By RON FANFAIR
Few Caribbean soccer leagues in Canada have withstood the test of time as the Mello Masters Over-35 organization which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.
St. George’s College alumni, Michael Lym who, at the time, owned Mello Music store on Eglinton Ave. East, founded the league as a form of recreation for veteran players.
“The guys that used to hang out at my store would go for a kick-about on Sunday mornings at the Winston Churchill Collegiate ground,” recalled Lym. “It started out as a small group of about 14 but soon grew to nearly 40. With such a large group and just one ball, I figured somebody might get injured or things could get out of hand so I got together with my friend, Jack (Manhertz), and we talked about starting a league. That’s how the Mello Masters League started.”
Five teams – Mello Strikers, Barry Ballers, Roots International, Caribbean Stars and Antrim (whose player/coach was popular soccer aficionado Patrick “Skedron” Smith) which later became Magic – competed the first year at Midland Collegiate and W.A. Porter Collegiate grounds. Roots won the league cup and Caribbean Stars the knockout trophy.
The league has attracted several players who have represented their Caribbean countries at the senior level, including Jamaicans Calvin “Webber” Stewart, Clarence Prendes and Arthur Kerr and half-back Earl Fough of Trinidad & Tobago. Others, like Earl’s younger brother Keith and Aldwyn McGill, would have gone on to play for their country at the senior level if they had not migrated to Canada at a young age.
“Looking back, I am quite pleased with the evolution of this league,” said Lym. “Our motto is ‘Keeping Fit and Having Fun’ and that basically says all about what we wanted to accomplish. At the time, there were a few Caribbean leagues around that were having discipline-related problems. That’s why we inserted very strict disciplinary guidelines. Any player involved in fighting would automatically be expelled.
“We have stuck to these rules and I think that’s a major reason why we have not had any major problems in the 20 past years. All we want is for the players to come out and have a nice and clean afternoon at the soccer field. I think we have been able to achieve that.”
Just two players – Robert Coombs who was a Vere Technical High teammate of Allan “Skill” Cole, considered one of Jamaica’s greatest soccer players, and Winston Williams – have played every season in the league for the past two decades. Coombs started out with Caribbean Stars before joining Cosmic FC which he also manages while Williams is a Mello Strikers member and league administrator.
Williams paid tribute to Barry McCormack for keeping the league together for the past 20 years.
“Without him, I don’t think there would still be a league,” said Williams. “Barry has been the key administrator putting in valuable time to ensure that things are done the right way. He has been an asset that should not be taken lightly.”
The 20th season kicks off on Sunday morning at 11 a.m. at Stephen Leacock Collegiate Institute ground with Jamaica’s Consul in Toronto, Nigel Smith, taking part in the opening ceremony.
Upsetters and Magic are the defending league trophy and knockout champions respectively.