‘Grovy’ number: Iconic SSFL coach on Dwarika, ‘Saints’ rivalry, coaching and a life-changing tackle

After calling a day on his 35-plus year coaching career in the Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) last week, former Queen’s Royal College coach Nigel ‘Grovy’ Grosvenor took some time away from playing with his granddaughter to talk to Wired868 about his health, his storied career with St Anthony’s College, his ability to win hearts and trophies without ever doing a coaching course and the tackle that altered his life.

Photo: Queen’s Royal College (QRC) head coach Nigel Grosvenor gestures to his players during a SSFL contest against Carapichaima East Secondary on 30 September 2017.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Wired868: Why now? Why are you walking away from the game at this time?

Grosvenor: I was in West Shore Medical for two days last week. I was getting a lot of pain in my upper back and I thought it was a muscle pain, so I took muscle relaxers and all of these things. My daughter said that I should go to the hospital. Every time I sat down the pain was unbearable, so I jumped in the car and went to West Shore Medical.

I honestly thought it was a heart attack. My pressure was so high that the doctors said I could’ve gotten a stroke. I did an ECG, a chest X-ray and I also did blood tests. While lying down there in the hospital bed, they checked my heart, and everything was good. I asked myself what was happening here. And I said, ‘Aye, Nigel Grosvenor, you need a rest. You really need to take a rest.’

I’m not getting any younger. I said that was it. It’s a hard thing to do, saying you’re going to stop doing what you love doing. But I felt like I had little choice. Up to now, I’m still getting pain in my back. The pressure has gone down but not as low as it should be. I’ve spent about $3,000 on tablets since last week.

Wired868: How many years did you spend at St Anthony’s College?

Grosvenor: I spent 33 to 34 years at St Anthony’s.

Photo: St Anthony’s College playmaker Matthew Woo Ling (centre) looks for space between San Juan North players Hakeem Wilson (right) and Josiah Trimmingham (partially hidden) during 2014 SSFL Big Four action.
Looking on is St Anthony’s College midfielder Jules Lee (far left).
(Copyright Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Wired868: You had quite the career at St Anthony’s. How was the experience there?

Grosvenor: That’s a whole lot of time to spend at one institution, but I’m not regretting anything at all, at all with my coaching career. I just loved it. I instilled a discipline at St Anthony’s College.

I came to school like any other teacher for eight o’clock in the morning. When school was over, the work wasn’t finished for me as that would be the start of training. So I would reach home like half-past six or seven in the evening. That was going on and on for years. When I was coaching, I gave it my all.

I always tell people that God gave me that coaching talent. I never did a coaching course in my life. It was a gift from God. Let me tell you how I got into coaching. I went to Trinity College Moka and I got a scholarship to go West Virginia University and play football. I came back home and played for a team called Essex FC. I was pretty good.

And in 1984, I got one nasty tackle, which basically changed my life plans. And you see how I’m limping right now? That’s because of that tackle I got years ago in 1984, which mashed me up. That stopped me from playing.

When I got that tackle and laid down in the hospital and cried. I asked myself why God did that to me. I asked what I had done. You know you ask yourself those questions.

Photo: St Anthony’s College striker Kwesi Allen (right) tries to evade a tackle from Trinity College East defender Josh Romain.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/Wired868)

I was pretty young in the football still. When I was in the hospital bed, I found out that the national coach had liked me and wanted me to start training with the national team. I found out that just as I was waiting to go into my operation. I cried. Then I realised that this is what was supposed to happen to me. I never regretted it.

I realised it at St Anthony’s when we were winning trophies, why I broke my leg that day. If I didn’t break my leg at that time, I wouldn’t have concentrated on coaching. And I realised that God was sending me in another direction.

I used it to show people that I had a degree, and when I got injured in football, I was able to use my education to fall back on. I encourage the boys to get their education first. I say, ‘Look at me.’

Wired868: Did you assume the first coaching role at St Anthony’s straightaway?

Grosvenor: When I started at St Anthony’s, I started with the junior teams first. When I came to St Anthony’s nothing was going on. They were getting licks badly. I came into St Anthony’s in 1983 as a physical education teacher and eventually got into the coaching because they had nobody. I got injured in 1984 and then I started to get into the coaching aspect and got more interested in coaching.

