Steve Bartlett: I’m not aging, I’m ripening
I turn another year older this week and I must admit, I really enjoy celebrating my birthday.
Frank Brenton’s soccer career started in 1958 and continued some 30 years later, playing masters. In the beginning, Brenton played his minor career in Burin, and at the mere age of 16 years, he was selected to the Burin Peninsula all-stars.
While playing minor, which was then called the junior league, he won three MVP awards. In 1970, while playing for Marystown, he was named to a provincial all-star squad for national play and earned two more MVP awards.
In 1971, Brenton moved to St. John’s and suited up with the Feildians. Between 1971 and 1981, Brenton was a member of Feildians team that won three St. John’s championships. Frank was voted to three St. John’s all-star teams and won an MVP honour. He was a member of the St. John’s club that won the 1981 Atlantic championship in Nova Scotia. In 1994, Brenton was selected as one of the top ten players to ever play in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Recently, I asked Frank to reflect on the past and gives some advice for the future.
What is the biggest change that you’ve seen in soccer over the last 50 years?
The biggest change in soccer has been the size of the soccer fields to a regulation size and the change in systems. The old 5-3-2 system to 4-2-4 system to 4-3-3 systems and variations of the newer systems as well. Coaching is still a major problem. You can’t just put eleven players on a field and play a certain way using a particular system. The players need to understand how the system works and how they need to execute the system.
You must have some great memories of playing soccer. Would you mind sharing a few of those with us?
When I was a small boy of age 9-10 years old, my older brother Joe always took me to the soccer field with him. It was the old soccer field in Burin. We had to walk in over the hills (there was no road) to get to the field. There was a small brook that ran down one side of the field (old players will certainly remember it). I remember one time Joe bought a new pair of boots with the hard noses and bars across the bottom for cleats. He would go over and stand in the brook for five minutes. He told me the boots would take the shape of his feet and they would be more comfortable.
Later in life, when I was playing Challenge Cup with the Fieldians in Grand Bank, we were on the field kicking the ball around, warming up. Ed Arnott wore a beard and just down from his chin there was a small spot of grey. I’ll never forget when a small child ran on the field, ran up to Ed and said “Hey mister, you got paint in your beard.”
In 1973, I was playing midfield for Fieldians. We were playing St. Lawrence in the Challenge Cup. I scored four goals in the first two games. In the third game there was a scramble in front of the St. Lawrence net with five or six players involved. The ball bounced up in the air and I was the only player still on my feet. A sure goal for certain. I jumped in the air to head the ball into the net but jumped too quick and the ball went over the top of the bar. I can’t remember how the four goals went in but the one I missed haunts me to this day.
Tell us what the games were like when you played with Fieldians against St. Lawrence?
Playing in St. Lawrence was an experience in itself. The games between us were very intense to say the least. We had lots of confident and skillful players, but we couldn’t score. We lost three championships in a row to them. No one will convince me we should have done better. At the end of the day people only remember who won! I loved playing there, but we had some players who just couldn’t adjust to 1,000 fans ready to break their necks every time they touched the ball. Winning there was like winning the lotto. You had a chance but it was slim.
Name the three toughest players you ever played against?
Three of the toughest players were Ed, Doug and Frank Whelan – the three Whelan brothers. They didn’t know when or how to quit. They would still be playing in the dressing room 10 minutes after the game was over. They were great players. All three were midfielders. If you played against them, you were in for a hard game.
Name the three greatest players you ever played with?
Three of the greatest players I ever played with were Ed Arnott, Howard Morris and Keith Storey.
Name three of the greatest players you ever played against?
Three of the greatest players I ever played against were George (Bow) Collier, Max Hollett and Frank (Red) Fizzard.
If I could change anything in Newfoundland soccer, what would it be?
I would try and increase the number of teams in the league. St. John’s with a population of 200,000 people has two teams. Mount Pearl has one team. CBS, which is a bigger town than the city of Mount Pearl, has one team. If soccer is to improve, we need to increase the number of teams. It will make for better competition. The club system worked the best for our games. When I played, we had six teams – Fieldians, Guards, St. Pat’s, Gonzaga, Holy Cross and Crusaders. The games were more competitive. It was a community-like thing. Players had a dislike for each other. The fan support was great. Playing soccer was like going to war.
There are so many things the executive can do to make changes, but it seems they are content to keep their team strong at the expense of soccer itself. Too much emphasis is placed on Challenge Cup. Maybe we should back off a little on Challenge Cup and try to build up our league first. Create more teams, which will make us stronger, more competitive. Then come back to Challenge Cup later.
What do feel the future holds for Newfoundland and Labrador soccer?
With the number of soccer players registered in Newfoundland and Labrador, soccer holds a very bright future. Over the past 10 years, the numbers have increased twentyfold. There are leagues for 8-10, 10-12, 12-14 year olds up to senior soccer, so it has to get better. We need better coaching if we are to develop better players. To coach is one thing, but to know how to coach is another. For example, St. Lawrence doesn’t have a strong team, but they are a real good team because they know the system they are playing and how it should be played. They’re one up over the other teams and that’s why they are so successful.
Today, with new soccer facilities, artificial turf and indoor facilities which makes for longer seasons, more playing time, better skills and better training, the sky’s the limit. We need to work on the technical part and get our act together.