Pan American Games 1967 . . . wonderful Winnipeg

Garth Wattley
Date Published: 
Trinidad Express

Garth Wattley talks with Sedley Joseph

Sedley Joseph will always remember 1964. That year, he married Janet, his wife of 38 years and postponed their honeymoon to win a BDV Cup final for his beloved Maple!

“If I’d played that game (against great rivals Malvern) and Maple had lost, I would have felt badly. It would have soured the whole thing,” he recalls. “But I scored the first goal and we went on to win the game by three goals to nil. That moment was very special.”

But in the mind’s eye of this national Hall of Famer, the year 1967 was also a very fine time.
A midfield inspiration, he was named the Football Association’s Player of the Year, having distinguished himself once more in the engine room of the Maple team which he led. Joseph, who captained the famous ’60s side known as “The Government” to seven League shield titles in ten years between 1960 and ‘69, also had the honour of being football’s first-ever nominee for the Sports Personality of the Year award in ‘67. Cyclist Roger Gibbon took the top prize that year for his two Pan American Games gold medals–match sprint and kilometre time trial–in recognition of his brilliant rides in Winnipeg, Canada.

But in the context of national football, what skipper Joseph and his Trinidad and Tobago team achieved at those same Games, was even more historic and significant. T&T gained a bronze medal. Some 36 years later, it is still the country’s only bit of Pan Am football hardware. And it was achieved by skipper Sedley and his side conquering some of the strongest teams in the region.

The T&T team meet the officials in a 1963 match against Suriname in Suriname. This was Joseph’s first overseas tour with the national side and it was the series that established him in the starting line-up.

It is a tournament that came a year before the end of Joseph’s nine-year career for the national team. And it is one he simply cannot forget.

“It was the first time a decision was taken to send a football team to the Pan Am Games. Even the local Olympic Committee, they did not think that we would have done well,” Joseph tells me. “Even before they knew who we were to be grouped with, our passages were booked to come back as we played our last game. They were so sure that we wouldn’t qualify.”

The officials would have been even more certain of T&T’s fate when the fixtures came out and they showed matches against Colombia, Argentina and eventual winners, Mexico.

To the consternation of everyone, perhaps even themselves, the T&T boys topped the group!

The results read this way: vs Costa Rica [sic, Colombia] 5-2, vs Argentina 1-0, vs Mexico 1-1.

Almost as bewilderingly however, T&T then lost to even more-lowly Bermuda 2-1 in the semi-finals before brushing aside Canada 3-0 for bronze.

Those stunning results were achieved by a team of rich talent: Lincoln Phillips, Jean Mouttet (goalkeepers), Selwyn Murren, Bertram Grell, Tyrone de La Bastide, Hugh Mulzac (defenders), Victor Gamaldo, Sedley Joseph (midfielders), Alvin Corneal, Kelvin Berassa, Gerry Brown, Andy Aleong (forwards). Reserves: Pat Small, Arnim David, Richard Stewart.

“I don’t like to make comparisions,” says Joseph, “but it is possibly because I was a member of that team, that I think that particular 1967 team was, if not the best, one of the best Trinidad teams that I have been fortunate to either play with or have seen.”

Best or not, they have become a part of local folklore because of their wonderful Winnipeg run which started with the spectacular Colombia game.

Joseph recalls: “Colombia had us two-nil at half time and I remember distinctly . . . in the dressing room, I told the chaps, even before the coach who was Conrad Braithwaite had spoken to the team, this team is not a better team than we are. I think it is a question of ‘lil nerves . . . This team is not a better team than us and I think we can beat them.”

The skipper was even more convinced of that because of the manner in which T&T had fallen behind.

“Although we were two goals down, they were not two good goals. Lincoln Phillips probably had one of his worst days in between the uprights.”

In a dramatic second half, Joseph’s teammates set the record straight with five unanswered strikes.

As he recalls, Pat Small a first half substitute for the injured Alvin Corneal, set things up.
“As soon as Pat came, I think Andy (Aleong) crossed a ball and Pat just ran in and put it in the goal, probably with his first touch.”

Small was not finished.

