Chung Fah still keeping everyone's eyes on the ball
Gordon Williams, Gleaner Writer
Six months ago, Winston Chung Fah found himself surrounded by silence.
"One morning I just got up and couldn't hear anything," the Jamaica-born football coach explained from his home in the United States.
Chung Fah has since restored function in one ear, but the ailment was another in a long line of medical setbacks in recent years. A few weeks ago he returned home after months in hospital, fighting "gout, ulcers and arthritis," which, he claimed, "took over my body." Compound that with kidney infections, diabetes, heart and knee problems.
Chung Fah insisted he's not in severe pain, but an operation on his left heel has planted him in a wheelchair and forced him to "learn to walk again."
"You name it, I have it," he said laughing after listing his illnesses.
For Chung Fah, who turned 72 earlier this month, finding life's bright side is typical.
"I try not to make anything disturb my peace," he said.
That tranquility is triggered by his indulgence in football, Chung Fah's biggest "passion." He still watches the "beautiful game," and talks about it. Endlessly.
"He hasn't lost the gift of gab," said Chung Fah's Jamaican wife of 42 years, Barbara, discussing his health.
Born in Clarendon, Chung Fah grew up playing barefoot on the streets of Rollington Town in east Kingston and later moved to Rae Town. Today, his football knowledge is legendary. Chung Fah traces the game's origin "back to 642 AD" in China and can reel off names of teams, coaches and players - little known and famous, local and overseas - along with pivotal plays or decisions that turned matches decades ago.
Asked if he could discuss football for a whole day, non-stop, Chung Fah burst into laughter: "I would say closer to a week." Few doubt him.
Leonard 'Chicken' Mason, a former national player and friend, recalled Chung Fah, popularly known as 'Chungie' or 'Nava' engaging in a street corner argument about football in the 1960s that started in the evening and continued until sunup.
"I don't think anyone can have a better argument than 'Chungie'," said Mason, "but he was always positive. That's his gift."
Chung Fah is also noted for his mark on football in Jamaica, where he coached at school, club and national levels, and served as technical director in the 1990s. That contribution has earned him respect. On December 4 he was among the honorees at the '2011 All-Star Celebrity Soccer Match and Awards Presentation' in Florida.
While Chung Fah's stature as a player never rose beyond a journeyman goalkeeper and sometimes winger, at Windsor Heights high school and club YMCA, his reputation spiked when he embraced coaching. He became "coach, captain and player," entering Windsor Heights in competition without the principal's knowledge, at age "15 or 16."
Yet early on he knew little about the intricacies of the game, relying on getting players physically fit and motivated.
"I used to have the players just running laps until their mouths got white," Chung Fah said laughing.
That changed when Jorge Penna took charge of Jamaica's national team in the early 1960s.
"When Penna came to Jamaica we were playing long ball," said Chung Fah. "When he saw the talent ... he said 'what a waste'."
The Brazilian introduced drills, such as small-sided games or 'scrimmages', to enhance ball control and possession.
"Penna brought things to the course that we never knew before," Chung Fah said.
He recruited young, inner-city talent - players often shunned by local teams. In 1964, Chung Fah formed Santos Football Club. It's his greatest accomplishment.
"Prior to that a certain class of people could not join certain clubs in Jamaica," Chung Fah explained. "I've realised how important Santos was."
He's credited with elevating underprivileged youth.
"(Chung Fah) was a good motivator and he could talk to them," said Mason. "That's what he took and won everybody over."
But the offensive 'ghetto' stigma didn't disappear. An elite club coach once accused Chung Fah of "bringing criminals into football."
Chung Fah eventually turned Santos over to the late Jackie Bell, claiming the players were no longer willing to challenge him.
"I didn't think that was healthy," he said.
Chung Fah went to Clarendon College, and in 1977 CC produced one of Jamaican schoolboy football's greatest teams. Armed with players like Lenny "Teacher" Hyde, Dennis 'Den Den' Hutchinson and Oneil 'Little Skill' Russell, what Chung Fah called "the magic team from Chapelton" swept all before it in dazzling displays of attractive, high-scoring football.
Still, Chung Fah heard cruel whispers he didn't coach CC that year. He's not bitter.
"Everybody have their own view," he said of the critics. "I accept that. I have been lucky to have good players and they've been able to perform because I put them in the right positions."
Chung Fah credits several people, including former national players Edward 'Johnny Cool' Dawkins and Donald 'Billy' Perkins, with vital contributions in '77. Motivation was his best asset.
"That's the essence of coaching," Chung Fah said.
Chung Fah has coached elsewhere, including the US and Cayman Islands. He has watched Jamaica's football evolve, is writing two books - one about his career, the other on the history of local football - and has an opinion on everything in the game. Jamaican Allan "Skill" Cole, he said, is the best player produced by the Caribbean. Pele is the greatest ever, but Lionel Messi is "magic." He called Hungary in 1954 the best national team, a "total machine."
Chung Fah fears over-rigid coaching is stifling the game's flair and is disappointed Jamaica is behind in one key area.
"We still do not have a youth development programme," he said.
Ironically, despite being responsible for the development of thousands of players, Chung Fah could not get his closest kin to embrace football with his zest. A five-year-old grandson is his latest - frustrating - project.
"The boy insulted me the other day," Chung Fah joked. "I asked him if he's gonna play soccer and he said 'no, basketball'. I waan bruk 'im foot dem!"
As he worked the receptive crowd at the awards ceremony, it was clear the great motivator is still trying to keep everyone's eyes on the ball.
"I encourage them to do their best," said Chung Fah.