Richard Chinapoo, "I took pride in punishing a goalkeeper"
By Veersen Bhoolai - Oct. 15, 2018
Trinidad & Tobago possessed an impressive array of talented forwards and midfielders during the nineteen seventies. However, one name that stood out amongst the group was Richard Chinapoo. Due to his incredibly hard shot, he had the ability to make Goalkeepers and any Wall quake.
His power was comparable to very few in international football. Forty odd years after he first started his club and international career, there are still those, who when taking about him, mention the “Chinas Bullet,” in hallowed tones. As one fan put it, “When you were a Goalkeeper, you did not want to be one on one with Richard Chinapoo and that is Gospel.”
His skill, determination and power, quickly took him through the ranks of club football, the National Youth/Senior team and onto Long Island University.
After four years at LIU, he made a quick transition to the famed New York Cosmos, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Giorgio Chinaglia and Carlos Alberto.
The New York Cosmos
He explains that the Cosmos Coach , Professor Julio Mazzei, had a relationship with the LIU Coach. He would come to the games and organize scrimmages between the University and NYC. “We would play the Cosmos at Yankee stadium. We would lose every time but I would score in almost every game. They had their eye on me and I would get a write up in the newspapers. The Senior Bowl was the same thing, they saw me.”
“My trial was preseason training in the Bahamas. I was travelling on the plane with Jeff Durgen; Ricky Davis, Johan Neeskens and Wim Rijsbergen.” Both Dutchmen had played in the 1974/78 World Cup Finals. “And I’m thinking I’m on the plane having a discussion with them. But when it really hit me was at the hotel. I checked in and sitting at the pool with a cigar was Giorgio Chinaglia and Carlos Alberto – who had Captained Brazil to the World Cup in 1970.
“My first practice session. I had to stretch with Carlos. It was really nice. I remember holding his legs and they were heavy and solid. He was still in good shape.
“ Cosmos was a higher level. Demanding. If you weren’t performing they would let you know to pick it up. But it was a family atmosphere.”
Steve Hunt, the ex Coventry Winger, told him that the club wanted him on trial. He was also invited by Greek Super Club, Panathinaikos. He turned them both down. “I was married, my kid had just been born so I decided to stay in the US.”
Does he ever regret his decision and wonder what might have been? “Always. Coventry would have been a different calling. However at that time there was a lack of knowledge, a lack of an agent. This age is more info oriented. However, I am happy with what I had. It worked out ok. But I do wonder what would’ve happened if I had gone.”
The Chinas Bullet
No interview with Richard Chinapoo would be complete without mentioning his amazingly, powerful shot.
“Really there was no magic. It was a combination of different things. Genes that I got from my parents. Also, I would ride my bicycle a lot, go running and practicing on wet hockey fields.
“I took pride in punishing a goalkeeper. If he was fortunate enough to save my shot he had to feel some pain. The next time he would be hesitant. I spent a lot of time in practice hitting the ball for hours.
“I had a reputation and I would practice. I like to score goals. In high school when we won the Senior Division We had three defenders, three midfielders and four forwards. Very unusual for the time.
“The right winger would cross it 80 percent of the time, the left winger was fast, the guy in the middle could dribble so my job was to score goals. If I hit the bar people would remember the sound. It was entertainment. People would go ‘WOW!’ There was excitement in hitting a good shot.
“In college and the Pros it was the same thing. You must recognize your strengths.”
Bring up the name Chinapoo and anyone who saw him in his heyday has a story about some amazing shot. Over the decades his reputation has reached mythical proportions.
Thinking of a career that lasted close to four decades, when thinking of his power, he picks out four moments that stood out for him.
“My first goal in college, LIU, I received a ball in the midfield from the right winger from about 45 yards out I hit the ball on a line into the far post and the side netting. No one expected that.”
