One Of T&T's Unsung Heroes Recognized Today

Inshan Mohammed
Date Published: 

Kenwyne Cooper, Pan Am Games, MexicoKenwyne Cooper in Mexico, 1975

At one time, he was considered one of the best right-wingers in Trinidad and Tobago. In fact, he was so good that his best friend and Defence Force teammate Pamphille and his wife Lydia gave their son his name and made him his God father.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Soca Warriors Online (SWO) would like to introduce you to one of T&T's unsung heroes Mr. Kenwyn Cooper; and if you're wondering who his godson is, it's none other than current Stoke City star-forward Kenwyne Jones.

Kenwyn told, he christened Kenwyne as a child and after that he didn't see much of him, because they were both based in opposite sides of the Island. Is spite of this he feels a strong sense of pride for his godson and still follows the striker’s success.

Getting To Know Kenwyn

Kenwyn and I sat down on a chilly Friday night at my home in New York and got to know each other a little better. Kenwyn told me that he wanted to finally meet "Flex" in person, one of the main men responsible for the Soca Warriors Online. The other of course is his longtime pal, Nigel Myers.

Cooper is also one of SWO biggest supporters and for your information he goes by the member name Coops (guys, cut him a break.).... He is also addicted to the website and does not miss a day away from it as many of the SWO diehards can relate.

Cooper, the most polite and friendly person you could meet, showed up at my door in his SUV after driving almost 9 hours from Virginia Beach to visit his wife, he took a detour to finally meet “yours truly”. Coops was so happy to meet me that he shook my hands at least three times and his eyes were glossy as to say he almost wanted to shed a tear or two He said: "Flex, I didn't realize you were so young. I was expecting someone much older." That made my day! Yes, I am young and still look it, but I assumed the gloss in his eyes blinded him and he didn't notice the hidden gray hairs on my head. In any case, I was flattered. A few months ago in New York I also had the pleasure of meeting another SWO member, Weary1969. I wonder what she thought.... :-)

Getting to know Coop's.

In January 2010 Coops was hit by the most terrible news anyone could bear. After months of problems with his body mainly his bladder, Coops finally decided to make the trip to the doctor only to find out that he had a tumor in his bladder. To make matters worse the doctor informed him that the tumor was malignant. In other words he had cancer of the bladder.

Now only half the size he was, Coops is literally a moving hospital and basically lives on chemo and other cancer treatment devices. You would think he would be down and out under such circumstances, but not Coops. He is full of life, happy as a puppy and is just enjoying his life to the fullest. If he hadn't told me he had been diagnosed with cancer, I would have never known.

His Career

It all started on the field for Kenwyn at a small club in Cocorite called Paragon FC before moving to Defence Force in the 1970's. He played there until the early 80’s. Defence Force as we all know were the top team in those days as they were frequent winners of the Semi-Professional League and to play for such a team at that time one had to be outstanding.

Cooper, who only wore the number 13 jersey, came up against many top players in the League. Two noteworthy players he rubbed shoulders with at times and came up against in the league are Leroy Spann and best friend Noel "Sammy" Llewellyn, both of whom played for Caroni and Essex respectively.

At Defence Force Cooper also played alongside Ron LaForest, Ron’s brother Lennox, Charlie Spooner, Milton Archibald (Warren Archibald's brother), Bert Neptune, Sam Phillip, Francis Furlonge, Grantley Maxwell, Arab Nelson, Kenny Joseph, Winston Phillips who by the way happens to be the brother of current TTFF Technical Director Lincoln Phillips. Winston is also known for his long throws and was part of the team that was robbed of glory in Haiti during the 1973 World Cup qualifiers. His throws caused the Haitian goalkeeper Henri Francillon and his defenders; Pierre Bayonne, Fritz Andre, Wilfried Louis and captain Wilner Nazaire all sorts of heartaches. I forgot to mentioned that T&T's Steve David finished the 1973 tournament in Haiti with 7 goals, 2 more than Haiti's Emmanuel Sanon.