Photo: St Anthony’s College defender Brent Joel (left) tussles with Shiva Boys HC attacker Quinn Rodney during SSFL action in Westmoorings on 17 October 2015.
(Copyright Kerlon Orr/Wired868)

Wired868: When did you win your first national title with St Anthony’s?

Grosvenor: We got our first national title in 1997. We were winning a lot of Under-14s and Under-16s. The team was coming up and things were working well and there was no turning back after that.

Wired868: How many titles did you win at St Anthony’s?

Grosvenor: I won five National Intercol and two National League titles. St Anthony’s have won six National Intercol titles in all, and three National League.

I had the support of my wife and my children. I also had the support of the fans and staff because I was a teacher as well.

Wired868: How many seasons did you spend at QRC? And how would you sum up the time there?

Grosvenor: I spent three seasons at QRC. With QRC, it was a new experience. I thought I was successful with what I wanted to do at QRC. When I came, there was no succession of players going up. They didn’t have a youth programme that would see the boys reach up to the Premier Division and continue on. And I came in and tried to implement that. And look what happened this year?

These boys should be here for the next two to three years. I was very pleased with my experience at QRC.

Photo: QRC attacker Nathaniel James celebrates his strike against St Augustine Secondary during SSFL action in St Clair on 18 September 2019.
(Copyright Nicholas Bhajan/CA-Images/Wired868)

Wired868: When you left for QRC three years ago, were you still teaching?

Grosvenor: Yes. I was still teaching at St Anthony’s. It was my last year as I had to retire after reaching age 60. St Anthony’s got somebody, but I wasn’t ready to give up on my coaching career. I called QRC because I heard they were looking for a coach. They were interviewing and they took me in one time.

I had a nice three years with them. This team this year was a nice, young team. I was really trying to avoid relegation this year because I knew that I had them for the next two years. I really went in there to develop them. It was pretty good you know. We came eighth and there were some games we should’ve won. This would’ve put us in fourth or fifth place.

Wired868: What is your most cherished moment as a coach?

Grosvenor: I have cherished moments all the time. But obviously it would be my first national title, which I won in 1997 when we won the National Intercol final. We were nowhere near the favourites. We placed very low in the league standings and it was amazing to see the kinda crowd that turned up at the Queen’s Park Oval to see that final against St Benedict’s College.

Photo: St Anthony’s College students get behind their team during the 2015 North Zone Intercol final against St Mary’s College at the Hasely Crawford Stadium.
(Courtesy Nicholas Bhajan/Wired868)

There were 15 to 20,000 people in that Oval. It was packed. We came like the sweethearts in the SSFL’s Intercol competition at that time. Here we were playing against the mighty St Benedict’s, and everybody just came out. It was pandemonium after the game. I had very good years after that.

In 2011, we didn’t lose a single game. We won everything. We played 19 games and won all 19. And that was a good team too. But in 1997, when we won our first Intercol title, it was heaven.

Wired868: Who were some of the players on that team in 1997?

Grosvenor: Carlos Edwards was a member of that team. We also had Sean Cooper. That’s when Carlos made his name—and Shawn also. We also had Marcus Rodriguez.

It was nice knowing that most of these guys went on to get scholarships and so on. A lot of them have their degrees now. Well, we know that Carlos went pro and made a good career for himself in the English Premier League. But that team was very nice.

Photo: Sunderland and Trinidad and Tobago flanker Carlos Edwards (right) chases Chelsea and England left back Ashley Cole during a Premier League match at The Stadium Of Light, Sunderland on 15 March 2008.
(Copyright AFP 2017/Andrew Yates)

Wired868: On the flip side, what was the least favourite moment in your coaching career?

Grosvenor: Looking back, I’d say the moment that left a bitter taste in my mouth was the death of one of my players, Martin Anatol. He was a former captain also. He was on a scholarship in England and he died from drowning.

That one really hit me. The death of former national team goalkeeper Michael McComie also hit me hard. But Anatol died shortly after featuring in my team and skippering that team. It really threw me off. I’m talking to you right now and I’m seeing Martin’s face in front of me… He was disciplined; a very good player.

Wired868: From all the players you have coached over the years, which player would you say stood out the most?

Grosvenor: Brother, and I’m being very honest with you, people have always asked me this question and I’ve never answered. Because when I call one name somebody would say, ‘so what about so and so?’