The second was while playing in DC for a team called Trinmat vs Jamaican Nationals (during the early eighties) . The Nationals had a lot of to player from Howard University past and present some having represented Jamaica. “They had a lot of big names. I hit a Free Kick from about 40 yards out. They (the Jamaicans) certainly remembered me from then on. Bear in mind that I could have gone to HU which was Coached by Lincoln Phillips at the time but I opted for LIU.
“Playing in the Senior Bowl, East vs West, I hit the ball with my left foot from about 35-40 yards out and scored. In the same game I hit the ball with my right foot and moved the post."
Peter DeCoteau played with him on the 1974 National Youth team and remembers Chinapoo’s power well.
“I knew of Richard before meeting him at the trials for the 1974 youth team. I went to an U-16 game between Preston from Belmont and Chinas’ team (Bluffers). Preston had Brian "Big Bird" from Belmont Secondary and Lerick "Lobo " Joseph in goal. Yes, Lobo who played (outfield) for ASL. He was originally a ‘keeper. A good one at that. The game was at the Barataria Oval. It was a ding-dong battle. Preston was leading 1-0. But towards the end of the game Chinas’ team got a Free Kick from about about 20 yards. Chinas walked up, blasted it and string up Lobo in goal.
“The next time I was to encounter Richard was at the North trials for the ‘74 Youth Team. Richard was a Trinity Moka player, and they were in the Senior Division. He did not play like a Senior Division player. He had it all. run, jump, ball control, he passed the ball pretty well and of course he kicked the ball very hard. Although Richard was a power kicker, he did not rely on that alone. He worked on his passing, ball control, dribbling. Actually, all of us were desperately working on all facets of our game because we had to challenge the players from the East, South and Tobago teams. But that hard shot always came into play, sometimes unintentionally. We were practicing in the George V park. The late Felix "Baldy" Hernandez was the Coach. We had a scrimmage. And were short of some players that evening. So “Baldy” was in goal. And I remember Chinas collecting a ball at the top of the circle in the middle of the field and he turned and hit it. The ball did a number of zig-zags, and Baldy just watched the ball fly past him. After that moment, I had no doubt he would make the team. We both made the team and went to Canada. We had a hell of a good time. We trained hard, played hard and did a couple of night clubs also.”
DeCoteau explains that both Chinas and Derrick Lewis were successful at Trinity. “Yes, He and Derrick Lewis did well in their academics. When I read of Richard's exploits at LIU in Soccer America and from word of mouth from Trinis in New York, I was not surprised. When he was selected by Cosmos, I and I guess most Trinis were delighted. When he finished with the Cosmos, he went indoors. First with the Baltimore Blast and then in Harrisburg. And like the consummate person that he is, he excelled at the indoor game. He was one of the Blast leading players. I had the pleasure of witnessing an MISL final in the Baltimore Arena. The Blast won. Richard of course had an excellent game and scored a couple thunder shots.”
Not surprisingly, DeCoteau is in awe of Chinapoo’s power. “I know there is an argument about who was the hardest kicker coming out of TT. I would have Chinas up there with Ronnie Simmons, Tony Douglas and (Paul) Elliott Allen. There were two memorable games that make me put him in the top three or four.
“The youth team was more or less selected by the end of June, 1974. We were playing the TT Seniors at Skinner's Park. They had a bare eleven. Some of their guys had to travel from the North and East and they get caught up in traffic. They had us pinned down in our half. We were trying a counter attack for the whole first half. So we won the ball and making a quick counter attack Chinas got the ball around the top of the circle in the Senior's half of the field and let fly. Devenish Paul was in goal for the Seniors. He sees the ball coming to him, but the ball is going at such a speed and moving to his left. He catches the ball but is off-balance and falls in the net with the ball in his hands. Skinner's Park was in an uproar. We won 1-0.
