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‘Fly with the angels, Grovy!’ A footballing tribute to iconic SSFL coach Nigel Grosvenor

Trinidad and Tobago lost a giant of its youth football arena today, at roughly 3am.

Former St Anthony’s College and Queen’s Royal College (QRC) football coach Nigel ‘Grovy’ Grosvenor passed away at the Couva Hospital this morning, more than a month after he was admitted there—following a positive test for the novel coronavirus.

Photo: Former St Anthony’s College coach Nigel Grosvenor (right) passed away today after testing positive for Covid-19 on 22 August.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

He is the second most successful coach in the history of the Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) with 12 national titles, just two shy of the 14 amassed by legendary Signal Hill Secondary coach Bertille St Clair.

‘Grovy’, who was also the chairman of the SSFL’s North Zone at the time of his passing, is remembered for far more than trophies though. He produced attractive, crowd-pleasing teams and players to match, with the likes of Carlos Edwards, Evans Wise, Kenwyne Jones, Jan-Michael Williams, Julius James and his son, Qian Grosvenor, who went from ‘Westmoorings Tigers’ colours to become World Cup players at national youth or senior team level.

Wired868 asked those who knew him to share some words:

Julius James (former St Anthony’s College defender and 2001 Under-17 World Cup player)

‘Grovy’ was not just a coach, he was like a big brother to all of us. His laugh was infectious, you could hear it from down the hall at school. His voice was powerful, you could hear it from across the field. But his heart, for us, was his most incredible feature.

Almost every break I had at school, I would be in his office laughing and talking with the boys and him. Grovy created a safe space for us to be ourselves. 

Photo: Then Central FC defender Julius James (right) looks for passing options during Pro League action against Defence Force at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva on 24 January 2017.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

We all had our personal issues but when we came to school to that safe space he created, all our issues went away momentarily with a laugh or conversation. Now that I am a coach, I pray that I could emulate this, and I pray that I have a similar relationship with my students.

I’m going to miss Grovy a lot. My condolences to his family. This is so sad for the football community. He affected the lives of sooo many of us.

He was always one of the boys. He always wanted togetherness, and peace, and laughter, and joy.

Grovy was one of the most influential men in my life. He was a calm and shining light for me. I was a St James Secondary student and I needed to play at a higher level. Other schools like QRC and CIC turned me down, but he gave this Maloney ‘ghetto youth’ a chance.

I hope that my life will show how much I made of that and how great he was for me in those formative years of my footballing career.

Only incredible memories I have of Grovy!

Photo: Former St Anthony’s College and QRC coach Nigel Grosvenor.

Merere Gonzales (SSFL East Zone chairman and 1998 World Cup assistant referee)

‘Okay cool… No problem, chief… Right away…”

These were words frequently uttered to me when I interacted with Grovy while acting in the role of match referee or match commissioner in the SSFL. He was very vociferous and outspoken but definitely respectful, both on or off the field of play.

He would usually provide constructive, uplifting and meaningful contributions in meetings, and would always be willing to withdraw his point if he encountered a better one. Both of us, as leaders  in our respective zones, shared many ideas (as recent as three months ago) as to how we can build and advance the SSFL so that the student-athletes could be the greatest beneficiaries of our efforts.

I, the SSFL, and Trinidad and Tobago have lost a true friend and a fantastic contributor to football.

Shawn Cooper (Presentation College, San F’do head coach and former national youth coach)

We were close. He was respected by all his peers. Grovy has helped shape and impacted on the lives of so many young men that it’s unbelievable.

Photo: Presentation College (San F’do) coach Shawn Cooper (left) and school principal Dexter Mitchell hold the National Intercol trophy after their 2-1 win over San Juan North at the Ato Boldon Stadium on 4 December 2019.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

I think his real strength was in man or player management. He would get the best out of you. Nigel ticked all the boxes as far as the true meaning of coach goes. He was a real father figure and a very unique individual who will surely be missed by all. RIP my brother.

Kerry Lynch (Speyside High coach)

The Tobago zone SSFL also mourns for Grovy. He brought his teams up for summer pre-season camps and he always called us during the season. Man, he called me before and after every game during the season.

When the SSFL Premier Division started, he told us in the Tobago Zone that we must always have a school represented at that level, so make sure and prepare. Whenever you called, he was always prepared to give you tips on teams—hell even his own team. Lol. He really wanted Tobago to be always represented.

What a gentleman.

Photo: Nigel Grosvenor was the second most successful coach in the history of the SSFL.

Anton Corneal (Former 2007 and 2009 World Youth Team coach and ex-TTFA technical director)

Nigel has been an integral part of the development of football over the last 20 years.He did not only develop players,  he developed well-rounded people in our nation. An outstanding citizen and friend, gone much too soon.

May he rest in peace.

