Fowl's colourful career

Marlon Miller
Date Published: 
Trinidad Express

RoyaliansRoyalians: Former Trinidad and Tobago footballer Malcolm "Fowl" McLean, right, chats with journalist Jeff Hackett at the 76th annual reunion of Queen's Royal College old boys at the school compound last month.

IF Malcolm "Fowl" McLean had his way, he would have been the oldest man to ever play football for Trinidad and Tobago. And it would have been on the sport's biggest stage, at the 2006 World Cup finals.

"I took my boots with me, I thought I would get a game," he said with a straight face, the then 82-year-old ex-T&T and Jamaica international having left his adopted home in Canada to go and support the Soca Warriors in Germany.

"I felt fit enough," he joked four years on. "But now I couldn't run a 'lines', my legs are going on me."

McLean was speaking at his sister Yvonne's apartment on Morne Coco Road, Diego Martin last month, when he returned to Trinidad for the 76th annual reunion of old boys of Queen's Royal College, where he was the oldest Royalian in attendance in 2010 at the sprightly age of 86.

McLean, who was born in Guyana and migrated to Trinidad with his family in 1928, is full of stories of the good, old days, not only of his exploits as a versatile footballer and the lifelong friends he made, but also of his relationship with the likes of legendary calypsonians Lord Kitchener and Lord Beginner and his association with infamous American movie star Errol Flynn while living in Jamaica. He has also been around the world three times on cruise liners, his last circumnavigation being in 1996.

His main claim to fame was on the football field, where he followed in the boot prints of his father, Tom, who played for Guyana when he was 16 years old and joined Shamrock, the top club of the day, when he came to Trinidad, going on to play for T&T in a triangular tournament in Barbados in 1932.

Son Malcolm first made a name for himself playing for the Colts team from 1936-40 at QRC, where he banged in 103 goals in 58 matches as a centre forward.

"In those days I had a cross-eye, so they say I used to fool the goalkeepers," who couldn't tell where he was going to place the ball.

Charles S Dolly, the QRC principal at that time who was refereeing one of the games McLean played in, told him: "You know angles in football, but when it comes to algebra and geometry, you're not worth a damn!"

Young Malcolm scored seven goals in that match against Tranquility and to this day he still feels sorry for the "poor" Tranquil keeper, who had no gloves to help him hold onto the muddy ball.

"I learnt from those days you have to shoot...if you don't shoot, you can't score!"

As a 15-year-old in 1939, he played against his father, who was then 45, in an intermediate game between QRC Colts and Shamrock. A year later, Malcolm left school and went to play for Shamrock and that's when he got his nickname.

One of the older players told him: "All you do is run around the field like a fowl."

McLean, who weighed not more than 125 pounds, took great pride in his speed and fitness, keeping in shape by running around the racetrack at the Queen's Park Savannah.

And he and his good buddy, Andrew "Vat" Abraham, another fine all-round sportsman, had a very strict diet of mostly "ice cream and milk".

"Vat Abraham and I used to lime at the old Diaries (on Phillips Street in Port of Spain)," where they would consume a pint of milk and an ice cream sundae every night, before riding back to their respective homes in Woodbrook.

With the abundance of talent at Shamrock's disposal, "Fowl" was forced to change from his favourite position at centre forward, skipper Sedley Agostini putting him to play half back, to which McLean objected: "I'm a forward."

When he gave his father the story, the old man told him: "You play where they tell you to play."

He combined with Gerald Montes de Oca and Lance Murray on the half back line and within a month, at the age of 19, he got picked to represent TAFA (Trinidad Amateur Football Association), which in later years would be known as North, in inter-zone play.

From 1943-47, McLean retained his place in the TAFA team at left half, following the advice of his father: "I played wherever they put me," and he still managed to score a few goals.

In 1944, having just turned 20, he achieved the ultimate honour when selected to represent Trinidad and Tobago in Barbados.

"Joey Gonsalves and I were the two young fellas on the team," he recalled of the talented goalkeeper, who sadly passed away earlier this year, among his last words being: "I want to go home to meet Malcolm McLean," with whom he played for TAFA, T&T and Shamrock.

On that first tour, Gonsalves, who was still at school, was reserve keeper behind number one Rolph Grant.