“The other time was in Washington, DC. He came to play in a tournament with TrinMat from NY (previously mentioned by Chinapoo in this article). They were playing the Jamaica Nationals. A Very good team which had some current (Goalkeeper, Gigi Macpherson, Bancroft Gordon) and past Howard players(Tulloch, McLennan and the Davy brothers) on their team. TrinMat got a free kick in his favorite spot of the field, right past the center circle in the Jamaican half. They set up what they thought was a good wall. Chinas hit a CR7 type of Free Kick, up and over the wall. Caught the Keeper by surprise with the speed. Booyaka! Goal! All the Jamaicans started bawling, ‘Bomboclatt! Whey this Trini Chinee come from?’ A most spectacular Free Kick.”
Derrick Lewis, knows Chinapoo intimately. “While we were both in high school we made the Junior National Team in 1974, both being the youngest players on the team.”
They both received scholarship offers, “…he to Howard and me to Alabama A&M. However, we were both offered schols to LIU. Being friends we stuck together and went there.
“He fractured a Goalkeeper’s wrist in the first year by shooting so hard from 30 yards that his hand got hit by the ball and nailed on the metal upright …new ‘Keeper.
“ As a player, I would describe Richard as intimidating; his calm stare; few words; height, unlikely speed and the ability to strike with unmatched power (in the NCAA Division 1) with both feet. He had legs like long, chiselled, logs.”
The Early Years
Chinapoo’s earliest football memories are playing small goal on Prizgar Street, San Juan or in the neighbors’ yard.
“In my early years looked up to my brother Roger Hosein who played for Harvard, in later years Pele and (Franz) Beckenbauer.
“I played in the PYM (Progressive Youth Movement) League in Aranguez, sometimes you would have the Police horses stepping into the field. There were players like Steve Yearwood, the Sadat brothers and Campy George.
“Jabloteh was a community club. Fellas from your Street. It was us against quality teams. We represented San Juan properly and made a name for ourselves. As a youngster there was no alcohol for me, they bought a case of Malta. We had the support of the locals. They would rent Maxi Taxis to come and watch us play.
“I remember playing on a field just short of the St. Joseph mosque and Hasely Crawford won the Olympic Gold medal. A lot of people had been doubting that he could win. When I heard the news, I grabbed the ball and kicked it off the field.”
Going to Trinity College he was on the school’s First 11 by the time he was in Form III. Winning the Senior Division whilst he was in Lower VI, they had an impressive season in the Premier Division the following year, 1975. However, they had to contend with an impressive Belmont Secondary.
“Derrick Lewis and I got into trouble, I was playing for Jabloteh and he was playing for Maple. You were not allowed to play for a club and schools so we had to sit out the first few games.
“We finished second in the League to a very strong Belmont side. We also lost the North Zone finals 3-1 (vs Belmont). I got a questionable call, when my goal off a corner was disallowed.”
However, he confesses that Belmont had some impressive players, such as Brian “Big Bird” Brown, Gary “Plucky” Evelyn.
Post Trinity, he decided to move over to Malvern “because I wanted to play First Division Football and Jabloteh was in the PYM.” He did win the FA Cup with them in 1977.
He has tremendous admiration for former Malvern and TT Defender, Russel Tesheira. “He was a leader and role model.” He explains, “He was the truest of professionals. He worked at Clico which I wasn’t aware of and he would travel to the Savannah for practice. As a defender he was as steady as a rock. He would be one of the last people to leave practice. He was always friendly and down to earth. He had a high level of play and was a quiet leader. He was a well-seasoned player as he had played for the National Team. We went to the CAC games together.”
After leaving Trinity and witnessing football at the PSA, he found additional players to inspire him, in addition to Tesheira, footballers such as Ron La Forest; Ulrich “Buggy” Haynes; “Sammy” Llewellyn, Davey (sp) Headley and Kenwyn Nancoo. “There were so many, it was crazy.”
He singles out Ron “La,”
“La Forest was skillful and confident. He could finish, had a great technique and was always smiling.”
He points out to a game at the PSA, with La Forest playing for Defence Force. “The Goalkeeper punted the ball, Ron received it about 10-15 yards in his own half collected it on his thigh, hit a volley and goal. I said WHAT!!”
