Image from http://www.aguantenche.com.uy/2014/07/el-dia-que-laurie-cunningham-fue-ovacionado-en-el-camp-nou/
“In one hand I have a both nothing”
Something this old man would utter whenever we talked football as a child, given my being aware of how short my attention span was I felt intrigued to listen whenever he spoke as there was never a dull moment save for the aforementioned idiom he seemed to have created himself, of which he’d never disclose the meaning.
Estranged character as he was we shared a common joy, football which seemed odd as his time was spent either eating, feeding his dogs but mostly, painting. He painted a lot but without pattern, mood driven almost. Quite the philanthropist as well, but while he hated an audience he enjoyed the privilege it allowed him to give to the less fortunate.
I was a boarding with him and his wife, herself a teacher at a nearby primary school for a year as my mother went abroad to finish school. Ever so often he’d randomly quiz me on things ranging from math, social science, art and occasionally sports. Looking back it seemed as though the sport questions were just a lure to keep my interest afloat.
One particular question I recall clearly was pertaining to my then obsession with local footballer Walter Boyd; or as he’s more affectionately known “The Black Pearl”. The question was if I’d known that there was a better player with the exact same name, not Walter Boyd but the nickname. Stumped, I asked everyone almost everywhere I went but to no success. He mentioned that this player was from England and was the first black player, before even John Barnes himself to have represented England on an international football level (this has recently been proven to be incorrect but he was in fact the 2nd to do so) What he did accomplish however was becoming the first ever British transfer to a Spanish club, Real Madrid. This of course sparked my interest, and after a little research and help from a few knowledgeable football minds I was provided with the actual name of the player, Laurence Laurie Cunningham who was brought in as I was informed as somewhat of a novelty, to entertain or wow the fans of the Royal club with his electrifying speed and dribbling tricks albeit productive.
The old man asked me about him again once; it was years later and, while I had no visual proof, the conversation was still pretty engaging as I was a bit older and slightly more knowledgeable of the sport by this stage. Eventually he disclosed that he was friends with a relative of Cunningham who said the reason for his success may have had a bit to do with him being denied an opportunity to join Arsenal, his boyhood club. However, instead of quitting he used it as motivation which saw him go from England to playing in both Spain and France before tragedies hit, amongst them ultimately his own untimely death. The correlation of a young Gunner at heart who wound up at the Capital club of Spain for his showmanship is only a small part of why football is so revered, particularly by my generation.
That old man however went by the name of Gaston Tabois, a well-respected painter in the art world throughout the Caribbean. I simply knew him as the delayed privilege and a key part of why football is considered an art to those fortunate enough to see its beautiful colors.
R.I.P Mr Tabois