Winston 'Chungie' Chung — no one comes close to this giant


Sunday, November 11, 2018

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There will never ever be another Winston Chung.

The former football coach, singer, dancer, comedian, domino player, show promoter, chef, and countless other things left the stage of life last Thursday, three weeks before he would have celebrated his 78th birthday on December 3.

But his departure, following weeks of an unexpected stay in the Intensive care unit of a Miami hospital, has left indelible marks on the thousands of people whose lives he touched over the 60 years that he has been able to make conscious, adult decisions that resulted in positives for most.

His wife Barbara and daughters Sharon, April, Michelle and Tisha will be comforted by the fact that Chungie was the most selfless individual that ever lived. He spent his life looking after others and only started to pay attention to himself in the last few years of his life, and even then he was still deeply concerned about the rest of the human race.

If he had two regrets, the man who erased the extended name 'Fah' from his passport, they would have been his inability to release his book A History of Jamaica's Football which he had done so much research on; as well as the establishment of a football academy, originally scheduled for sugar lands at Bernard Lodge in St Catherine, for which he could not get the required funding.

He never wanted to be rich, though he secured wealth for so many.

Ours was a deep personal relationship that lasted for 33 years. It didn't start well. Chungie, Nava, or simply coach as many call him, was highly critical of articles on Jamaica's football that I was writing in The Gleaner at the time and wanted to have a colourful chat with me. The linkman for the proposed talks was journalist Eric “Macko” McNish (now deceased), who arranged the get-together, wherein both parties had their say in heated, yet highly respected surroundings. That started the three-decade friendship that could never have been closer.

Chungie, a godfather of my son, served as the expert consultant on just about any subject. If a woman talked too much 'negatives' she wasn't for me; if a man begged you something every time he saw me, he could not be my friend; if you did not speak favourably about God then it was time to walk on the other side of the road.

A man from Clarendon and Rae Town in central Kingston, Chungie rose through poverty, had his share of bad boy brushes, in a boyhood that saw him sharing time in his mother's place of birth, Victoria in Clarendon to his father's Kingston.

No one knew the streets like he did. And during those rough years of his upbringing he would always look out for the downtrodden and underprivileged — leading him, along with former auditor general of Jamaica and Kingston College Manning Cup and cricket star Adrian Strachan to form the club Doncaster Rovers on the fringe of Rae Town in 1962, following a stint as a goalkeeper; and later the famed Santos Football Club in 1964. Along with the formation of Santos was his establishment of a literacy programme for inner-city youth that many of them benefited from, though others chose not to, much to his chagrin.

The popular International Restaurant along Barry Street, downtown Kingston which he ran, brought out the rich, the poor, the elite, the unknown and even the undesirables, all mingling under one roof out of respect for the great man.

Aside from his culinary skills, Chungie was a renowned eater — a finer consumer of food of all kinds you could not find. Armed usually with the hottest peppers that could be found, Chungie would make meals disappear as fast as one could image. The quantity would sometimes send a signal to some of Jamaica's great consumers — Bottling Johnny and Father Forsythe — who competed for Jamaica's top eater title.

I remember clearly going to the Norman Manley International Airport to pick him up from a trip to the Cayman Islands, meeting up with former footballer Allie McNab at the airport, and we agreed to stop at a fish joint near the Harbour View roundabout run by a Mr Pickersgill then, to have steam fish.

In about 20 minutes, out came three of the largest fishes that I had ever seen. Not even the plates could hold them. Chungie quickly knocked his off — the largest — in a fraction over five minutes. In a monumental struggle for McNab and me, we both managed to finish a half of ours. In a flash, Chungie pounced on the fishes, put them away, bones and all, and the plates did not even need to be washed.

He also remains the only man that I have seen knock off a jerked pig weighing 28 pounds, which I had taken up to him at his request, while he worked in Grand Cayman as that country's national coach and then coach of Scholars Football Club. This happened in a small matter of two days.

His battle with diabetes, high blood pressure, and in later years, kidney and heart disease, did not prevent him from doing the things that he enjoyed and going to places that he knew that his presence would redound to the benefit of others.

One of his favourite pastimes was to eat mangoes, though his diabetes was not in agreement with that habit.

The great conversationalist that he was, hardly anyone could match his lyrical presentations, something which lyricists, although attorney-at-law Churchill Neita and former Prime Minister Michael Manley would agree to.

He, as technical director of Jamaica's football programme, insisted that Jamaica could not only qualify for the World Cup Finals, but could win the Cup. The many arguments by naysayers to the contrary could not sway his opinion. That Jamaica qualified for the World Cup Finals in 1998 merely opened the gate for a mumbling of the words 'I told you so', ably spelt out by Chungie.

And even when Jamaica's football was taking off in the 1990s, Chungie had to be fighting the Jamaica Football Federation for millions of dollars owed to him in salary payments, to be handed over. He had, at times, worked for several months without getting a cent. Yet, he continued, despite his old, rickety Mercedes Benz running out of gas so many times on the journey from Enfield, Gordon Town in St Andrew East Rural to all over Kingston and its environs, doing 'voluntary' football work and paving the way for some of the island's professionals to get their big break.

Apart from his exploits and achievements with Santos, a club that saw players like Corsel Blair, Gutto Thompson, Patrick Chin, Peter Marston, Kenneth “Bop” Campbell and the greatest of them all — Allan “Skill” Cole rise like knights in shining armour, the legend also put together one of the best oiled engines in schoolboy during the late 1970s — the Clarendon College daCosta Cup side that conquered all in 1977.

The names of Dennis Hutchinson, Lennie Hyde, Winston Mamby, Carlton Briscoe, Wayne Whonder, and others push the opposition into submission long before the referee blew the opening whistle.

Chungie had the capacity to have his audience spellbound… leaving many in a trance. Having a one-on-one with Chungie had its dangers. Many a discussion lasted hours without one even realising where the time went. Tommy Cowan will remind us of the time he went to a restaurant in Stony Hill square, St Andrew to buy food for his first wife around 4:00 o'clock one Sunday afternoon, and walked in at the same time that Chungie was leaving the establishment. They started talking. They stopped talking at 5:30 the next morning, and Chungie had to follow him home to explain the impossible to his wife, that he had not been out with another woman but had got caught up in the most fascinating discussion of his time.

His game was more like selling curry to native Indians. He had it 'pat'. His sojourn in insurance sales which saw him leaping to the top of the industry is still preserved as evidence.

He loved the People's National Party (PNP) and revered one of its founders — Norman Washington Manley — often mimicking him in some of his telling speeches. That love for the PNP waned in recent years though, with what he described as the party's steady decline in basic values.

He will go down in my history book as the kindest, most caring individual that I have ever met — one who could bring out the best in anyone, no matter if he is having a lousy day.

Such individuals come along once every century. I hope that this world will see another in a much shorter period of time.

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