Townsey’s name will never be forgotten

  • Local legend: Earl “Townsey” Russell, left, shakes hands with Sir Stanley Matthews during an exhibition match between Bermuda and Blackpool on the island in 1962. Russell died on Sunday at the age of 91

    Local legend: Earl “Townsey” Russell, left, shakes hands with Sir Stanley Matthews during an exhibition match between Bermuda and Blackpool on the island in 1962. Russell died on Sunday at the age of 91

Bermuda football is mourning the loss of one of its greatest ambassadors.

Earl “Townsey” Russell, the former Key West Rangers and PHC Zebras player, died last Sunday at the age of 91.

Russell, whose name became synonymous with PHC, was regarded as one of the best forwards and central defenders of his era and possessed exceptional passing and dribbling skills, as well as tactical awareness.

It was these qualities which helped transform Key West Rangers and the Zebras into formidable teams in the 1950s and 1960s.

Russell was a member of the first PHC team to lift the FA Cup after edging Pembroke Juniors 4-3 in the 1956-57 final and the club’s only team to win the showpiece three times in a row.

However, Russell’s extraordinary talents were not limited to the domestic game as he also made his presence felt against foreign opposition while representing local selects during incoming tour matches.

He also put something back into the game during coaching stints at PHC, St George’s Colts and Southampton Rangers and North Village (Masters) and in 2006 was inducted into the Bermuda Sports Hall of Fame.

“This is a big loss for Bermuda football but Townsey’s name will always be remembered, whether he’s here or not, because he is an icon,” said Calvin ‘Bummy’ Symonds, who played alongside Russell at Key West Rangers and PHC.

“Townsey was [the type of]player that no one had ever seen before and should have been playing in England.”

Symonds, who also played professionally with English side Rochdale in the mid-1950s, added: “I remember when he took me on from 11 years old at Key West Rangers. He was the mastermind of bringing a lot of us youngsters up.

“I played with him at Key West Rangers and PHC and he really hung in there with most of the youngsters and taught us how to control the ball. His mind was brilliant for football.”

Russell’s extraordinary ball skills can perhaps be attributed to practising with tennis balls in his early development.

“He was a very gifted dribbler,” Dennis Wainwright, the former Flatts Tigers, Wellington Rovers and Young Men’s Social Club goalkeeper, said.

“His timing was impeccable and he and Bummy Symonds were a perfect combination because a lot of his goals came from ‘Townsey’.”

Among the many players Russell inspired were Somerset Trojans pair Clyde Best and Randy Horton, who went on to play professionally at West Ham United and New York Cosmos, respectively.

“I used to watch ‘Townsey’ play in Somerset and then once he finished playing I’d go try to do the same tricks I saw him doing, so he inspired me a lot,” said Best, one of the first black players in the English game.

“He inspired so many people in Bermuda at that time and you should never forget people like that.

“‘Townsey’ was a footballer who knew how to handle the football and he could beat three people if he had to. He was a good passer of the ball and had lots of tricks.

“He was just a masterful footballer and I think if would have been anywhere else in the world he would have been a professional.

“If there was ever a monument to go up anywhere [in Bermuda], ‘Townsey’ would be one of the first ones I would like to see up there for football because he was a legend.”

Best added: “I am going to miss him because I saw him now and again and we always talked and what I liked about Townsey is you never saw him get mad. He was also smiling and he is surely going to be missed at the football games and I’m sure his family is definitely going to miss him because he was a decent fellow.”

Meanwhile, Horton said: “‘Townsey’ was, in my view, one of the outstanding legends of football in Bermuda. He was a super dribbler and once he had the ball at his feet it would be very difficult to get it from him.

“He could go by people and create two-on-one or three-on-one situations, which is always what a team is looking to do in order to break through a defence.

“If the opportunities were there when he was playing I’m sure ‘Townsey’ would have gone far in terms of in the professional ranks.”

Horton added: “I had the greatest respect for Townsey.

“In fact, Townsey was a mentor of mine and he certainly helped me develop my game, even though I was a Somerset Trojan playing against his well beloved Zebras. He made suggestions about my game that helped me improve significantly, so I’m really thankful for the fact he took an interest in me as a player.

”When ‘Townsey’ spoke you just listened because he knew what he was talking about in terms of the game of football.”

Lovitta Foggo, the Minister of Community Affairs and Sports, also paid tribute to the late Russell

“‘Townsey’, as he was affectionately known, had a long and distinguished career,” she said. “He was an outstanding player locally and proudly represented Bermuda when he played internationally.

“We are grateful for Earl Russell’s contribution to our sports community, he will be sadly missed. On behalf of the Ministry of Community Affairs and Sports, I extend our sincerest condolences and our thoughts and prayers to Mr. Russell’s family.”

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Published Sep 1, 2020 at 12:01 am (Updated Sep 1, 2020 at 3:48 pm)

Townsey’s name will never be forgotten

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