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Willie Rodgriguez, one of a kind

willie rodriguez football.jpg

By Veersen Bhoolai,

Feb. 6, 2024

This interview was conducted with Willie Rodriguez in November, 2022.




That’s one of the many words that could be used to describe Willie Rodriguez.


The only man to have ever played both cricket and football for the West Indies, his name will never die in TT sport.


What is truly ironic is that he admits he was no kind of sportsman until the age of 15.


 He explains that growing up on Alcazar St. in St. Clair, POS, there were no athletes in the family. He did have an uncle, Rudy Rodriguez who played hockey for TT. “My family told me he was a useful footballer who played for Casuals.”


He explains, “As an athlete, I was ordinary. I grew up with Michael Agostini. Michael would beat me by at least 10 yards in the 100. In the 50 yards he would bring it down to six.  I admired him. We would talk about various sports and his brother Colin was a high-quality footballer.


“Before the age of 15 I was nothing of consequence. I played in a normal class match and made a one ball duck. I decided never to play cricket in life again.” At around 15 he decided to try out for the CIC Colts team. He was unable to make the A, B or C team. Then one disgruntled footballer made a decision that would change sporting history in the West Indies.


A player thinking that he had not been selected for the right team, quit. “This brought me into the C team.” Rodriguez explains that after playing against the B and A teams, he was voted best defender at the end of the season.


“The Sports Master told me he wanted me to play cricket for the school because my football improvement had been

phenomenal. I declined. He said I had to come but I didn’t go.”


When next the Sports Master saw Rodgriguez in the school corridor, he questioned his absence at practice. Rodriguez

reminded him of his previous declination.


“He said ‘I will give you a short penance until you decide to come and if not, the next week you will get a long penance.’

I said you can’t do that.


“’ Oh no? Try me?’”


Rodriguez persuaded himself that as he liked sports to give it a try. “I was friendly with the sons of Kelvin ‘Pa’ Aleong.

He took me in hand and showed me how to field, bat, everything.”


He quickly made the CIC Colts team, then the North Zone and was selected for the TT Senior team at 19.


Regarding his First-Class debut vs Guyana in 1953 whilst still in high school, he explains, “What I remember is not printable.”


He recounts that he had done well in the First Innings, until getting run out. “I was carrying the team to victory in the second innings, and we needed just 20 odd runs to win. I played a ball which fell a yard or a yard and a half in front of a fieldsman. He appealed three times for a catch. The Umpire must have been sleeping. He gave me out” He explains that it was at this point that he realized that “Some people try cheating and to make the results different. I was so disappointed and disgusted. The Umpire later apologized.” The Guyanese wicketkeeper, Clifford McWatt, was disgusted by the decision. “He was so vex. He was cussing and getting on.”


He thought he had done well enough to be selected for TT vs the MCC XI the following year, however, “because I was green, I was the 12th man. I realized I could not rest on my laurels. I had to work hard not only with cricket but with football.”


Scoring his maiden FC century for TT, 105 vs Pakistan in 1958 “gave a tremendous boost to my confidence as a cricketer. I had made a couple of runs in other matches but fell short and I had made centuries in club cricket.”


Selected for the 1958/59 tour of Pakistan and India, “I had a horrid incident which mashed up my entire tour.


“We arrived in India late. In order to rest, we had a practice the following afternoon. I was given the ball as nearly all the batsmen wanted me to bowl to them. They had to face Subash Gupte, and they wanted a feel for that kind bowling.”


Rodriguez bowled late into the evening and never had a chance to bat. He was told “’not to worry,’” that he would get to bat early the following day.

“We had practice early the following morning. There was dew on the wicket while I was batting. One of the fast bowlers bowled a ball slightly short. It stood up on me and hit me on the back of the ear. I was concussed. I was out for three weeks. The Doctors said to stay out of the hot sun. It spoilt my whole tour. My batting technique was not there, and I could not get a run. My batting was terrible, thank God for my bowling. I went to Pakistan. They were thinking of playing me in the final Test but in the FC match before I broke the finger on my right hand. So, I was out of cricket. I came home with my finger bandaged up.”


Top scoring with 77 and taking four wickets in the First Innings vs India for TT in 1962, he was selected for the first Test in Jamaica.


