Emotional farewell for football great Syd Bartlett

By HG Helps Editor-at-Large

Sunday, January 03, 2010

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FORMER Jamaica football star Sydney "Syd" Bartlett was showered with accolades by his family, colleagues, and friends at his funeral service held last Tuesday at the Immaculate Conception church, Gun Hill Road, Bronx, New York.

Bartlett, who died last December 19 in the Intensive Care Unit of a New York hospital, following kidney failure, represented top Jamaican club YMCA and Jamaica during the 1950s and 1960s.

"We had all loved and cherished him and we felt proud that he had become such an outstanding footballer, while keeping his humility," said Professor Basil "Bagga" Wilson, retired Provost of John J College of Criminal Justice during his tribute on a blistering cold and windy morning.

"He was the quintessential footballer, one of the great players in Jamaica's football history," Professor Wilson said.

The low turnout of 62 mourners at the Catholic service was not treated to a remembrance or eulogy, based upon Catholic tradition, but the gathering, made up largely of former footballers, recognised the man many called "The Worm", based upon his incisive dribbling skills, in emotional tributes afterwards.

"It would have been extremely unsatisfying if we had not spoken about the contribution that he made to football," said Professor Wilson, a former Kingston College Manning Cup forward from 1959 to 1961.

Syd's brother, Michael Bartlett spoke of the long and warm relationship that he shared with his older brother, while Hector Henry, who captained YMCA in 1956 when Bartlett played his first senior league match, said that the fallen star "Made a significant difference to the fortunes of the YMCA".

Former Jamaica player and coach Errol "Spurs" Chen-Sang also lauded Bartlett, calling him "my hero for the longest while".

"This man dribbled the ball like it was stuck to his instep," said Chen-Sang, who played for Jamaica in 1963 while still a juvenile.

"Syddie suffered psychologically because of how his career ended in the professional world. He was a very humble person, full of joy and laughter, and was never cocky about his fame and talent," Chen-Sang said.

Also speaking was Brandis Johnstone, who captained Kensington in Senior Cup cricket when Bartlett made the team as a wicketkeeper/batsman. The team won the Matcham Cup competition in the 1950s.

Two of Bartlett's five children, sons Craig and Paul were also in attendance.

Among the other notable persons attending were former Jamaica player Leonard "Chicken" Mason, who scored for Jamaica in the island's first victory (1-0) over Mexico in 1972 at the National Stadium.

"Not only did Syddie body shift many defences, but even people in the grandstand at the stadium and Sabina Park moved wrong when Syddie rocked his body," Mason said.

Former national player Paul Thomas, as well as Neville "Nefta" Bell, Neville Thompson, formerly of Vere Technical High School, and Winston Earl, Godfrey Blair and Courtney Carney, of Excelsior High School fame also showed their respect.

Regarded by many as the finest footballer to be produced by Jamaica, Bartlett, 70, was buried in New Jersey.

With his unique style of dribbling, characterised by his two index fingers in the air as he skilfully slid past opposing defenders, Bartlett was a member of the Caribbean All Stars team that toured England in 1958.

He played on Jamaica's first World Cup squad in 1965 and starred in a bruising 2-3 loss to Mexico at the National Stadium.

Bartlett was instrumental in both of Jamaica's goals and had his shorts ripped almost to shreds by defenders intent on keeping him away from goal.

He was a member of the feared YMCA five-man frontline of the 1950s and '60s that also included fellow Jamaican star Lascelles 'Dallas' Dunkley, Peter Lewin, Elvin Schloss and George Davidson, with midfield support from national representative Henry Largie, Hopeton Kenton, and Milton Taylor, among others.

A past student of Gaynstead High School in St Andrew, Bartlett lived in the United States since the 1960s when he went there to play professionally for the New York Generals, one of the first Jamaicans to do so. He also represented Jamaica Bays, a Diaspora team comprising several Jamaica players including Ruddy Pearce, Lloyd Walker, Donald 'Billy' Perkins, Paul Thomas, among others.

The Syd Bartlett League, a third division football league played among teams in the Corporate Area, is named after the East Kingston-born Bartlett.

A memorial service is due to be held in Jamaica in March of this year.

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