At Army Kenwyn also played against many international opponents at CONCACAF level, and he remembers one in particular during encounters with Haiti's Violette FC. Coops said that Philippe Vorbe was the best midfielder he had ever witnessed and that he would put Latapy in the shade with his vision and ability to stay in one area and control the entire Haitian team. Coops also remembered how Vorbe played with his sock rolled down and no chine guards. Thank God Tobago-Born hard rocker defender Cyd Gray was still a toddler then.

His T&T Career

Born in Blanchissuese on September 26th, 1948 and grew up in San Juan Coops was neighbors with another T&T great Leopold Sookram. Sookram many know today as Bobby, the South born midfielder, and at that time he played for North Base team Maple and was based in San Juan. Coops reminded me that Bobby Sookram’s goal scoring average of above 45 goals per season and he scored a remarkable 110 goals for Maple in three years.

Kenwyn had such a fantastic season with Army that he was called up to represent Trinidad and Tobago’s senior team, though he was never entered into our database here at the SWO because of the lack of recorded information in those days and Coops never kept records himself. His best days in the Red, White and Black have gone unnoticed to this day.

Coops played for Trinidad and Tobago between 1974 to 1975, and played under coach Edgar Vidale. He played in such tournaments as the Pan American Games and the Olympic Qualifiers respectively. There were no restrictions when it came to Olympic football, and T&T fielded their senior team in the said tournament. Maybe this was one of the reasons he's not on the SWO database as players who participated in those tournaments were not officially recorded in the history books of T&T football.

His time with T&T saw Coops rubbing shoulders with many great talents such as Earl Carter, Noel Llewellyn, Russell Tesheira, Buggy Haynes, Mike Grayson, Lawrence Rondon, Tom Phillips, Steve Khan, Sydney Augustine, Selwyn Murren (capt), Winston Phillips and Leon Carpette to name a few. Cooper was a hard working right-wing midfielder who had great pace and a powerful kick. His crossing ability would have left current Ipswich Town winger Carlos Edwards blushing. Unfortunately, for all his hard work the former John Donaldson student has one goal to show and that came against Suriname on April 26, 1976 in the Oval during an Olympic qualifier. He was proud of that goal and it showed as tears almost coming out of his eyes when he told me, the game ended 1-1, Coops with the equalizer. Coops also found that the Surinamese team was a force in those days and had a player called Edwin Schal who was a talent he adored dearly. Unfortunately, T&T paid the price and bowed out as the 1-1 draw wasn't enough, Suriname had won the first-leg 2-0 in Paramaribo on April 19th.

Coaching Career.

After his glory days as a player, Cooper took his success off the field when he coached San Juan Senior Comprehensive to the SSFL and InterCol East titles respectively in 1987. The team was captained by Louis Legendre and Robert Banfield and lost 1-0 to a Chris Brice own goal in the InterCol finals against Signal Hill who had stars Dwight Yorke and Colvin Hutchinson on their team. San Juan SC also placed 4th in the Big Four tournament.

Cooper was also a trainer for a national under 16 team which was packed with talent such as Russell Latapy, Clint Marcelle, Colin Rocke, Ansley Weeks and Ross Russell and played some role in developing these players. He mentioned that he was and still is shocked that Colin Rocke was never called up by Trinidad and Tobago senior team and that the midfielder was a more complete player than Latapy and Marcelle. Coops said “You could have put him anywhere on the field and when it came to dribbling he had the tools as well.” Coops further added that Rocke, Marcelle and Latapy use to terrorize defences and they where the three top midfielders in the country at that time.

He took his career further when he coached ECM Motown in the Arthur Suite League (ASL) before being asked by then T&T head coach Everald "Gally" Cummings to coach a Trinidad and Tobago national senior B-Team.

That B-team was comprised of players who were some of the best the country had to offer, with the likes of Elliot Allen, Clint Marcelle, Garfield DeSilva, Timothy Haynes, Kelvin Jones, Dexter Lee, Ivan Sampson, Richard Chinapoo, Nevick DeNoon and Anthony Sherwood.

