I have suffered many years from hearing the once beloved Vigie playing field mocked as the “Sab”—Kwéyòl for sand. How and when did this happen? In the 1950s the Vigie playing field was the mecca of football in Castries. Then, cricket enthusiasts cut a cricket pitch in the centre of the football ground, exposing the white sand that lay beneath the green grass. Over time and with more youngsters such as the brothers Egbert and Gregory Mathurin, Michael Hippolyte and Kenneth ‘Pint’ Hippolyte, Julian Hunte, Cassian and Karl Emanus and others using the Vigie playing field for cricket, the sandy cricket wicket continued to spread. The grass never recovered sufficiently between football seasons to cover the increasingly exposed sand. It was not long before the Vigie playing field took on the appearance of a wide sand pasture with the original grass confined to its periphery.
After first division football was transferred from the Vigie playing field to the Marchand Recreation Grounds in the early 1960s, grass on the Vigie playing field continued to recede due to the pressure of second division football and more young cricketers using the widening sandy pitch. So severe was the competition that in early 1960 St. Mary’s College built a concrete practice pitch outside the Castries end of the Vigie playing field. The concrete was covered with a matting material which was used for cricket on the island before turf wickets were introduced. I may have been the first opening batsman to receive first knock on that College wicket, with Desmond Braithwaite the first bowler. The whole affair was closely monitored by Brother Anthony, the games master at the time.
Still, the sand continued to expand and the grass receded to the boundaries. So a newer generation knew nothing of the history of the sand that they saw at the Vigie playing field in the early 1970s. The sub-surface sea sand that told of its link to the nearby Vigie beach, was lost on the younger generation. With the parallel rediscovery in the early 1970s of a growing appreciation for our French Creole heritage, thanks in part to the work of the St. Lucia Forum, some people started to call the Vigie playing field by the Kwéyòl name for the sand they saw there: “Sab”. The name quickly stuck as many seemed anxious to prove that they were no longer ashamed of the Kwéyòl language of their ancestors. It may have been the same mindset that renamed the disused runway ‘C’ at Hewanorra Airport, in Vieux Fort “Kaka Boeuf Stretch” or “Kaka Boeuf”—Kwéyòl for bullshit. All over the area cattle roamed unrestrained.
It should be noted that those who knew better than the cows merely stepped aside and grumbled among themselves, rather than propose a more appropriate name for the still potentially useful runway ‘C’ at Vieux Fort or the Vigie playing field. The name “Sab” persisted even after the Vigie field was thoroughly ploughed and new soil and a covering of grass planted there. With this improvement, and without any trace of the sea sand, some people, including innocent sportscasters and sportsmen, continued to call it “Sab”.
Perhaps because a few uppity Saint Lucians have blamed me and my Forum colleagues for empowering the country bumpkin to use his native tongue in public, I feel a special responsibility to propose renaming the “Sab” as we mark 40 years of Independence. I propose that it be in honour of one of the great icons of Saint Lucian football. That person spent his entire adult life playing and coaching football. Former footballers I spoke with all agreed that no other person merits such an honour as the legendary Oliver ‘Smokey’ Charles. Smokey was one of the best and longest serving football icons on the island. When his playing days were over he dedicated many hours to coaching and encouraging young footballers to play the game with passion, pride and joy.
Following my telephone conversations with certain past footballers on the proper naming of the Vigie playing field, I decided to lay low and let the matter take its course. I was assured that the process of renaming had begun. When, at the invitation of the prime minister’s office, I attended the cultural extravaganza on the “Sab” to mark the 40th year of the island’s Independence, I decided it was time to act more boldly. I could not rest after noting an official government invitation had referred to the field as the “Sab”. I simply had to act; hence this article. I had to let STAR readers know that this mockery should not be allowed to continue.
I should add here that the names of several former football greats were suggested, among them Leo ‘Spar’ St. Helen, Carlton Peter Felix, Oliver Scott, Vincent Floissac, Owen Charles, Reneau Joseph, Francis ‘Mindoo’ Philip and Vincent Devaux. The field has fully recovered its former green glory.
The next step after its renaming ought to be the construction of permanent stands and changing rooms for young footballers (men and women) who should be encouraged to make full use of the renamed facility although it may be too close to George F.L. Charles airport for lights to facilitate night football.
I rest my case. It’s your turn, Mayor Francis.