In my time at St Anthony’s College, we have had so many outstanding players. There’s no way on this earth I’d be able to single out one. I wouldn’t even give out examples. But we’ve had so many outstanding players that to call out one would be madness. And that’s the honest truth.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago winger and ex-St Anthony’s College standout Evans Wise (left) takes on FC St Pauli players Jetonj Arifi (centre) and Benjamin Adrion during a friendly at Millerntor Stadium, Hamburg on 5 June 2006.
The outing was Trinidad and Tobago’s last outing before the Germany 2006 World Cup.
(Copyright AP Photo/Kai-Uwe Knoth)

Wired868: What is your coaching philosophy?

Grosvenor: When I finish coach, I want my players to be able to look forward to the next day of coaching; that’s important. They must enjoy it. As soon as a session is finished and these players come off the field, we are talking and liming. I will stay with them and we will be talking about life and everything else.

When they go on the field, they understand that this is work. But off the field, they must be able to feel comfortable and build a genuine relationship.

The thing is, coaches would read a book and go through many different courses and not know how to deal with the kids. It’s more than just putting cones on the field. It’s about personality. You must have the personality to coach. You can get an ‘A’ in your coaching course, but if the players aren’t comfortable with you, then that would’ve been a waste of time.

I think my personality helped me a lot in my coaching career. I’m not boasting eh. People told me that. When I go out there, I coach from the heart. I use my experience as a player and a teacher, and I put those two together. You must remain humble and ask a lot of questions. When I played, I looked to see what other coaches did and that’s how it is. I never did a coaching course.

Photo: St Anthony’s College winger Kathon St Hillaire (left) crosses beyond St Mary’s College defender Jerome Dempster-Babb during the 2015 North Zone Intercol final at the Hasely Crawford Stadium.
(Courtesy Nicholas Bhajan/Wired868)

Wired868: Who was the toughest coach you went up against?

Grosvenor: The toughest coaches would’ve had some really good players eh [chuckles]. But the coaches I really looked up to and learned from would’ve been Hayden Martin, who was at St Mary’s College, Selris Figaro from Mucurapo, Ken Franco from Malick and Michael Grayson from St Augustine. These were some of the top coaches. These days we were playing in the zone so notice that there are quite a few north coaches there.

Wired868: What was something specific that you learned from these coaches that you perhaps then adapted to your own style?

Grosvenor: From Hayden, it was a lot of discipline. And that was something St Mary’s always had. How he carried himself and how the players carried themselves was admirable. When we went there, the players all had on the same outfits and they all looked in unison. I learned a lot of that from him. From Figaro, it was a lot of one-touch and two-touch football; a lot of skills football.

I got it into that with St Anthony’s. I let them know that we had to knock the ball around and be patient. The discipline kept us on top with all of that because the boys were enjoying it. When we combined that discipline with the style of play then it really put everything together for us.

Photo: Then Sport Minister Darryl Smith (centre) and SSFL president Anthony Creed (fourth from right) congratulate 2015 North Zone Intercol champs, St Anthony’s College.
(Courtesy Nicholas Bhajan/Wired868)

The major thing was the love I had for them and the love they gave to each other. It starts from on top. […] Off-the-ball work made us victorious. It’s not just about going on the field and putting down cones and yelling out tactics. That alone isn’t going to make you victorious. Getting that team together as one, that’s what St Anthony’s did.

Wired868: Who was the toughest opposing player for you to contain?

Grosvenor: The best player I faced in my coaching career in the SSFL was Arnold Dwarika. He was totally unbelievable. He was the most dangerous player I coached against.

Wired868: What made Dwarika so dangerous?

Grosvenor: The skill, the speed, the knowledge, the shot. He singlehandedly brought Malick to a level of prominence in his era. I’m not saying that there weren’t other good players, but he was unmarkable [sic].

I remember in a North Intercol final, I put a player on Dwarika called Maurice Loregnard, who was my skipper at the time. He held down Dwarika for long periods of that game until he came off the field with cramp in the 89th minute. To mark Dwarika was a chore and that little boy was so disciplined and stubborn that he put out everything, to the point where he cramped up and couldn’t go anymore. As he came off and another man came on, Dwarika scored the winning goal.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago attacker Arnold Dwarika celebrates after scoring the opening goal against Costa Rica during the CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinals in San Diego on 20 February 2000.
(Copyright AFP 2017/Mike Nelson)

Wired868: Was there any player who superseded your expectations with his progress during his career?