Describing his Test debut, “I threw away my wicket to be honest. I slashed at a ball outside of the off stump. I wasn’t there to get the timing right. It was a bad judgement call. The Skipper told me to go home, I would not be playing in the Barbados Test. But I would be playing in the TT Test so to go home and practice.”


The practice seemed to pay off, as he scored his maiden Test half-century, an even 50 consisting of one 6 before he was bowled by Polly Umrigar.


Regarding his half-century in front of his home crowd, he explains, “I was elated. I don’t

know if anybody else was. However, I couldn’t follow that up in any other Test. I was dropped

after the half-century. I wasn’t really surprised, there were other players that deserved a

look, and a tour of England was coming up two years later.”


Regarding his most memorable batting and bowling performances, “It had to be the hundred

vs Pakistan 1958 for TT. It was a well put together innings. As a batsman I tended to be a bit

aggressive, but you tend to make mistakes when you are.”


Bowling wise, “My 7/91 {vs Combined Universities} in India when I couldn’t bat,” during the

1958/59 tour.


                                    The West Indies Football tour of England


Despite his FC career, his Football career did not seem to be mitigated and he was selected

for the one and only West Indies tour of England in 1959.


“We had good players unfortunately, each island had a different style. Jamaica had a 4-2-4.

Trinidad had a third back and Guyana had a roving centre half.”


He explains, “We were trying to get the team to mesh, however, the difference in formations that we played were compromised because the players were not playing the same style of football. This showed up in our final match very badly. Our regular central defender was injured. We had to decide who would replace him. The Coach used one of the Guyanese players who had only played midfield and in that game, there was always a gap in the middle of the field because he was drifting up field. We lost significantly 7-2 to the England National Amateur team.


Returning home from India, he was approached by Frank Worrel who suggested he play in the Lancashire League and could also play football for one of the clubs in the area. He explained that the pay “was small” and the cost of living in TT was cheaper. “It was folly unless you had nothing else to do. It didn’t make sense to catch your tail.”

He points out the left winger, Owen Parker (Jamaica) and Alvin Corneal as players who stood out, in addition to Noel Daniel and Tyrone de la Bastide both TT defenders. I thought highly of {defender} Walter Chevannes (Jamaica). He was a right back. He was not played often. I don’t know why, he looked to be a pretty solid player when he did play. I played alongside him. I played anywhere from right back to left back to central defence for my club and TT.”


He explains that the football tour “was a very satisfying time up there. We were similar fellas with a similar level of football. There was no feeling that anyone did not perform well. We did not quarrel with them.”


Selected for the England tour of 1963, he was hampered by a cartilage injury. However, after making 93 in over four hours as an opener vs Yorkshire, he was selected to replace Joey Carew in the Fifth Test where he made 5 and 28.


His batting for the rest of the sixties fell away but his bowling flourished. He scored only one FC

half-century from 1965-66 to 1969-70 but managed to take five or more wickets in an innings seven times

(Wikipedia source). He took 6/51 for TT vs the MCC in 1968 subsequently replacing David Holford for the

fourth Test Not surprisingly, he did well on his home ground taking four wickets, but England won and he

was replaced by Holford.


He continued to perform with the ball taking 5/42 vs the Windwards and 6/30 vs Barbados in 1968/69. He

also bagged for 5/12 vs Guyana and 5/76 vs Jamaica in his final season 1969/70.


He briefly tried coaching at his alma mater, St. Mary’s College in the early seventies. However, it was less

than satisfying. “Not many people seemed very interested. Several of the players would not turn up on

time. They seemed unconcerned. I said to myself it did not make sense.”


Manager of the infamous WI tour of New Zealand in 1980, he recounts the debatable umpiring decisions

that the WI team were subjected to.


During the 1980 tour of NZ, I recalled my seconds innings in Guyana. It had left a mark on my personality.

I never tried to hide the fact when I saw people doing something that was not above board. I couldn’t keep

quiet because it had affected my first entry into cricket.


“New Zealand was going to tour Australia and according to their Press they were being squeezed for funds

by the Australians.” Rodriguez is of the belief, “They were attempting to win at all costs. If they could beat

the WI, they would have greater leverage to claim more money. The whole agenda was set up for NZ to win.


“When an Umpire could tell you that fellas are bowling too fast and they can’t see caught behind for the

edge, it is like talking to a 10 year old and they don’t know anything about cricket. And when a man is

walking and the Umpire is shouting ‘Not Out’ and he comes back, how can you condone that kind of thing? It does not make sense. Does it?”


