Self taught coach ‘Pa Aleong’ turning talent into greatness

Everard Gordon
Date Published: 
Trinidad Guardian

Kelvin 'Pa' AleongKelvin 'Pa' Aleong: Former celebrated coach of St Mary’s College and T&T players in football and cricket, was recently inducted into the First Citizens Sports Foundation Hall of Fame. Here is an early photograph of Pa Aleong at the right in the back, with his four sons. Next to him is Neville, the eldest and in front from left are - Eddie to the fans, Andy, and Peter.

Kelvin Aleong, ‘Pa Aleong’ to generations of school boys and adults who played cricket and football in T&T, was posthumously inducted into the First Citizens Sports Foundation Hall of Fame on November 9, 32 years after he was awarded the Chaconia Medal, for his contribution through cricket and football, mainly as a coach.

For more than 30 years, every afternoon many mornings and most of Saturdays and Sundays, even on Christmas Day from 11am to 2 pm, one would see ‘Pa Aleong’ instructing or observing the young cricketers or footballers at St Mary’s College Grounds or on the Queen’s Park Savannah.

You ask any of the country’s leading players during the period 1940-80 and they would all tell you that ‘Pa Aleong’ was the best coach ever seen in these parts.

He did not believe he should only help St Mary’s boys or Maple or Chinese players, he helped any sportsman who needed help or who had talent to be developed.

A self taught coach, ‘Pa Aleong’ had no certificates but his experience, his keen understanding of sports and sportsmen, his analytical brain and his intelligence enabled him to assess the player and his needs, to spot the strength and weakness of a player after he had observed him for a while. Better that that, he was able to get his charges to understand how to correct their faults.

Although he never represented T&T, ‘Pa Aleong’ was a full back for both Chinese and Maple in the Trinidad Amateur Football Association and a swing bowler for both clubs in the Bonanza Cricket Competition. The Aleongs, Garcias and Picherys also brought out a team, Aussies, that was the bane of all competitors in Sunday cricket leagues.

Towards the end of his career, he began helping the younger members of his clubs and eventually was asked to coach St Mary’s College. All this was voluntary, a work of love.

Men like Sedley Joseph, Tyrone de la Bastide and Lincoln Phillips, three of the most outstanding footballers of their era, would attest to his uncanny ability to turn talented youngsters into great players.

He was just as effective at cricket and the list of young stars, who owe much of their success to him, is even longer. Apart from Eddie, another son Andy played football and cricket for Trinidad and among his pupils were the Davis brothers, Bryan and Charlie, both Test players, Willie Rodriguez, who played football and cricket for Trinidad and the West Indies, Joey Carew, now a selector, formerly a Test player and Richard de Souza, one of the best batsmen who never played for the Windies and a surprisingly good footballer and Bernard Julien, an ambidextrous cricketer who excelled for the West Indies as an allrounder.

‘Pa’ was the son of George Aleong, second generation Trini of Chinese origin who grew up in Chaguanas. For his working life he was a customs broker. He was well known for his working attire, a khaki suit and black tie and he wore a cork hat, more correctly called a pith helmet. Eddie recalls, “We were heckled about it but ‘Pa’ had lots of clothes and we were soon into his lovely brogues before I outgrew them.”

He was born in 1902 and died in 1980 survived by four sons, Neville, Peter, Eddie and Andy.

‘Pa Aleong’s sons all took to sports and played both cricket and football. Neville dropped out earlier than the others, caught in the sophisticated new sound technology that had just come to Trinidad.

“He never pushed us but watched us take an interest in the games and when we asked he helped with whatever problems we were encountering,” Eddie said.

“He always had Wisden’s and manuals on coaching, on both football and cricket. They were nearly always English as teams like Brazil and Hungary had not yet grabbed the attention of this part of the world,” Eddie explained.

Eddie said: “Some people like teaching and he just had a calling to do it and enjoyed the effect and success he had at it. It was a labour of love,” he said.

His start was with the basics, balance, learning to control the ball, kick it and when you get it right, you then think of the tactics, passing, using space etc.

In cricket it was the same thing, getting you to move forward and back and play two basic shots well. After that you could add the rest.

Eddie said his father looked for commitment and willingness to learn from the people whom he coached. “He would have players turn out on Sunday morning or on Christmas Day when everybody wanted to be eating pastelle and ham. If you were willing to do that he knew you were interested in being a cricketer,” he said.

He considered Charlie Davis the great success story in an age when West Indies had a plethora of brilliant batsmen with more natural talent than him. “But Charlie had commitment and a work ethic second to none in the world. He did what was required and then some and the benefit showed in the results of his Test career,” he said.

‘’Pa Aleong’’ was honoured by the T&T Government when he was awarded the Chaconia Medal in 1972 for his contribution to the country in sports.

In 1999, St Mary’s College inducted ‘Pa Aleong’ posthumously into its Hall Of Fame. Now, five years later, he was inducted into the First Citizen’s Sports Foundation’s Hall Of Fame for his outstanding service to the country’s youth.