Caribbean Newsletter: Glamour

Date Published: 
Jamaica Gleaner

TWO TEARS AGO, Jamaica's widely-known impresario, Stephen Hill and officials of the Trinidad Football Association became involved in negotiations to bring the Brazilian glamour team, Santos, to Trinidad for a fixture against the Trinidad National XI.

Big snag about the talks stemmed from the reported appearance fee of TT$80,000. The TFA turned down the offer and Hill was reported to have two of the leading Trinidad business houses sponsor the visit which was being glamorised by the presence in the Santos team of world-famous Pele.

The "sponsorship" effort failed. So too did overtures to Government representatives to underwrite expenses for the match.

This year, as Trinidad planned its round of celebrations to mark the country's 10th anniversary of Independence, a decision was taken to invite Santos for a game against the National XI at the Oval, headquarters of cricket in the territory.

A committee comprising representatives of the Ministry of National Security, the Trinidad Football Association, the Carnival Development Committee, set the stage for what was to have been one of the centerpieces of the celebrations.

Three of the Trinidad professional footballers campaigning in the United States — Leroy Deleon, Warren Archibald and Everald Cummings, were flown home to join Gerald Figueroex, Ulric Haynes, Selwyn Murren, Winston Phillip, Russell Texiera, Gilbert Lennard and Leo Brewster.

The "Match Committee", anticipating the largest-ever crowd to attend a sporting fixture at the Oval, engaged two steelbands to entertain the spectators, thousands of whom had been inside the ground since morning.

By mid-afternoon, the Oval was bulging with 40,000 men, women and children and thousands were outside awaiting admittance.

Scores of persons fainted, fell from overhanging trees or were injured from falls in trying to climb the walls of the Oval.

At scheduled starting time, 4.45 p.m., there was no sign of the Santos team. The spectators on the eastern side of the ground became restless and the Police, led by Commissioner to maintain order. But tensions snapped when a mounted policeman charged into a section of the crowd. An irate spectator threw a bottle on to the field and bedlam broke loose, climaxing in the firing of tear-gas bombs by members of the Police Riot Squad into one of the stands. Fifty persons were injured, some seriously and one man was killed when he was pinned beneath the branches of a falling tree on the northern side of the ground.

Fumes from the tear-gas canister blew across the ground to the VIP stand from which Prime Minister Dr. Eric Williams, Governor-General Sir Solomon Hochoy and other top Government personalities were watching.

Thousands scampered from the ground, many arrests were made and the start of the match was further delayed.

When the field was cleared and Santos made their appearance, Pele headed in a goal during the first half of the restricted game.

Next day, Government appointed former Commissioner Sonny Carr to investigate and the Law Society demanded a full-scale Government Inquiry.

Meanwhile, blame for the incident, which surpassed the bottle-throwing during the England-West Indies cricket Test on the same ground in 1960 was attributed to:

(a) Late arrival at the ground of the Santos team, after inadvertently forgetting their playing kit in their private plane at the airport, and reluctance of the Santos team to co-operate with local officials when substitute kits were offered;

(b) Failure of the organisers to notify the crowd of the reason for the delay of the start of the match; and failure by the organisers to play off a curtain-raising fixture to entertain the crowd which had been at the Oval for almost the entire day;

(c) Serious lapses by the police in throwing bottles back and firing tear-gas into the crowd and the attitude of the police to the crowd;

(d) Failing to note that it was not possible to accommodate the 50,000 persons in the area which could hold less than 35,000, under "normal" circumstances.