Both Cooper and his assistant in former St Benedicts College coach Jan Steadman took that T&T B-team to the 1989 Shell Cup final group stage before being dropped by Jack Warner. Coops and his entire team were disbanded by Warner because the players wanted the same treatment that Gally's Strike Squad (A-Team) were getting.

Despite some impressive results in the group stage (Zone A) here in Trinidad and Tobago, Coops disclosed that the TTFF blamed the 1-0 lost to Grenada as the excuse to dismantling the team. T&T were 11-0 winners over Aruba which was probably one of the biggest wins in the history of the tournament, a 3-1 win over French Guyana and Coops’ “Army” was also victorious over St Kitts (2-0). The already qualified T&T then finished the semi-final group with a 1-0 lost to none other than Grenada.

Everald Cummings then continue where Cooper left off and won its opener in the final group stage against host Barbados (3-0) but stumbled on it's way to the final as Guadeloupe had defeated T&T 2-0, then it was a 1-0 Barbados victory over Guadeloupe that got Gally's team into the final and T&T made no mistakes this time when they won 2-1 in the final against Grenada off a Dwight Yorke double to win the 1989 Caribbean Shell Cup. It was July 9th 1989, the Strike Squad created history, the team field players such as Marvin Faustin, Russell Latapy, Clayton Morris, Philbert Jones, Marlon Morris and Dwight Yorke became Caribbean champs for the first time, the Shell Cup was born.

The Caribbean Cup, known then as the Shell Cup, before becoming the Copa Caribe began in 1989. The Caribbean Cup is a tournament for the CFU currently contested biannually (in odd years). The Caribbean Cup is also a qualifier for the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Coops further disclosed that while he was coach of the T&T team he had to work under very harsh and unprofessional conditions. He said the arrangements were very poor and there was always a rush to do things because decisions were made at the last minute. For example, he remember one moment before training was over everyone on the team was gathered together and were rushed off to Curacao for a tournament comprising of 3 teams and two games in two days. Fortunately T&T won the tournament, however, while on the airplane Coop's learned from reading the newspaper that his team was playing St Lucia the very next day. To make matters worse, he also learnt that half of his team was scheduled to fly off to Puerto Rico to join Gally's Strike Squad (A-Team) who was there for a training camp. As a result of this Coops’ under strength T&T side lost 1-0 to St Lucia.

Coops Migrated

Shortly after, Cooper being disheartened by his experience coaching T&T left Trinidad and decided to try his luck in the United States. His first stop was New York where he stayed with close friend Charlie Spooner before jetting off to Philadelphia and finally settled in Virginia where he is now based. After all those years Coops has gotten over the Trini-tabancca and is happily living his life to the fullest.

Did You Know

It was all uphill for Cooper after he left T&T shores. He had his own coaching school in Virginia. It was called Cooper's Soccer World. He trained players, had training camps, team sessions and clinics. He was also the Technical Director for Norfolk United and Director of Coaching at United Soccer.

Kenwyn Cooper carries a number of awards and badges which includes; National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA Advanced Diploma), USSF National Youth License, FIFA Certified Solidarity coach (Trinidad and Tobago), Special Olympics (Caribbean Training school) and to top it off he was a 10-time Championship winner with Defence Force.

Now retired, Cooper enjoys watching the Trinidad and Tobago national teams, surfing the SWO and seeing his relatives play football. He is also a fond admirer and a relative of current under 17 women’s team striker Liana Hinds who rips up the net for T&T. You would remember her goal scoring exploits against Nigeria and Chile in T&T's historic 2010 Women’s U-17 World Cup appearance.

Kenwyn, 62, a father of three and happily married seemed to have strong genes when it comes to football. His daughter Tricia Cooper, 34, also donned the Red, White and Black and is retired as a player but is currently the assistant coach of Florida University Women's team.

The SWO family would like to extend heartwarming greetings to Mr Kenwyn Cooper and his family during this festive season and wish him a full and speedy recovery. Do what you can my friend and what you cannot do, let the Almighty do the rest.