A search for that elusive purple ball
HOWEVER grudging the concession, a truism is that in schoolboy sports, Kingston College (KC) stimulates more than the obligatory or neutral comment. Plausible enough as the proud 'North Streeters' have an enviable record in major sporting disciplines and on occasions, have established the national benchmark at this level.
There's no sentimental middle ground when it comes to KC; you either love or hate them — the latter emotion, I suspect, provoked by the proverbial sour grapes of a distinctively purple hue, with the owners laden with trophies and the classic arrogance of champions.
In fact as another football season beckons, KC's accomplishments place them at the epicentre of a lively debate: Which is the greatest schoolboy team of all time? Unavoidably, their 1964 and 1965 teams rival Clarendon College's 1977 outfit for that honour.
But while its high standards and tradition have generally been maintained in athletics and cricket, KC has startlingly not darkened the winners' enclosure for football in almost three decades. It's a shame as in this protracted period, KC has deprived the Manning Cup of the magic and authenticity for which they and the competition are renowned.
Winners of the coveted Corporate Area Under-19 title on a laudable 14 occasions, KC deservedly earns the accolade of being a 'football school', alongside Jamaica College (JC), St George's College (STGC), Wolmer's Boys' and Excelsior. In fact, they are the third most successful school in the history of the competition — behind JC (24) and STGC (21).
Despite lying third on the overall list down the years, KC, which started much later, having only been founded in 1925, has no doubt been the outstanding team of the modern era. Placed into perspective, JC, STGC and Wolmer's ll began their campaign at the onset of the contest in 1909 and, therefore, had a head start on bragging rights.
Further, since their first title in 1949, KC has managed to notch incredibly unprecedented successes every decade thereafter — five in the 1950s, three in the 1960s, two in the 1970s and three in the 1980s — before the drought made its infamous visitation at North Street.
KC adds a special intrigue to the contests to the extent that the pride of the winners — whoever they may be — is raised a notch knowing they topped the very best that season. It follows that in order to maintain its image and standards, the league consistently needs competitive outfits like KC.
However, while the aforementioned schools have won the Manning Cup at least once in the 1990s and beyond, for whatever reasons, fallen giants KC have plunged into hard times and, like the West Indies teams of recent vintage, are now perpetually in rebuilding mode, it seems.
And yet, there is hope for KC, as Old Hope Road rivals JC will attest, having themselves been in the doldrums for 33 years. In fact, having won the Manning Cup in 1974 for their 22nd title, JC endured an interminable wait before again tasting success in 2007.
As is the case with most of the traditional schoolboy giants, I believe the radical shift in the educational landscape — with its proliferation of new schools, all of which are now eligible to compete — has affected KC. For an extended period, the upgraded secondary schools would have been the feeder schools in providing sporting talent.
One positive of this new scenario is that opportunities for schools and coaches to demonstrate organisational skills and willingness to hone their own talent now abound. It further creates a level playing field and heightened competitiveness.
Interestingly, three-time winners Camperdown are also floundering despite showing occasional spurts of promise. Perennially a classy, entertaining team, it has, over the years, warmed many hearts with individual and collective flair fashioned by stars like Thomas McLean and the late Errol Blake, Peter Cargill and Barrington Gaynor, and later perpetuated by the likes of Adonis Maxwell.
From the 1970s to the 1990s, Camperdown was often favoured but, like KC, has not won the title in decades, its last triumph coming exactly 30 years ago, in 1982.
One recalls that a KC-Camperdown clash was customarily a high-profile affair providing the very best football at this level anywhere in the island and rivalling even the North Street battles between the former and St George's.
As the new season opens this weekend, schools like KC and Camperdown are reminded of the obligation to themselves and players needing positive role models to enhance the image of the Manning Cup by being competitive in such an important competition.
Yes, it is sports at the schoolboy level, but at a time when it's becoming more organised and offers many and varied incentives, the stakeholders should do justice to all concerned by providing a competitive platform for progress.
With Donovan 'DV' Hayles now at the helm at KC, the hope is that like the legendary George Thompson, he can stimulate the requisite spirit of success, with patience from his fellow Old Boys a critical ingredient in the process.
An eminent past student with the famed baton now clutched in his hands, Hayles' leg of the relay will no doubt entail the rediscovery of that elusive purple ball.