Ayre Athletic Ground was site of first All-Newfoundland final, featuring Holy Cross and St. Lawrence
© Robert W. Stoodley Photography
St. Lawrence won its first of many all-Newfoundland football/soccer championships in 1951. Members of that winning team were (from left), front row: Gus Etchegary, Tommy Turpin and Jack Lundrigan; middle row: Cyril Rennie, Albert Kettle and Alfred Giovannini; back row: Gus Tarrant, Herb Slaney, Bill “Dock” Slaney, Bob Kelly, Joe Clarke, Alonzo Walsh and Clem Valee, who was an official from St. Pierre. Absent from the photo is Gordon Turpin, as were Rennie Slaney, Jack Walsh and Theo Etchegary, who were the coaches/managers of the team.
By Allan Stoodley
Special to The Telegram
For the past 46 years, from 1967-2013, the Newfoundland and Labrador Soccer Association has been affiliated with the Canadian Soccer Association and has participated in national Challenge Cup competition.
However, this province has actually been declaring provincial senior soccer champs for 63 years, right back to 1950. That was the year the Newfoundland Amateur Football Association was formed in St. John’s, at a special meeting of St. John’s Football League officials and representatives from Corner Brook and the Burin Peninsula.
It was in late August of that same year (1950) that the first provincial championship series was played at the old Ayre Athletic Grounds in the capital city, with Holy Cross — the St. John’s champs — meeting St. Lawrence — the Burin Peninsula winners — in a best-of-three game series.
Holy Cross won two straight games by scores of 5-0 and 4-2. St. Lawrence keeper Tommy Turpin and Crusader halfback Harry Ennis were selected as their teams MVPs in that 1950 final series.
Prior to Challenge Cup competition in 1967, St. Lawrence and the Guards of the St. John’s league were tied for the most provincial football titles with four apiece. Corner Brook was next with three wins and Grand Bank had two. Feildians, St. Pat’s and Holy Cross clubs of St. John’s won once each while in 1953, an all-star team from the capital city captured the silverware.
Gus Etchegary of St. Lawrence was manager of the Fishery Products Ltd. fish plant in Burin in 1950, and had been playing football there ever since he went to work at the plant in 1945.
Having grown up and learned the game in his home town of St. Lawrence, Etchegary felt he would like to play at least a couple of years with the Laurentians.
However, there loomed a major obstacle. The St. Lawrence coaching staff insisted he would have to practise three times a week with the team, and the road between St. Lawrence and Burin had not yet been completely built. To get around that problem, Etchegary would leave Burin and drive as far as Epworth, where a punt or a dory would take him up Salmonier Pond so then he could be picked up and taken to the football pitch for practice.
As one could say, the rest is history as both years he played with the mining town boys, 1951 and 1952, the Laurentians won the all-Newfoundland championship.
In 1951, the provincial championship was played on the Jubilee Field football pitch in Corner Brook, and St. Lawrence defeated both Holy Cross of St. John’s and the homestanding Corner Brook team to claim the silverware.
Etchegary says St. Lawrence had many top-notch football players on the 1951 and 1952 teams. However, he singles out Bill “Dock” Slaney, along with Gus Tarrant and Herb Slaney, as being the best players he ever played with.
“Dock” Slaney had played football in England during the war, and thus he had an extra savvy of how the game should be played.
With Tarrant playing outside right and Herb Slaney in the inside right position, “the combination of the two was exceptional and thus in that era they brought an improvement to the game with their short, accurate passing plays,” Etchegary said.
It was quite a change from the traditional slog and run football.
After his couple of years playing with St. Lawrence, Etchegary again played with Burin in the mid- to late-1950s. Later, he moved to St. John’s and became president of the St. John’s Football League and then president of the provincial soccer association.
He was elected vice-president of the Canadian Soccer Association in 1970, and is a member of the Newfoundland and Labrador Soccer Hall of Fame and provincial Sports Hall of Fame.
Allan Stoodley is a long-time resident of Grand Bank and a former correspondent with The Evening Telegram. He can be reached at email@example.com