Shaka Hislop (former 2006 World Cup player and Premier League goalkeeper)

I lost a friend this morning—someone I’ve known since my early teens, someone I’ve been fortunate enough to share many beers and endless laughs with. Trinidad and Tobago has lost one of its great citizens, the game of football one of its truest servants.

Rest In Power, Grovy. Rest knowing of the lives you have changed. Rest knowing you have made this world a better place. Rest knowing your work goes on. Rest. 🙏🏾😢

Photo: SSFL ambassador and 2006 World Cup hero Shaka Hislop embraces San Juan North goalkeeper Emmanuel John after the National Intercol final at the Ato Boldon Stadium on 4 December 2019.
Presentation (San F’do) edged San Juan 2-1.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

Phillip Fraser (SSFL president and former San Juan North acting principal)

On behalf of the executive of the Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) and all its members and of course the football community of Trinidad and Tobago, we extend deepest condolences to Mr Grosvenor’s entire family.

I got really emotional this morning because I had an opportunity to meet with Grosvenor on 11 August, and he said he was not coming because he felt he was coming down with something and he didn’t want to jeopardise anybody. (It was another 11 days before he discovered he was Covid-19 positive.)

Mr Grosvenor has made a tremendous contribution to the Secondary Schools Football League over the years.

This was a man who really made a contribution to Trinidad and Tobago football. I also had the honour of working with him at Youth Pro League level where he coached the San Juan Jabloteh Under-16 and Under-17 Team, between 2005 and 2007.

Photo: Westside Superstarz attacker Qian Grosvenor (right) troubles the 1976 FC Phoenix defence during 2013 TTSL action.
Qian is the son of iconic late SSFL coach Nigel Grosvenor.
(Courtesy Wired868)

He was part of building a group of talented players like his son Qian [Grosvenor], Kevin Molino, Elton John, Lester Peltier, Dwane James and Elijah Manners.

In school’s football, we were fearful of him because of his ability to identify players and give them an opportunity to build on their own talents; and I had a first hand opportunity to view him at work.

We have lost a great son of the soil and secondary schools is severely weakened by his departure.

Hannibal Najjar (former national senior and youth team coach)

Much is said of Grovy and all to raise him up. But he must be remembered for a few other things. Nigel and I were friends, teammates with Essex (many do not refer to his playing abilities but he was quite a strike partner), and coaching colleagues at National Under-16 Team level as an assistant coach with me in the mid-eighties.

At the time, our national youth teams had the likes of Craig Demmin, Sheldon Bennett, Dwight Yorke, Nigel Neverson, Michael McComie, Kona Hislop, Sean Boney and a string-band of talented and lovely young men.

He was a special person to me—humble, forgiving, easy to please, accepting, not greedy. When he was hurt, he mostly kept it inside, and he was more shy when praised. He would deflect honours, even though his teardrops would show his gratitude and appreciation.

Photo: A teenaged Dwight Yorke (right) poses with national teammate Colvin Hutchinson and late Aston Villa manager Graham Taylor.

He was the embodiment of how to possess and demonstrate the right kind of pride. He never sought fame, fame found him. I use my God-sent creation of an inspiration phrase to describe what a true champion is, and Nigel, Grovy, and as he would often use, ‘buddie’.

It reads: a True Champion is… one who gets up when lame, one who shares the fame and, one who always takes the blame. I have gotten to know Qian and Qia, his son and daughter, and the pleasure and joy it gives me to tell them that I am their uncle (as we would use in our close friendship circles) is immense.

I worked with Nigel’s father at the Agricultural Development Bank before his untimely passing as a ‘young man’ while in one of his early morning exercises.

Miguel Mitchell (former St Anthony’s College stand-out forward)

I watched a video this morning that one of my teammates put up showing Grovy being interviewed. It showed how many titles he won with all the trophies in the background.

The first thing that came to my mind was that memory of sitting in front of the Form 3-3 classroom opening up some plastic bags with football uniforms and watching our St Anthony’s colours. It was 1988 and we, St Anthony’s College, were about to make our debut in the North Zone top division; and he had the biggest smile on his face.

Photo: The St Anthony’s College mascot prays for divine intervention during SSFL action against St Mary’s College at Serpentine Road on 4 November 2017.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

Watching that video just reinforced how proud I am to be a ‘Tiger’. If anyone gets to see that video, he explained who he is, and how he dealt with people—and that was Grovy’s magic!

He touched a lot of people in a profound and positive way and made us all a family of Tigers. My condolences go out to his wife Vanessa Grovesnor and his children. May God bless you!

Keith Look Loy (TTFA technical committee chairman and FC Santa Rosa president and head coach)

I first met Grovy in Washington DC in the 1970s. We were both at university. I was at Howard. He was elsewhere—I don’t remember where exactly. But he played for Tacoma Wolves and I for Virginia Kick in the National Soccer League.