He has great admiration for Defence Force, “When Army warmed up at the PSA, the dressing rooms were small. When they came out, they were sweating, shining. I said ‘Man!’ They had a great team: Kenwyne Cooper; Ron La Forest; Fitzroy Valentine, Phil Prince and Winston “Bee” Phillips.”
He explains, “There were so many gifted players in TT, it was all a matter of timing and being willing to do certain things.” Additionally, he mentions Winston Hackett, Carlyle Andrews and Leo “Twinkle Toes” Brewster.
The 1974 Youth Team
Whilst still at Trinity, he was selected for the TT youth team to compete at the U-20 Concacaf Championships in Canada.
“What a process. From high school you had the East team with talented players. Then you combined the with the North. It was hard work. Alvin Corneal and Roderick Warner were in charge. It was my first flight to Canada and it was cold. We stayed at a University campus.”
TT grouped with Mexico, Costa Rica and Puerto Rico, finished undefeated but placed second to Mexico on points. In the knock out stages, TT drew with the US but beat them on penalties. Mexico went directly to the Final with TT and Cuba battling for the other finalist spot. They lost 2-0 to Castro’s boys with Chinapoo hitting the post.
“We succeeded due to “comradery, talent and hard work.”
He adds, “It was a talented group, Earl Carter, Robert Francis , Mike Grayson, Peter DeCoteau, there was talent everywhere. Derrick Lewis was very special.” Michael Maurice, a future Goalkeeper with the Strike Squad, just missed out on being selected. The following year, Concacaf changed the age limit and Maurice was too old by a few months. Thus, he never played for TT.
DeCoteau is also in high praise of Lewi, “Derrick was tenacious bulldog of a tackler. When the Youth Team played the Seniors at Skinner's Park …well the game was fast and the Youths were not backing off from the Seniors. There was a fifty-fifty ball between Derrick and Dennis Morgan. Derrick went and Dennis went. I heard something like "Pax". But nothing appeared to have happened. Later we heard that Dennis Morgan had a fractured jaw and I think Derrick had a sprained wrist. When Dennis met him later. He shook Derick's hand. And said, ‘I have to congratulate the man that break meh jaw.’"
Regarding the knock out match vs the US, DeCoteau admits it was close, tough, game. “We did not know a thing about them. And they gave us a run for our money. There was a Trini rhythm section in Varsity stadium. In a ding- dong battle, the US scored first. Then we picked up the tempo in the second half. With about five minutes to go we equalized. We battled it out in extra time and went to penalties. We won. We scored all ours.”
Selected for the CAC games in Medellin, 1978 he scored a hattrick on his debut vs the Netherland Antilles. Winning their first two games, TT seemed to comfortably leading Bermuda 2-0. “Keitho (sp) Joseph was playing very well. He was subbed and we lost 3-2.”
Despite his success at LIU and the prestige of playing with the Cosmos, very little was seen of Richard Chinapoo in the 1980s. I played in 1982 (World Cup qualifiers) when Alvin was the Coach. We drew with Haiti in TT but lost 2-1 in Haiti.
“I was not part of the ’86 campaign.”
Selected for the Strike Squad, he was in the team vs. Honduras, with TT drawing both games. Having qualified for the Final Round, he represented TT against Costa Rica in San Jose. He describes the encounter as “interesting.” He adds, “They scored early. We pummeled them and hit the post. Dwight Yorke had a good game but we came up short.”
That would be his last game for Trinidad & Tobago.
Making history at LIU
A graduate from LIU with a Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting in 1981. He was a four time All American. The only LIU athlete to have ever achieved this in any sport. He holds the record for the most goals scored in any game, six vs. CW Post in 1980. He scored 55 goals in an LIU career of 51-8-13. The First Citizen’s Sports Foundation states that he is listed fifth on the all time NCAA top scorers with 55 goals. Inducted into LIU’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2001, he was also selected for the NCAA’s 50th Anniversary team in 2008. The only TT player to be selected, his name was listed alongside such players as Paul Caligiuri, Claudio Reyna and John Harkes.