Grosvenor: There was a little boy by the name of Damien Westfield. There were two Westfield brothers who attended Malick and they were two of the best SSFL players at the time. After one particular season with St Anthony’s, we played in a Caribbean tournament and we played teams from Jamaica and other islands and we won.

And we could have chosen three outside players for the tournament. Two of those players were the Westfield brothers from Malick. At the end of the season, Damien approached me and said he wanted to come to St Anthony’s. At that time Malick were only on football. He was telling me about guys who didn’t go to class and this and that. And then I transferred him to St Anthony’s. But he was struggling with his studies, so I got lessons for him.

There was a time I went home by him for his birthday, and I took the team there. We bought some buckets of chicken and we went by him. It was just he and his brother living there by themselves. Both of them were students at the time. The mother went away to New York to work and she would send down money and other necessities for them. Two of them lived there by themselves and the house was dilapidated.

That kid got a scholarship to attend Young Harris College for two years. From there, he went to Creighton University to play football. Now, he has a doctorate. He is a lecturer in a university. This is the same little boy. He worked hard and persevered. Now I have to call him Dr Damien Westfield.

Photo: Former St Anthony’s College standout Dr Damien Westfield.

That’s one of the players whose growth was really touching. And they don’t ever forget you. They call and ask, ‘Grovy, how yuh going?’ That’s the whole love in it. With all the years we won and getting the trophies and the attention; that was nice. But when I hear what these boys have done with themselves, that’s my trophy. When you look at Brent Rahim and Evans Wise and these guys, who have gotten their degrees and are doing well for themselves; that’s my trophy.

People feel as though we don’t do anything constructive for the boys at St Anthony’s. They just win and they don’t care about football. But it wasn’t like that at all. We’ve had so many boys who got football scholarships and have done so well, but I wouldn’t put it in the press because it’s nothing to boast about. And they keep in contact with me. And that’s what I love.

Wired868: How would you compare the players back then to the players now, in terms of the mentality and the drive to succeed?

Grosvenor: It’s harder now. In those years it wasn’t about going down to Movie Towne or using PlayStation or whatever those new games are. It didn’t have those things. They didn’t even have cellular phones. Now, you have so much distractions. It’s a boat ride here and a boat ride there. As a coach, you are competing against so many things. In those days you had more time to concentrate on your schoolwork and football. Now it’s Instagram and Facebook.

Photo: San Juan North captain Renaldo Boyce (left) is on the lookout for some funny business during SSFL action against Malick at Bourg Mulatresse on 16 October 2019.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

Wired868: If you were to give the SSFL’s Premier Division format a grade, what grade would you give it at this time?

Grosvenor: I was the one who originally brought up this idea of having the Premier Division. I stood up and said we need to move on, and we need to make changes. We were very monotonous. I said we need to have a national league where all the top players are in that league and we’d call it the Premier Division. I stood up there and I told them that.

I think it has been a success. You have the best teams in the country playing against each other, and the standard is high. And it is getting better and better.

I’m the one who orchestrated, but obviously it’s better than playing in the zones. In the zones, you’d have one or two good teams, but you are going to have some poor teams too. You’re going to have teams collecting nine and 10, and it’s not working out.

But now in this Premier Division, you have to work hard, and the players are going to play better because the competition is tougher. It’s going to have the same distractions and so on, but the standard is higher. You are going to have problems in the Premier Division, but we’re going to work through them.

Photo: Naparima College midfielder Decklan Marcelle (left) tries to escape from a QRC opponent during SSFL action at St Mary’s College grounds, St Clair.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

Look at the number of sponsors that the SSFL has. The sponsors are seeing a good project and they have jumped on it. If we were not successful, we would not have had all these sponsors. I don’t think the Super League and the Pro League have all the sponsors like the SSFL has. Therefore, it has been successful.

People will say all kinda things, but we have SportsMax, Shell, Digicel, First Citizens, Coca-Cola and Fruta. What else can you ask for? They are investing because they are seeing something going on.

Wired868: Do you regret not winning any National titles during the Premier Division era?