We lost track of each other but both returned to Trinidad and the competition between us resumed in the 1990s Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL); he at St Anthony’s and I at Malick Senior Comprehensive. It was always win or die between us but it was also always very amicable.

Photo: Nigel Grosvenor (centre) poses with his former St Anthony’s College players.

I had tremendous respect for him—an intelligent, affable, humble man, and a disciplinarian. Most of all, he remained to the end interested in promoting the youth game and the young people who play it.

He will be missed by football and football people. And he will be remembered fondly. No doubt.

Anthony Creed (former SSFL president and Ministry of Sport director)

Nigel Grosvenor was a fellow teacher, physical educator, coach and friend. We shared time on physical education and coaching courses, at Secondary Schools Football meetings as well at family gatherings and limes.

At meetings, he was very frank and lived for young footballers. He always put them first. As coaches, there were many school battles on the football field in the junior divisions where he won a few and I won some. This relationship resulted in the upward pathway for some footballers like Carlos Edwards.

I remember one year his school’s Championship win was rewarded by the SSFL with a trip to Costa Rica for a junior St Anthony’s team, through a Coca Cola sponsorship.

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.
It was Grosvenor’s last SSFL trophy.
(Courtesy Nicholas Bhajan/Wired868)

I was never surprised when he served as a national youth coach. Both his wife and their families shared great times with my family. He will certainly be missed and definitely remembered for his gargantuan contribution to the youth, and as a family man.

Jerry Moe (San Juan North head coach)

Grovy gave a lot of opportunities to kids from deprived communities to attend one of the prestigious schools in Trinidad and Tobago. His coaching records speaks for itself. I think he would be missed—not just as a coach, but someone who had a lot of experience who a young coach could call on for advice.

Wayne Sheppard (National U-15 assistant coach and Arima North head coach)

When I became Fatima College’s head coach in 2017, Grovy was one of the first people to congratulate me on getting the position. He called to congratulate me at the end of that season too, which was a fairly successful one for Fatima.

Photo: Then Fatima College coach Wayne Sheppard (foreground) encourages his players during SSFL action against Presentation College at Mucurapo Road on 4 November 2017.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

But, more importantly, when things went horribly wrong in the 2018 season, he called me on more than one occasion to tell me that I should not doubt myself because he was seeing what I was doing.

That was a big endorsement from such a successful coach and he didn’t have to take the time of day to do that. His generosity and thoughtfulness in that moment said a lot about who Grovy was and why he is remembered so fondly by so many.

Evans Wise (former St Anthony’s College attacker and 2006 World Cup player)

Grovy will definitely be missed, hands down. There were not many people who had such a big impact on me, not only as a player but as a person. Grovy played a big role in my development in football from a young age and I know countless other players would say the same thing. I’m just sorry that I couldn’t see him before he passed.

Grovy’s strength, as a coach, was more as a motivator in my opinion. He would find players and build their confidence, until they felt they could achieve anything they wanted.

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.
Coach Nigel Grosvenor was edged out of national honours by Naparima College that season.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/Wired868)

At under-14 level, my St Anthony’s team won everything nationwide. Miguel Mitchell and myself were the two most prominent players and our team was not as strong as the likes of Mucurapo or Belmont at the time. But he gave us motivation.

I won’t say he was that tactical but when you are playing for Grovy you gave it your all. And also Grovy would let you play and express yourself. After working under so many top international coaches, I could say he wasn’t a Beenhakker tactically but his philosophy would still be able to give you Beenhakker results.

I heard a player say once how Grovy gave him so many laps to do, and I had to stop him and say that nobody ran more laps than me. I would always hold on to the ball too long. As soon as I touched the ball in training, I would start dribbling and sometimes he just wanted me to follow the instructions, so he would send me to run laps. I’d be running for the whole session and then he would say ‘okay, come in’.

As soon as I came in, I would dribble someone again and he would say: ‘Oh Godddddd…’ (Laughs). But then when the evening of the game came, he would say: ‘do you!’

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 warm up before the Germany 2006 World Cup.
(Copyright AP Photo/Kai-Uwe Knoth)

I know another dribbler named Barry Ross who played before me that said the same thing. Grovy would never hold back your talent and that helped me as an individual.

If you notice in Trinidad, we are not getting the players we used to because they are not getting to express themselves like they used to. It is a whole different breed of players now, who are more powerful and tactically better but we are losing the unorthodox creative players who are so valuable: like [Russell] Latapy, [Arnold] Dwarika and myself; and before then, guys like Shem Clauzel.

Maybe our talent players are switching to organised football too fast. I don’t know. But I know Grovy helped me to develop and keep my style. He didn’t suppress it. Many coaches tried to stifle me but he wasn’t one.