Not surprisingly, his son Tremaine, inherited the family genes. An all American at high school, he was offered a scholarship to American University and was listed by collegesoccernews.com as one of the top 100 Freshman players of 2005. He was selected by TT Coach, Wim Rijsbergen, to attend a national training camp in Charleston, NC, in 2006.
“However, he did not want to turn pro. Because he doesn’t like people telling him what to do which is what Coaches do.”
Switching to Defence
If one scours the internet, you will see Chinapoo listed as a Striker and at other times, a Defender. He explains, “I was a forward until my senior year in College. I helped the team in midfield. I enjoyed the challenge switching the flow of the game. Plus, I was sick of being kicked all the time as a forward.”
He adds, “I had good size, played the role of a leader and could win the ball from the back. In my senior year we did well, making it to the quarter finals losing to Connecticut the eventual Champs.
“I played midfield for NYC and midfield or forward in the Indoor Leagues. I thought defence was not a bad idea, you could make an overlapping play. If you shoot and miss you would hit the board.
“Defence was a challenge. My roommate Derrick Lewis. I was intrigued because I wanted to know what does it take to be a Defender how do they think? Can I play defence? Derrick was a tremendous Defender. If you can defend you are more complete.”
Focusing on Performance
During the eighties there seemed to be quite a few players who despite their talent, warranted very little selection on the National Team, Garnet Craig; Ronnie Simmons, Graeme Rodriguez and Colin Rocke are prime examples, the common denominator being that the had attended prestige colleges. Does Chinapoo think that he suffered from any bias? He was most eloquent in his response.
“In the eighties, I focused on my performances with my respective professional teams as that was my source of income and the start of my family. I was honored at any opportunity to represent Trinidad and Tobago and responded to every request to play. This allowed me to stay in contact with the Trinidad and Tobago football community as well as visit my family, most of whom still lived in Trinidad. If there was any bias, I did not pay attention to it but instead focused on performance.”
Lewis opines, “About TT, there was matter of proximity with foreign players. Also there may have been subtle politics. As I remember some of the college players in the seventies and early eighties were anti TTFA (Jack Warner) and pro TFF (Trinidad Football Federation), Arthur Suite.”
Some of the Greats
In addition to players already mentioned, I asked him his thoughts on the following stars of the seventies and eighties:
Lerick “Lobo Joseph”, “Big, strong and talented.”
Bert Neptune, “A good dribbler.”
Garnet Craig, “Smooth and steady.”
Vernon Skinner, “Dominant and determined.”
John Granville, “Highly competitive.”
Earl “Spiderman” Carter, “Fooey(sp) was unique and talented. Fearless. He would dive and hit his head. No problem. He would run and train all day.”
Ronald Simmons, “I played against him in the Indoor League, he was dominant and skillful.”
Brian Williams, “Skillful, smart and dedicated.”
Dexter Skeene, “Very clinical.”
Russel Latapy, “Very special. I saw him playing at Skinner’s Park for the U12 or U14 team and I asked myself Who is that little fella?”
Dwight Yorke, “Definitely a combination of natural talent and determination. Just driven to be the best.”
Retirement and accomplishments
Playing Indoor soccer until the age of 43, he finally retired in 2000. He explains that he stayed around because of the comradery and the friendship.
“As you get older the game is a little easier tactically. If you are staying in shape you can play. I could be a guide to the younger players and help them along.” He adds that for the last four years, he was actually a Player-Coach.
Amongst his Indooor accomplishments, was winning the MISL National Championship with the Baltimore Blast in 1984. He joined the Dallas Sidekicks in 1988, assisting them to the Western Division title.
He joined the Harrisburgh Heat (NPSL) in 1992, becoming Player-Coach in ’98 before retiring in 2002. He was named NPSL Coach of the Year in 2000-2001 taking the Heat to American Conference Title.
