Last week I suggested the well-grassed Vigie playing field, now referred to as the “Sab”, be renamed in honour of Oliver “Smokey” Charles. Since then, some former footballers have called to thank me for resuscitating what they described as an old issue. The majority were in support of renaming the Vigie playing field after Smokey, whom they regard as a true sporting legend.
I did not bother to consult the book Outstanding Sports Personalities of St. Lucia by Rupert Branford before I wrote my article. I have since done so and noted the author’s reference to Jon Odlum, a former community social worker and Minister of Social Affairs, Youth and Sports, now deceased. By Branny’s telling, Odlum had sought Smokey’s help in coaching a Saint Lucia youth football team (under-17) for participation in the first World Youth Football in Sweden in 1977. Smokey told the author of the difficulties he encountered trying to raise funds needed to get the youngsters getting to Sweden.
What Smokey failed to tell Branny was that, in his determination not to disappoint the kids, he had mortgaged his home. Most people then and now would consider this pure madness. Not Smokey! How many others would have undertaken the onerous task of raising funds to permit these youngsters to participate in a World Youth tournament in addition to coaching them and preparing them mentally for such a competition? Who else would mortgage their home to help a national youth football team from Saint Lucia compete internationally? For this selfless act alone, Smokey deserves to be remembered.
I was reliably informed that some members of that first under-17 youth team that accompanied Smokey to Sweden were Dudley Foster, Michael Jn. Baptiste, Richard Jn. Marie, Kenneth Ferari and Andy George. On that first tour Smokey was accompanied by Patrick “Pataco” Phillip, an equally enthusiastic footballer and coach from the Catholic Young Men’s Club. I am happy to say that I knew both Pataco and Smokey personally and enjoyed many years of football competition against them.
Smokey lived for football even though the game delivered little in monetary returns. However, as is true of most great sportsmen and women, financial rewards are never their greatest motivation. Such selfless athletes are often compared with the finest tuned cars. Both are driven by what’s inside, not by outward appearances. There is also biblical reference advising that God does not judge by external countenance but by what’s in our hearts and in our thoughts. In other words, what motivates us. Armed with such information, we can make more sense in future when naming playing fields, roads, monuments and buildings. In the process, I suggest that we keep our sporting legends high on our priority lists.
Smokey’s effort were not forgotten by everyone. At his retirement the young men he had coached and accompanied to Sweden visited him at his Vide Bouteille home to honour their mentor with a plaque appropriately inscribed. They wrote to the former Minister of Sports and a former female operative in the Department of Social Affairs suggesting that the Vigie playing field be named after Oliver “Smokey” Charles. That letter was written around 2007. I can only pray that my article will stir the hearts and consciences of those with the power to act. I feel certain that the youth footballers who accompanied Smokey to Sweden in 1977, along with those with whom he played local football, will see to it that the Vigie playing field is named after this most famous sporting legend.
There has been no discernible movement on the matter of elevating the Vigie playing field in name, even after the great job that was done to the surface. Letters were written to the Saint Lucia Football Association before the presidency of Mr. Cooper that evidently were lost in translation. One only hopes that genuine lovers of the sport, and especially those old enough to remember the beloved Vigie playing field at an earlier time, will wish to see its status restored by properly renaming it.