William Wallace (TTFA president and former SSFL president)

I would like to extend my sincere condolences to the Grovesnor family. Grovesnor has left an indelible mark on our football landscape as a player and coach at our schools and at the national level. His contribution to the SSFL has been without doubt a significant one. The SSFL family would truly miss him. RIP my friend.

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.
St Hillaire helped Grosvenor to his last zonal title.
(Courtesy Nicholas Bhajan/Wired868)

Stephen Hart (HFX Wanderers coach and former Soca Warriors coach)

I did not know him very well, but we had discussions. His contribution was immense—not simply titles won, but the impact he had on so many young men’s lives.

Those that went on to excel in the professional game, took on board the values instilled by Grovy. Both football and the country have lost a guardian.

Jan-Michael Williams (former St Anthony’s College star goalkeeper and 2001 World Youth Cup goalkeeper)

I think everybody knows the role that Nigel played in terms of changing the lives of so many young people in the country. I think his strength was not only getting the best out of you on the football field but getting the best out of you off the field, in terms of making you have bigger, brighter dreams and aspirations for your future.

That is something that is lacking in Trinidad and Tobago: dreams. A lot of the young people don’t have dreams; they don’t have goals and ambitions to be better and more focused, positive people in society.

Photo: Goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams helped Trinidad and Tobago to successive quarterfinal finishes at the 2013 and 2015 Gold Cup tournaments.
(Copyright AFP)

Nigel really helped to change the mindset of so many people and helped them have a better way of thinking that could lead them to better life paths. Not only guys like myself and Kenwyne [Jones] and Julius James or Yohance [Marshall].

There are a lot of other names I could call like Steve Sealy Jr, Troy Thompson, Christian Cabral… He made us all want to be better people in society. So for me, I don’t think Nigel is dead. I think he lives on inside all of us, whose lives he would have touched.

He will be remembered every time one of us looks back at where we started and considers how far we have gotten to now.

David Simon (Queen’s Royal College principal)

I knew him first as a worthy adversary. As coach of St Anthony’s College, he was shrewd, competitive, and loud. However, once the game ended, he was the first to head in your direction to give you a hug and kind words. Many discussions about football took place after fierce battles, between QRC and his team.

Three years ago, when given the opportunity to add him to the ‘Royalian’ fold, there was not one moment of doubt in my mind. There were some doubts in the Royalian community, but I knew many of them did not know the man.

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)

His tenure as head coach of QRC was brief, but he returned the fight, passion and attitude to our football. Our team started to reflect the dogged attitude and resilience, of the man at the helm. His three years will never be forgotten.

I am just happy that he was able to go right down to the end, doing what he loved. Despite deciding to not coach this year, he remained as a special consultant to our football community, and spent many days at the College, overseeing the game he loved and gave so much to.

From all of QRC, thank you Nigel Grovesnor. To his family, thank you for sharing him with us. We feel your pain, and we wish you strength to deal with this loss.

His memory will always live on. These words are reserved only for Royalians; however, to a football giant:

Magnum Est Nigel Grovesnor… Fly with the angels, coach. All of QRC mourns your passing.

Photo: Nigel Grosvenor and wife Vanessa enjoy a moment during Father’s Day celebrations outside Daybreak Cafe in Petit Valley in 1999.

Editor’s Note: Click HERE to read Nigel Grosvenor discuss his own career as a schools youth coach in an interview with Wired868’s Roneil Walcott.

About Lasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd
Lasana Liburd is the CEO and Editor at Wired868.com and a journalist with over 20 years experience at several Trinidad and Tobago and international publications including Play the Game, World Soccer, UK Guardian and the Trinidad Express.

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  1. Hannibal Najjar

    Much is said of Grovy and all to raise him up. But he must be remembered for a few other things. Nigel and I were friends, teammates with Essex (many do not refer to his playing abilities – he was quite a partner-striker) and coaching colleagues at U-16 National Team Level as an Assistant Coach with me in the mid-eighties with the likes of Craig Demmin, Sheldon Bennett, Dwight York, Nigel Neverson, Michael McComie, Kona Hislop, Sean Boneyand a stringband of talented and lovely young men and their families. He was a special person to me – humble, forgiving, easy to please, accepting, not greedy, when he was hurt he mostly kept it inside, and he was more shy when praised. He would deflect honors even though his teardrops would show his gratitude and appreciation. He was the embodiment of how to posses and demonstrate the right kind of pride. He never sought fame, fame found him . I use my God-sent creation of an inspiration phrase to describe what a True Champion is, and Nigel, Grovy, and as he would often use, Buddie – it reads…..A True Champion is… One who gets up when lame, One who shares the fame and, One who always takes the blame. I have gotten to know Qian and Qia, his son and daughter and the pleasure and joy it gives me to tell them that I am their Uncle (as we would use in our close friendship circles) is immense. I worked with Nigel’s father at the Agricultural Development Bank before his untimely passing as a “young man” while in one of his early morning exercises.