Stanley Oliver Charles known to all and sundry as ‘Smokey’, a name synonymous with the development of football in St. Lucia for more than 50 years. A man, diminutive in size, but whose commitment to and love for the game has made him seem larger than life and a veritable legend in his name. He was a man who represented St. Lucia consistently for 22 years (a record) and combined the duties of player, captain and national coach, until his retirement in 1967.
He climaxed an illustrious career by becoming the first ever St. Lucian to play in a national team alongside his son, Colllie, now a football coach in the United States. He continued to figure in local football as an administrator and coach, finally taking on coaching of young footballers, a task he continued well past 70.
Smokey during his career, epitomised all the qualities a sportsman should possess: dedication to the game and an abiding love for the sport as well as a fanatical desire to practise. He was a gentleman on and off the field and even when involved in altercations, took the role of a mentor rather than an aggressor.
Smokey Charles learned his football on an excuse for a football ground at Pavee, while growing up as a youngster on the Morne Road. Despite being one of the best footballers at the R.C. Boys School, he was unable to represent the School in the popular Wade Shield school’s competition because he lived too far from the central playing area of Vigie.
Years later, he enlisted in the British Navy in 1943 and was based in Trinidad for two years. There, he represented his division in regular games against top local Clubs like Malvern and other sectors of the Air Force. Upon being demobbed in 1945, Smokey returned to St. Lucia and was almost immediately selected top represent the island, playing at centre half- a role he held for the majority of his playing days.
Those days, Smokey recalls, were the halcyon days of football. He remembered the tense, hard fought games between the top teams of his heyday. The C.Y.M.C., his team for most of his playing life, clashed with the Victoria Athletics and Dramatic Club (V.A.D.C.), Spartan, Wolves, and thrashed the weakest team of the fifties, Vempur. He lived through frustration of the C.Y.M.C. being denied the championship by the Vempur, who through the efforts of two players, Chico Hunte and ‘Quayak, Devaux, forced his team to a goalless draw in a key match.
Smokey retired from first division in 1967- his last year as captain and the year he played alongside his son, Collie. However, he would not give up on the game he loved so much. He was elected President of the local Football Association and later that year, President of the Windward Islands Football Association. He served as an Administrator with distinction, but after a few years, confined his activities to coaching up and coming footballers.
In 1977, Smokey received the coaching opportunity of a life-time. A chance to encounter with then Community Social Worker, Jon Odlum led to St. Lucia participating in the first World Youth Football tournament held in Sweden. In their first encounter on the international stage, St. Lucia reached quarter finals, beating the host country Sweden, but were defeated by Germany. As a result of their performances, the St. Lucians were invited to return to Sweden the following year. This time, they reached the semi finals although adversely affected by injury to some of their key players.
St. Lucia’s participation in the Under 17 Youth series became a regular feature and several visits have been undertaken since. Constrained by finance and general lack of support, the last tour was undertaken in 1994. It ius worthwhile noting that in 1994, the team qualified for the finals , but had to bow out because their flight back home was unfortunately scheduled on the day of that big match.
Smokey still continues to give his all to football. He has been coaching local club teams, as well as young players on a voluntary basis and even the island’s veterans when they make up their minds to turn up.
‘Outstanding Sports Personalities Of St. Lucia’ By Rupert J. Branford