‘They can’t stop talking ‘bout us’ - coach Everald Cummings

Gregory Trujillo
Date Published: 
Trinidad Guardian

Strike Squad coachStrike Squad coach Everald “Gally” Cummings, 2nd left, celebrates T&T’s 2-1 win in the Concacaf World Cup qualifier against Guatemala in 1989. Sharing the celebrations are composer Allyson Ayres (l), the then Culture Minister Jennifer Johnson, 2nd from right, and calypsonian Blue Boy (Austin Lyons).

People would never stop talking about the “Strike Squad”. This is the opinion of Everald “Gally” Cummings, the coach of the 1989 World Cup team who fans nicknamed the “Strike Squad.”

“We didn’t get the final reward but the entire programme was a success,” said Cummings in an interview during the week. “That’s why people would not stop talking about us.”

“I call it a whole movement,” he added. “I never experienced so much love for a football team. It went beyond the football field. It was bigger than the game.

Cummings was right. Engulfed in a “Sea of Red”, over 50,000 fans crammed into the National Stadium to get a peep of the infamous “Strike Squad” play the United States.

Several other thousands who turned up at the stadium unfortunately had to be turned away as gates had to be closed more than an hour before the kick-off.

Every single person in T&T got involved in some way — those who didn’t show up at the Queen’s Park Oval where there was a big screen chose to watch the action at home on television.

“During that period, I thought personally it was one of the happiest times I had seen T&T people expressing themselves,” stated Cummings.

“The team came at a time when there was a lot of strife in the country and the people got an opportunity to hold on to the “Strike Squad” as a saviour. We had to shoulder the burden of other people’s problems plus ours.”

“Gally” said that to date he has received at least 500 to 600 letters from people concerning the “Strike Squad”.

“Of the few that touched me was a 10-year-old girl telling me the ‘Strike Squad’ team was the greatest thing she had experienced. She vowed to tell her children and have her children tell their children.

“Another lady wrote that her son was in a motor vehicle accident and was paralysed from the waist down and he was upset with the whole world because of the injury.

“The ‘Strike Squad’ made him a new person. Just sitting before his television looking at the way we played, he started to move around again.”

Cummings pointed out that it was more than a football match against the US and for him as the coach it was beyond the goalpost.

“The ‘Strike Squad’ was such a success that it is a sad thing to hear people talk about them with negative overtones.”

He said that he had the drive, enthusiasm and passion from 1973 in Haiti when he was part of the T&T team that was robbed from going to Germany.

He claimed that he was someone who loved the country and wanted to see it go forward to the world stage to achieve the success which eluded the 1973 team.

“One of the most important aspects I noticed when I took over the team was that there was a lack of professionalism and structure among the players and I instilled that.

“And at the same time, let the players know that if they wanted to be successful they had to believe in themselves and each other. And, also show a great deal of respect for the red, white and black flag.

“To this day, we have all maintained a love for each other that might never been experienced in a national team.

“Gally” pointed out that whatever decisions that were made were done as a team. “Not by the technical staff alone but the entire squad.”

“At no time at all anybody was left out of the decision making. We had a unification of purpose.

“At no time at all the players broke camp. They were comfortable with each other like a family.

“Whenever we went on a trip abroad it was football, football, football, football. Not shopping.

“I kept reminding them they were not only representing football. They were also representing all other sports and the 1.5 million population.

“When I first took the team and they showed me the national team colours and the style of uniform, I had it changed immediately.

“If you want people to feel special you have to treat them special, starting with uniformity.

“I was responsible for changing the style and sitting with sponsors Rossi and coming up with design which had a national flag on both sleeves.

“I saw the flag on each player shoulder as carrying the weight of the country on their shoulders. That had a significant effect on the players.”

Cummings, who played professionally for New York Cosmos in the MLS in the US, maintained that he kept 22 players at all times for a particular reason.

“We always had players on their toes because there was always somebody to replace them.

“I never trained 11 players alone because I had some young players with me waiting to be drafted.”

He outlined that in 1989 he had a Shell Caribbean team to play against St Kitts, St Vincent, Curacao and Grenada in addition to the “Strike Squad”.

“Our second team was beating those teams. We refused practice games against Jamaica at that time because we were at a higher level.”

“Back then, what I identified before placing a player in a position was to look at his biological individuality.

“The football that the Strike Squad played was attractive and entertaining. What I did was to let the players express themselves within the context of team play and use their creative abilities. All I did was to set up a proper structure of team play that would enhance their performance.

“November 19 was bigger than Independence Day. Everybody could still tell you exactly what they did on the day, “ he ended.