebration began.
Eulogy by Edgar Fernandes: 
My brother Egbert was snuffed out of this world on November 6 almost as quickly it takes one to snap one’s fingers, to the utter disbelief of family and friends, leaving us shocked and in a stunned and inexplicable silence. He went in for blood tests and they discovered a cancerous  tumor in his throat. Complications arose and his end came faster than one can imagine
We have taken a lot of comfort in the prayers, condolences and tributes that flowed in a wonderful torrent from all corners of the globe. Stories have been published in publications as the Goan Herald and Kenya’s Daily Nation, as well as the social media. 
We were both born on the shores of Lake Victoria in Kisumu, Kenya. We then moved to Kakamega and Kiambu before our parents settled in Nairobi. Our wandering stopped when we both arrived in Australia with our respective families in 1973.
We studied at the legendary Dr Ribeiro Goan School and completed our secondary education. Egbert had a great circle of friends, he was very popular. He played most sports, soccer, hockey, cricket, and he was an extremely good athlete, winning the Victor Ludorum one year.
In his pen-ultimate year at school we were baffled at how much home work he was doing in preparation for exams. He was writing out reams and reams of stuff. It turned out later that one of his friends had stolen an exam paper and had shared it outwith his friends. All would have gone unnoticed, but one of the boys answered seven of the 10 questions in 15 minutes in a two-hour exam. The teacher was baffled and naturally smelled a rat. He named his co-horts under tough questioning. Egbert’s home work? He was learning the answers to the questions by writing them out. They were all expelled for a while and there was a bit of  stink in the local papers. Happily that was his last escapade in anything illegal.
We were both blessed with having the benefit of one of the greatest coaches we have known: Anthony D’Souza who also taught English and was a class teacher. D’Souza was a genius who took our raw talent and polished it to the highest level possible. Egbert played for the Goan Institute (the only club he ever played for) Gold Cup winning side in 1961. He made his international debut at 17 against England, went to three Olympics and was the only Kenyan named in the Olympic World XI in 1968. In Canberra he played for St Pat’s for 11 years and ACT Masters for a couple of years until chronic back pain forced him to hang up his hockey stick.
He was devoted to our Mum and cared for her with the utmost diligence any son could. They also shared a love of horse racing and he took to the course quite often.
Egbert met Bertha when she was 14 and he was 16 at an athletics meeting. They were both school sprint champions. Their friendship developed into a love affair and they married 47 years ago. They had Vincent and Wallace and Australia blessed them with Joanne who quickly turned out to be the apple of her dad’s eye. Bertha and Egbert had come to Australia to provide their children with a good future and were proud of their achievements. He was delighted to welcome into the family son-in-law Kevin and daughter-in-law Miriam. He was soon a very, very proud grandpa with the arrival of  Matthew and Luke.
Best mates: Cajie D’Souza (Brisbane) Kenya Junior Tennis Champion, an old Goan School buddy.
Avtar Singh, Kenya hockey captain, best buddy and they shared rooms on hockey trips.
Lucas Noronha in Canberra: a 33 year friendship, the two were as thick as thieves. Big fishing buddies.
Renato Monteiro, brother-in-law and a near 50 year friendship: argued, debated, discussed, till the cows came home but never took a grudge home and all was forgotten the next day or at  the next drink.
As brother for Edna and Ellen, he was loving and caring as well as protective. 
In life he was easy going, jovial, always a smile on his face, with a great sense of humour. 
He went to three Melbourne Cups but preferred to mix with the public and a few champagnes with brother-in-law Geoff and Bertha and Ellen.
At parties, after a  few Scotches, he would vociferously sing Belafonte’s ballads, especially ’Day Oh’ but his favourite song was ‘Ju are mai sum sum ‘(You are my Sunshine) ,the Indian version, and later, naturally, Frank Sinatra’s  ‘I did it My way.’
When we played hockey side-by-side, we never discussed a match, plans, tactics, or anything about the game. Everything we did came instinctively. We knew exactly what each of us was going to do without planning the move, the pass, the hit, whatever.
He had a mind of his own. Did not want to worry anyone. I am sure he suffered his illness in silence. I am sorry I was not there at the end. Maybe that is the way he wanted it.
Oh you are still wondering about the egg and bacon.
Well, Egbert was teaching my grandsons Ryan and Jason the ‘Knock, Knock’ game:
Knock, knock.
Who’s there?
Egbert.
Egbert who?
Egg but no bacon.
They laughed their heads off, thinking that was  very funny.
When they heard the news of Egbert’s  passing, one could see the sadness in their  faces shedding a tear or two. One of them  remarked:
Now it is No Egg and No bacon.
Go to your resting place and may you enjoy the peace of the Lord, my dearest  brother.
Egbert’s children, Vincent, Wallace and Joanne remembered their father with great warmth and lots of love. There was also a poem each from Matthew and Luke.