By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)
It is often said that, “not how long one lives, but what one was able to do or achieve while on earth.” Indeed, this aphorism fits in the shoes of the late Willis D. Knuckles, who besides holding political appointments over the years, also spent a great deal of his time for the development of sports, especially football in this country. Indisputably, it is because of his love for sports and others that the Alpha Oldtimers Sports Association, a grouping comprising former soccer players and lovers, as a way to memorialize this great lover of the game, named its sports stadium in Zubah Town, Paynesville in his memory.
The deceased who was described in the government’s official Gazette, as an ‘ardent lover and supporter of sports on the local, national and international levels,” showed interest in the love of sports in the 1960’s when he became a member of the National Volleyball; team that won the west African Zone Three championship in Abidjan, the now Cote d’ Ivoire in 1954. Some of his teammates were Granville Dennis, Eugene Peabody, Jim Holder, Clarence Acolatse, Alvin Sackor, Alfred weeks, John Diggs and Tarpeh Roberts. The team also represented Liberia at the first all-African Games in Congo, Brazzaville.
As for the Liberian Football Association, which is the mother organization of all football clubs and supervisor of all football activities in the country, the late Knuckles, who was affectionately known in the sporting arena as “Boy Willis,” at some point during his association with the association, served as Secretary General, and later rose to the position of vice president for the association.
At one point, the LFA became a living dead association. It was based on the commitment, hard work and expertise of the late Knuckles and others that the LFA was resuscitated or reorganized, as its vice president when the late Samuel K. Doe was its president. With the help of his now ailing buddy, Paul Mulbah, who was at the funeral in a wheelchair, as the LFA then chief of operation, the administration, was about to reform the association.
The official gazette further pointed out that during his tenure, major reforms were introduced, including the establishment of sub-committees and sub-associations throughout the country. A regular football league was put in place and the Invincible (IE) versus Mighty Barrolle regulars were replaced with a system that saw the creation of new teams such as Monrovia Black Star, Fulani FC, Young Eagles, St. Joseph Warriors, LPRC Oilers and NPA Anchors.
It is an open secret that during that period, with roper planning and implementation, something that the deceased was credited for, the nation saw many stars emerging from its soccer competition. The high competitiveness of the game at the time, backed by support from President Samuel Doe, produced many players who left the country for greener pastures. They included George Weah, formerly of IE, who won several international laurels; James Debah, formerly of Mighty Barrolle, Kelvin Sebwe (who was at the funeral), formerly of Black Star, and Joe Nagbe, also of IE, just to name a few that went international.
Besides producing players that played for international clubs, the country defeated some countries it had not defeated for years in previous years.
It was because of the development of soccer at the time that when there was attempts during one of the interim administrations, following President Samuel Doe’s death, to rename the football stadium from the Samuel K. Doe Sports Complex to another name and there were massive protests and rejections as it was said that the late Doe did much for soccer and therefore, his name should remain for his role in the development and improvement of the game during his administration.
In all fairness, the Alpha Oldtimers Sports Association did not make any mistake or misjudgment in naming this stadium in memory of the late knuckles because he was one person I observed over the years who dedicated himself to the development of sports in this country. This even led him to operating a sporting newspaper that commanded the respect of the sporting public.
As for the Alpha Oldtimers, there is no gainsaying that he worked over the years to get it to what it is today. Something that started as a small group has today snowballed to a larger organization, with well-organized leagues intermittently. To say it the Liberian way, “This Oldtimers business was not a small thing.” He put in his time, efforts, money and spirit, as his way of getting the association which did not own, but can now boast of one today, to what it is today.
Therefore, the decision of the association for such an honor is indeed, one of the greatest signs of gratitude and appreciation one or an organization, like Alpha can show to such a man who invested his time and energy in such association.
Noticeably, the life that this man lived proved itself during his funeral because of the massive turnout by Liberians and foreign friends from all walks of life. At the funeral, I saw Liberians from different tribal groups and professional persuasions. I saw Sirleaf- Johnson, Dunbar, Nagbe, Gibson, Gould, Best, Korkoya, Massaquoi, Samukai, Mulbah, Bestman, BilityLighe, Davies, Allen, Urey, Shannon, Bropleh, Williams, Jones, Gooding, Goodridge, Ja’neh, Doe, Dickson, Kromah, Cooper, Kollie, Sherman, just to name some of the thousands of Liberians who turned out, some of whom sat under canopy, with video screens to be a part of the funeral service.
To the association, I say, well done for such honor, but what matters now is to ensure the completion of that field, because the deceased was someone who believed in finishing the job, no matter the difficulties associated with such a task.
Yes, he was a planner and finisher, and more importantly a workaholic and an antithesis of mediocrity, in whatever he undertook. Sadly to note this great man has gone at a time this country needs a master planner like him to combat the deadly Ebola outbreak. But again, it is the will of God, and we must accept it and live with the pains associated with such a departure.
Indeed, a strong mobilizer, planner and fundraiser has fallen; the challenge now is to emulate those good examples and virtues that that man in whose memory this stadium is named, to make the field what it ought to be to represent such a man. With this, his soul would rest in perfect peace.