Rodriguez continues, “You can’t turn a blind eye to things that are happening that are not in the best interests of cricket. I was castigated by the Board when I came home However, these fellas meet at ICC meetings and hug up one another and all kinda thing so I was criticized.”


Regarding the NZ officials, “They were upset. They said we were overreacting and that there was no evidence of anything untoward. However, when you close your eyes you don’t see. The whole {tour} was set up for winning.”


Reflecting on some of the finest players of his era, he says, “The WI missed out on Richard DeSouza. He was a good, compact batsman. When they were picking the team to go to England {in 1973} TT was playing Guyana, Richard scored a half-century in the First Innings, they selected the team without him. He scored a century in the Second Innings. Had he scored that century in the First Innings, he would have been selected for sure.”


He explains that as a youngster the “seniors” would say that Rupert Tang Choon was “the best batsman who never played for the West Indies. “When I played my first match for TT vs Guyana he was on the team.”


He points out Alvin Corneal as another player who was just on the periphery of Test selection. “He was an above average batsman. He came very close to playing for the WI at one time but never got the nod from the Selectors.”


Corneal like Rodriguez played both Cricket and Football for TT. “I’ll be honest with you. Alvin was the best attacking footballer I ever played against in TT. Playing against him was most difficult. His assets were the manner in which he ran at you and his delivery to his opponents.”


He refers to Frank Worrel as “a high-class batsman. A very fair thinking man and full of cricket knowledge who shared his expertise with his players. A great ambassador for the game.”


Regarding the legends Gary Sobers and Rohan Kanhai, “Gary Sobers is the one of the best batsmen I have ever seen play cricket. He just had a knack for playing the right shots with a solid defence. He excelled and deservedly so.” In terms of Kanhai, “Rohan … I think was the best batsman I ever played against. The ball just hit the middle of the bat every time. {When} I bowled to him he made it look like I was bowling for the middle of the bat. He was phenomenal.”


What about the two Barbadian opening legends, Hunte and Nurse? “It was very difficult to get through Conrad Hunte’s defence. He had tremendous powers of concentration. He understood his role as an opening batsman and played it well. Seymour Nurse was a top local batsman. Not at Sobers’ or Kanhai’s level but he was way ahead of normal Test players who would make a team with less talent than he had.”

Mystery man, Sonny Ramadhin, was his first roommate on his tour of India. “He was a very deceptive bowler and he explored this feature to the nth degree. As a young first timer on tour he was very helpful to me.” Rodriguez adds, “He gave me advice on what to expect in my career, like a tutor. You have to read batsmen and look for faults, things you would not think about, he would bring to your attention.”


He describes his Queen’s Park teammate, Deryck Murray as a top-notch wicketkeeper. He explains that Murray getting into the Test team on the 1963 tour of England was a blessing. Many West Indians were surprised when Captain Worrel chose the 20-year-old Murray over his fellow Barbadian David Allan. Murray would go on to set a WI record for the most dismissals in a series, 24.


Corneal, easily one of TT’s finest sportsmen of the twentieth century offers his opinion on Rodriguez, “There is no question that his leg spinners contributed to the demise of some of the best batsmen in the world, that includes the likes of Geoff Boycott, Roy Fredericks and a number of better than average batsmen.”


He recounts his first encounter with Rodriguez in a Fatima vs CIC football match circa 1950. “My experience with Willie was with both sports. But since my first match for Fatima when I was 13 years old, Willie was a St. Mary’s wing-back, I was surprised when the two schools met and instead of being physically tough, Willie demonstrated his interest as a young player and even advised me at times during the game. We were close from that time onwards.”


Corneal adds, “Willie gave me advice from that day through our WI football tour of England where we were facing the professionals. After that tour we just played cricket where Willie was an admirable Captain.”


He was nominated by the Jamaican Cricket Association to run for

the WICBC Presidency opposing Guyana’s Chetram Singh in 2003.

He eventually bowed out due to partial support. One of the

countries that failed to back him was the TTCB which stated a

previous commitment to Singh.


