Kenyan hockey mourns the death of one of its most gifted players - Egbert Carmo Fernandes.
Fernandes died last Thursday in Canberra, Australia, at age 73 while undergoing treatment for a growth in his oesophagus.
In 1960, at just 19 years, he was the youngest Kenya hockey Olympian to don the No. 9 shirt and begin an illustrious career which earned him the respect of his hockey peers, the affection of his admirers the world over.
Kenya Hockey Union Chairman, Nashon Randiek, led the union in paying tribute to the fallen legend, describing him as the perfect player of his generation who was dedicated to the game.
“When he played his last World Cup, I was only four years old but I got to watch him play for his club. He was one of the finest centre forwards, very skillful. We appreciate his services as a union and stand with his family at this trying moment,” Randiek told Daily Nation Sport yesterday.
Egbert was among a rich vein of Kenyans who achieved stardom as triple hockey Olympians (Rome, Tokyo and Mexico) and played in countless internationals and made even more appearances for his club, the Nairobi Goan Institute.
PLAYED LIKE GAZELLE
He played like a dashing gazelle in full flight, like a cheetah, the flashing hunter, a little Nureyev as he twisted and turned, dummied to right, dummied to left, flicked a pass in either direction, or stretched like giraffe to push that just out of reach of the opposing full-back to whack in yet another goal. It is no exaggeration that he was not just poetry in motion but a very intelligent forward.
In the 1960s, Kenyans were really challenging and were soon respected by the best in the world. It was all in the speed, flick of wrist, speed and cunning, producing the unexpected and that legal hit that was unstoppable as a bullet. Kenya was ranked seventh in Rome 1960, sixth in Tokyo 1964 and eighth in Mexico 1968.
Egbert and Edgar were born in Kisumu and moved to Kiambu around 1951 and to Nairobi around 1952. Both Edgar (who was a couple of years older) and Egbert debuted for Kenya in 1958. Edgar was cut from the run-in squad for the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. They could not play in Kiambu because there were no flat, grassless patches of earth. In Nairobi, there was a ground at Dr Ribeiro Goan School, a better ground near Railway employees quarters in Park Road and a little patch of dust in Ngara.
Hockey came very naturally to brothers Hilary, Leo and Nereus Fernandes, Edgar and Egbert Fernandes, Sylvester Fernandes, Saude George, Aloysius Mendonca, some of whom got their first taste of the game at the Dr Ribeiro Goan School but it was fine-tuned and invented upon on a small patch of mchanga (Kenya murram earth) situated conveniently between the Government and Railway employees quarters in Ngara. It is here that individual genius found the time and space to experiment and bloom.
Edgar Fernandes was the thinking man’s Kenya half back. He was sheer class. Alu Mendonca, one of the most elegant left wingers (later a respected a coach) was recognised as perhaps the best player Kenya ever produced. If Edgar was sheer class, then Sylvester (Silu) Fernandes was the larrikin genius on the other side of the field. He played some unorthodox blinders in his time. Saude George is one of Kenya’s few double international goalkeepers. The hockey world respected his courage and calm, cool approach to the game.
NGARA MAFIA'S SKILLS
This Ngara mafia’s skills were further enhanced when they joined other great Kenyan players like Avtar Singh, perhaps, the most capped player of all time; Surjeet Singh Jnr, a classy centre half, Amar Singh a joy to watch forward, Reynolds De Souza, a charming, gentle forward with an uncanny killer instinct for scoring or delivering the killer pass, Surjeet Singh senior and elder statesman of the game with Pritam Singh as well as the crafty Santokh Singh Matharu. The pedigree of all the Kenya hockey teams was almost at its best and Egbert thrived in this exalted company.
The Ngara mafia were indeed a very close-knit group and Hilary tells the story of Egbert picking him up every morning on pedal bike. They happily went to school, Hilary operating the left pedal and Egbert the right. One foot up somewhere on the bike, they had not a care in the world.
Who could have imagined in those early days that this scrawny kid would be the only Kenyan to be nominated for an Olympic World XI (nominated after the Olympics). Of everything Egbert, one memory stood out for all time. Edgar explains: “His greatest memory of the best game we ever played was when we beat India (then the masters of the game)in 1964 in two tests, lost two and drew one on their home soil But at Jubbulpore we beat them 3-0, Egbert scoring two and me one, as I played at inside right alongside him that year.” RIP hero, mate.
Cyprian Fernandes is a Kenyan-born journalist, among the first employed by the Nation Media Group. He left as Chief Reporter and now lives in Sydney, Australia.