He is a three time MISL All Start and five times in the NPSL. He has been inducted into the Blast, Heat and LIU Hall of Fame.
Giving back to TT
Considering his immense experience, has he ever been approached by the TTFA to assist?
“In the past I had a connection with people such as Kendal Walkes; Muhammad Issa, Lincoln Phillips and Alvin Corneal. However, there are new people now.
“In the late nineties I expressed an interest in coming to the National teams and using my experience. I would have to come back learn how things work in TT and make recommendations but nothing every materialized.
“I would like to help but TT is a piece of work.”
If he were in control of TT football, he says he would “…have a comprehensive study of the current landscape from grassroots to the National Team. Have a proper licensing process for the coaches.” In addition, put in place “a plan of where we want to be. Finance is a big part of it. Have leadership full of discipline. People must buy into it. They must feel that they are part of something. Have them involved. They must be excited about what they are doing.”
Today he is the Technical Director for the Capital Area Soccer Association (CASA), a club he helped form in 1997. He took the U-16 team on a tour of Trinidad as a reward for good school grades in 2010.
“I missed out on giving TT my best.”
Despite his initial philosophical response about his lack of international exposure, he laments, “I missed out on giving TT my best football. I joined the National team at 21 and went to the CAC games. However, in those days coming home was a trek in itself. I played 20 games for TT form 1978-1988. My best football was from 21-29.”
DeCoteau, his ex youth teammate, has great respect for him as a player and person. “Richard is a very nice and genuine guy. If you are meeting him for the first time, he would make you feel like you had been his friend for a long time. He was serious and astute when coming to business. I met him in Florida for two years in succession (2015.2016), we used to play in a tournament right before the Carnival. Except for the few noticeable gray hairs, there was not one ounce of fat on the man. Just pure muscle. And he can still hold his own. And he would joke with me. ‘Deeks, no overlapping, today, please’".
Regarding Chinapoo’s limited representation for TT, DeCoteau concludes, “Unfortunately for Chinas, Gally had his faith on the home grown players(TTDF and Trintoc). Could he have helped them to the World Cup? I am definitely biased. I say YES! But who knows?”
Many fans know Richard Chinapoo the footballer but perhaps Richard Chinapoo,
the man, can be best summarized by his ex teammate, Lewis, “He was and still is
a man of his word. He keeps his decisions simple and principled since I first met
him at 17.”
Richard Chinapoo (far right) in action for the the NY Cosmos vs the Chicago Sting. His teammate, Giorgio, Chinaglia, is on the ground.
Chinapoo in action for LIU.
“He fractured a Goalkeeper’s wrist in the first year by shooting so hard from 30 yards that his hand got hit by the ball and nailed on the metal upright …new ‘Keeper."
Derrick Lewis, "...a tremendous Defender."
"I would like to help but TT is a piece of work."
TT Youth Team, 1974,Back Row: l-r, Ulrich Butcher, John Granville, Earl Carter, Brian John, Michael John, Ian Lakhan, Richard Chinapoo, Joseph Phillip, Johnathan Wills.
Centre: l-r,Derrick Lewis, Curtis Murrel, Stephen Reyes, S. Boodoo, Trevor Rodd, Winston Hackett, Peter "Deeks" DeCouteau, Keith Weekes.
Front: l-r..Kendall Walkes, Robert Francis (Capt.), Alivin Corneal (Coach) Egbert Solomon (Chef-de-Mision) Arnold “Chicken” Leotuaud (Mngr), Gerard Homer (Vice Capt.) and Michael Grayson.
Richard Chinapoo Biofile:
Town: San Juan, Trinidad
Favourite footballer: Pele
Heroes: My mother.
Favourite meal: Pelau.
Thank you to Richard Chinapoo for giving me over an hour of his time on the phone. Also to Peter "Deeks"DeCoteau and Derrick Lewis.