When Singh himself resigned from the elections due to his

ownership of a bookmaking business, Rodriguez, resisted

re entering the race believing that he would not get the backing

required. He was quoted in the WI press that he wished the race for

the Presidency not be “embroiled in a conflict for the executive



Not surprisingly Rodgriguez’s children were all athletes of note in

their youth. Christian, Graeme and Scott were top notch footballers

with Graeme playing for TT at Youth and Senior level. Scotty, was a

more than youthful left armed medium pacer who played alongside

Brian Lara for the TT Youth team and Fatima College. Gina was an

equestrian of note, riding for the University of Florida and won a

United States Dressage Federation bronze medal in 2014.


He describes his sons as “all above average in the sport they played.

In my opinion if Scott had remained as a goalkeeper instead of

being disenchanted, I think he would have had an excellent chance because of his prowess for Fatima. He was second only to Shaka Hislop in his two years. He just gave it up. I told him he was making a big mistake. But he didn’t listen to me, he wanted to play up front.”


What was it like having a legend for a father and playing in his presence? His children offered their perspective.


Despite being an outstanding youth footballer during his high school days, Graeme, recounts, “He never supported me publicly. He was not inclined that way. But always gave me advice privately.”


However, Willie did make an exception on two occasions. This was during Fatima’s historic Intercol Championship year of 1979. Graeme explains that they encountered Mucurapo in the second round. “After having to absorb a week of overconfidence” from {them}, Fatima trounced Mucurapo 4-1. Unimpressed, some of their supporters, “mostly girls and some guys surrounded me as I was closest to the crowd, and they were throwing and rubbing suck orange in my face.” Graeme, continues, “I was just so happy we won the game; I was not offended at all. But Willie ran out and shielded me all the way to the Dressing Room. That was normal in long ago football,” he says and laughs.


The second occasion was the National Intercol Final of ’79 vs St. Augustine Sr. Comprehensive at the Queen’s Park Oval, “I saw for the first time, my emotionless Dad running out of the Pavilion to congratulate me with tears in his eyes. I had never seen it before and have never seen it since and he’s 89 now,” forcing Graeme to laugh once again.


Christian remembers his father’s “dedication to duty, like making sure we got up on time for school. There were no excuses for missing school unless we had to go to the hospital.” He adds, “He always backed the teachers if we got licks at school.” He admits that their father would often forget to pick them up “from the grounds. And the other fellas when leaving would tell us, ‘Your father forget allyuh again.’”


Scott recalls “He was the most approachable Dad. He was always a very kind person no matter what he did.” Regarding his children, “He never pushed us, … he never forced a hand. He was always there to guide, to advise but he never pushed. Some say that is

why some of us never achieved true greatness. We always stopped at a certain level. But it’s heartening to know that he always

gave us a proper perspective and good advice.”

Gina describes her first experience with horses observing some thoroughbreds as a four-year-old in Tobago with her father. “I was smitten. I fed them grass and as young horses will, they got peckish and bit me. I was crying as I didn’t understand the aggression. My father told me it was the bite of love. I couldn’t wait to be nipped again.” Wishing upon a star when she was nine, she was surprised that she and Willie had wished for the same thing, “a horse farm. Who knew?”


Both Willie and his daughter shared a passion for horses. “My Dad made my education possible and gave me a path to the dream of horses.”


Despite earning two degrees in Mathematics, Gina followed her heart and now runs her own barn in Maryland, training horses and teaching students. “I feel that my father’s support made this possible. I cannot express what a fantastic parent and person he is to me.”


Guardian Life appointed him as an agency manager a little over 20 years ago. “I still have the agency running but at a low level.

It gives me something to do. I still enjoy going to the office.”


As the decades continue, we may enjoy other allrounders, other spinners but we will probably never again enjoy a sportsman

good enough to represent the WI in both cricket and football.


Hail Willie Rodriguez – truly one of a kind.

willie england 1963.webp

Willie on the go, 1963

From l-r, Berkley Gaskin (Manager), Lester King, Deryck Murray, Willie Rodriguez and Joe Solomon, shelter from the rain that washed out the first day of play, Worcestershire vs the WI, May 1, 1963, England.

The WI cricket tour of England, 1963. Willie Rodriguez is in the back row, second from left. Deryck Murray is at the front, sitting, first from left.
shamrock 1959 natonal champs willie rodriguez.jpg

Shamrock, National League and FA Champions of TT, 1959. Willie Rodriguez is in the back row, second from the left.

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