Among other teammates on the national squad were Raffie Knowles, who became a renowned sports commentator on radio and television; Prior Jones, also an outstanding cricketer; Bertie Thompson, who had played with McLean's father for T&T in 1932 and 12 years later was lining up with his son; and another excellent all-round sportsman, Andy Ganteaume, who made a century on debut for West Indies and never played for them again.

McLean still keeps in touch with Ganteaume, a member of the great Maple Club, and has been a guest at the club's annual reunion hosted by Professor Courtenay Bartholomew.

On leaving school, McLean had got a job at Royal Bank of Canada and in 1943 his bosses advised him he had to fix his cross-eye if he wanted to make progress in the organisation. The operation was not available in Trinidad and he had to go to Barbados, but not before wrangling two months' leave with pay to do the procedure and for the subsequent recovery.

After returning to work, he was transferred to San Fernando, from where he made the daily trek to Port of Spain to practice and play football, teammate D'Arcy Galt driving down south to pick him up. But McLean had to find his way back, usually getting a ride with the Trinidad Gazette van delivering the next day's newspaper.

He would not get home in San Fernando until the early hours of the morning and one day he overslept, his co-workers having to come and wake him where he lived next door to the bank.

That was the last straw and he requested to be sent back to work in Port of Spain.

"I told them I wasn't sticking this was interfering with my football!"

He eventually resigned from Royal Bank and went to work at Geddes Grant, but also left that job not long after.

McLean made his way to Jamaica, where he worked as a salesman from 1947-51, and, of course, football was at the forefront. He got selected for the Jamaican national team for a tour of, where else but Trinidad.

That was the same year, 1947, he had played for Trinidad and Tobago against Jamaica. But it was a disappointing homecoming as T&T drubbed Jamaica 6-0.

"There were a lot of old-stagers, they picked a bad team," recalled McLean of the Jamaica squad.

While in Jamaica, he got a job there for Kitchener and Beginner in a local club, McLean having got to know the calypsonians in Trinidad, where he was on the "board of directors" for the calypso tent on St Vincent Street, Port of Spain, where Attila The Hun and Roaring Lion were also among the cast.

McLean was in a nightclub in Jamaica one night when hard-living actor Flynn touched a voluptuous Jamaican woman who slapped him. McLean went looking for Beginner to tell him what he thought was a good line for a calypso about Flynn's run-in with the feisty female.

"Those are the days," he said, referring to the 1940s. But McLean had his share of fun right through his long life.

"We played mud hog every Sunday in Pompeii Savannah (now known as George V Park in St Clair), then we would go by Audrey Jeffers' house to t'ief a few Julie mangos."

As to his longevity, he said: "I never smoked a cigarette, I never drank any hard liquor and never got married.

"Not that the ladies didn't want me," he interjected, "but I was too much of a sportsman," adding that he was once engaged to a beauty queen in Jamaica.

"It was always my ambition to live to 100 because I never made that in cricket," he joked.

But amidst all the happy memories, McLean is grieving inside because earlier this year, while moving house in Canada, he lost his extensive collection of newspaper clippings and photographs of his sporting career, which were thrown out by mistake. That misfortune also curtailed plans to write his autobiography.

"I had such a wonderful collection of football memorabilia. I will never get over it, never. I'll die of a broken heart," he lamented. "It's hard for your system to overcome it."

McLean had gone to Canada in 1951, where he held various jobs, including owning a ski chalet, which he had to sell because there was no snow.

But, of course, there was the football. He played for Ulster United, the champion team in Canada in 1951-52, and McLean and his teammates had the distinction of playing against perennial English champs Manchester United during their tour of Canada in 1952. The following year he was selected for the Ontario All Stars.

Putting aside his regret over his misplaced scrapbooks, McLean cast his eye over the modern game, of which he is very critical, scoffing at ultra-defensive tactics in use today.

"We could never pass the ball back to the goalkeeper in the (Queen's Park) would stick in the mud," he laughed.

And he described as "ridiculous" players hugging one another after scoring a goal.

"You're supposed to score!"

And that's what Malcolm "Fowl" McLean did throughout his footballing career, memories of which still keep him smiling in the winter of his colourful life.