“Gerry Brown dribbled some of their defence and as he was about to hit the ball in the goal, Pat came from nowhere and put it in the goal.”

The other goal details are hazy in his memory, but Joseph cannot forget the scenes at the final whistle.

“Well of course, the Colombians could not even leave the field, they were in tears because they could not understand...They never heard about Trinidad and Tobago and being two goals up at half time . . .”

The feelings were quite the opposite for the Trinis.

“It was joy,” says Joseph. “Everybody could not believe that we could have come back from two goals to nil. We were extremely happy because this was our first game in Pan American Games football and the thoughts were that we would finish at the bottom of the table and we were seeing now, the possibility of not finishing at the bottom of the table.”

Those possibilities took a huge leap towards reality after the encounter with the Argentines.
“From what we understood, there were a few players from their World Cup ’66 team in their Pan Am squad,” Joseph says.

But such quality did nothing to prevent a 1-0 scoreline in favour of the underdogs.
The victory was reward for a valiant rear guard.

“Our defence really played well, they were outstanding,” says Joseph. “And Lincoln Phillips was exceptional in that game. We just kept the Argentinians away from our 18-yard box and they were having serious problems.”

The heralded South Americans found it hard to cope with the consequences.

“It was pitiful. The Argentina team, they could not understand. The coach was speechless, the players were on the ground, because again, Trinidad and Tobago was a non-entity in football . . .

“We were happy, jumping all over the place, beating Argentina, another feather in our cap because it meant we had won two games and were almost sure of qualifying for the next round.”

The two early triumphs gave the T&T players a great lift. Perhaps too much of a lift according to their captain.

“We probably started to get a little cocky, a little overconfident.”

Such overconfidence didn’t show in the draw with Mexico where a Tyrone de La Bastide penalty secured the point that ensured T&T topped the group. But it did, tellingly, in the semis against the Bermudians.

“We paid the penalty,” says Joseph. “If we played Bermuda every other day of the week, ten out of ten times we will beat Bermuda. We went into that game overconfident. I remember distinctly when we went for lunch the day of the game, everybody went into this big room . . . The Bermuda team, their coach made sure they ate vegetables, nothing too heavy, and Kelvin Berassa who was the joker on the team, he turned to the coach and told him: No matter what you all eat today, allyuh go get beat badly!”

It did not work out that way.

Hear Joseph: “We went into the game obviously thinking that it was only a matter of time that we would score against Bermuda and we missed some very easy chances . . . The first opportunity Bermuda got, a ball came across from the side, and Clyde Best, who played for West Ham in the English League, hit a volley that Lincoln had no chance from outside the box. It just flew past everybody.”

The score remained 1-0 at half time.

“The coach Conrad Braithwaite was blue. But we still had the confidence, as we did against Colombia. And before we knew what happened, it was two-nil. Another one came across, and I don’t remember the chap’s name–outside the area again–and he blasted it and it flew past Lincoln. Well, we fought back and we scored one, and it was literally backs and forwards for the last 30 minutes of the game.”

The loss was a singular lesson in humility. And it also left Joseph and his mates with a bittersweet feeling which the subsequent Canada win could not quite wipe away.

“For two reasons,” explains Joseph, “we were really down in the dumps in the sense that we missed a chance of playing for the gold medal against a team we had already drawn with, in addition to which, the Mexican manager had spoken to Eric James who was then top man in Trinidad football, and told him that if Mexico were playing us in the final, Mexico would pay an all expenses trip for the Trinidad team to come to Mexico. So we missed out on a chance to play for the gold medal, and also missed out on a trip to Mexico!”

On reflection though, Joseph was happy to settle for an historic bronze.

“It was eventually a feeling of elation in that we knew that we had done better than anyone expected of us.” Oh, wonderful Winnipeg.

[photo caption]
The 1967 T&T team at the CONCACAF finals in Honduras:
BACK: (l-r) Honduran official, Selwyn Murren, Arnim David, Gerry Brown, Jean Mouttet, Alvin Corneal, Pat Small, Victor Gamaldo. FRONT:(l-r) Bertrand Grell, Sedley Joseph (captain), Honduran official, Tyrone de La Bastide, Andy Aleong, Honduran official.