Grosvenor: It would have been nice, yeah. But I’d tell you something. When I left St Anthony’s in 2016, I’m pretty sure that we would have won that year. I built up that team and I was ready to win it that year. And I told the principal, Mr Maurice Inniss, that. I had retired from teaching, but I could’ve continued coaching. That team came up and it was a good team. The principal decided that he wanted to make changes and he had plans, so I had to leave.

That’s how I went to QRC and they were looking to rebuild. I didn’t leave St Anthony’s. I was told that they have plans and I wasn’t part of the plans. I would never do something like that.

Photo: Then St Anthony’s College coach Nigel Grosvenor (right) looks on from the bench during their 2014 Big Four fixture against Naparima College at the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium, Marabella.
Grosvenor will lead QRC into battle for the 2017 SSFL season.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Before making our name in football, nobody never really heard about St Anthony’s College. Because of the football they got added recognition. And when they got that recognition, the school grew, and I was a part of that.

Because of football we got sixth form. When our players reached to fifth form they were leaving for other schools. I told the principal that we needed a sixth form in order to keep the players because they were getting good grades as well, and that happened. I would have loved to end off by winning the Premier Division trophy.

In 2015, we lost to Naparima in the National Intercol final, and I would have had the same team for the next year. It was a teething process, and I felt as though that team had reached the point where they were ready to win something. There were good players on that team, and I was looking forward to coaching them because I know we would have won.

Wired868: Tell us about your time coaching at the national youth level.

Grosvenor: I coached the National Under-17 team in 2004, and it was very nice.

We went to Cuba, but I was very inexperienced in this thing. We had nowhere to stay as the rooms weren’t ready yet and the game was the next day. When we left to go for the game, we left the same time as the Cuban team and we reached about half an hour before the game.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Khaleem Hyland (left) rolls the ball through the legs of United Staes captain Michael Bradley during 2018 World Cup qualifying action at the Hasely Crawford Stadium.
Hyland was a graduate from Nigel Grosvenor’s 2004 National U-17 Team.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

The driver took us all through traffic and stalled us. In those days we were naive to it, but now coaches know what to expect. When we got to the venue, the Cubans were there long time. They ended beating us 2-1 or something like that.

That is what happens when you play matches away from home. The opponent does everything to try and sway the game in their favour. But yeah it was a nice experience.

On the downside, we weren’t given anything when it came to preparation. I had to organise training jerseys for them through sponsors from St Anthony’s. I organised food for them. One of my assistant coaches was in the Army, and he organised for us to train at a ground in Teteron barracks.

That’s what was happening with that national team. But I won’t complain because I knew the circumstances and I took the job. I could have said no, I don’t want the job. It was a nice experience with a nice bunch of guys.

If you ask me to do it again, then the answer would be no.

Wired868: Why would you have said no?

Grosvenor: You get nothing. You don’t get to travel with the team to play matches abroad. You have to fight for this and fight for that. In those days I’m talking about. […] I used to get a $1,000 a month for coaching the national team.

Photo: A Trinidad and Tobago fan supports the national team at the Germany 2006 World Cup.
(Copyright AFP 2014/Lluis Gene)

Wired868: Any closing words?

Grosvenor: I’m 62. You might say that’s young eh. But it’s what you do and what you put out. In all my years of coaching, I put out 100%. Also, I was a dean and a teacher so that wasn’t easy at all. I’m no longer a teacher and I’m not coaching anymore, so now friend, I’m going to spend time playing with my granddaughter and take in SSFL games; she’s one and a half. She says, ‘Papa Papa.’ And I just love that.

I will be on the bench, but a different bench, so I’m looking forward to that. I put out all when I coach—all my energy. The night before a game, you can’t sleep and it’s the same the night after the game, even if you win or lose. I have been doing that for 30-plus years, so next season, please God, I’ll have my fold-up chair in the trunk and whatever the game of the day is, I’ll be there. I’ll go with my chair and just sit back and watch football.

Somebody told me I should write a book, but I would not even know where to start.

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About Roneil Walcott

Roneil Walcott is an avid sports fan and freelance reporter with a BA in Mass Communication from COSTAATT. Roneil is a former Harvard and St Mary's College cricketer who once had lofty aspirations of bringing joy to sport fans with the West Indies team. Now, his mission is to keep them on the edge of their seats with sharp commentary from off the playing field.

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One comment

  1. The Man that changed many lives!
    I salute you Grovy.

    Thanks for your time

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