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Walk down memory lane: when PHC achieved the unthinkable

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PHC, with the three trophies they won in the 2017-18 season — league, Friendship Trophy and Dudley Eve Trophy (File photograph by Lawrence Trott)
Perfect 10: PHC celebrate with their mascot after winning a tenth league title in 2018 (File photograph by Lawrence Trott)
Sammy Swan in his heyday for PHC Zebras. Swan was the coach when PHC claimed an historic league title in 1999-2000, the year after getting promoted (File photograph)
Earl "Townsey" Russell, the former PHC legend, was a regular at PHC games well into his eighties. He got to see them win back-to-back tenth and eleventh titles in 2018 and 2019 before he passed away last year (Photograph by Lawrence Trott)

PHC can boast a record 11 league titles, but one that stood out was undoubtedly the first of the new millennium in the 1999-2000 season.

The Zebras, who had just returned to the top flight after being relegated to the Second Division for the second time in their history, became the first team to gain promotion one season and win the league title the next.

They returned to the rebranded Premier Division with survival as their top priority, as three teams were due to be relegated in a move to reduce the top flight to eight teams for the 2000-01 season.

However, results went better than expected and by November PHC were leading the Premier Division, forcing other teams to take them seriously. At Christmastime, they were still in first place after qualifying for the Dudley Eve Trophy with games to spare.

Their only loss in the first half of the season came when Wolves handed them a 1-0 loss in their last game before Christmas, Keemo Smith scoring in the 63rd minute.

However, PHC kept the momentum going in the second half of the campaign, now believing that they could go all the way and win an eighth league title. There was now the suggestion that the Zebras could do what no team had done before — or since.

“We were just concentrating on staying up after winning the Second Division,” said player-coach Sammy Swan, who returned from Vasco the season before and guided the team to promotion at the first attempt.

“Then we got winning and after a few games we looked and we were at the top and weren’t worried about the Second Division any more.”

Swan felt the time was right to return to PHC after three seasons at Vasco, where he won the Triple Crown the previous year under coach John Rebello.

“After we won the Triple Crown, they offered me the Vasco job when John wanted me to coach,” he recalled. “They heard I was coming back [to PHC] and they wanted me to stay.

“I wanted to go back to PHC because I had learnt everything from PHC. All the people who taught me were PHC people and I wanted to give something back.”

Swan concentrated solely on coaching in that first season as the team comfortably won promotion as champions.

PHC rose to the ranks of champions again the next season, even though their field was still closed for repair work to the ground and lights. They played their home games at Southampton Oval while in the Second Division and then switched to Somerset Cricket Club the next season while PHC Stadium remained closed.

They wrapped up the league with victory over Wolves in their final game, although the side that Dennis Brown coached to promotion the year before again proved tough opponents as they sought to complete the “double” over the Zebras.

PHC needed to win that final game as it was expected that main challengers North Village would get a victory over already relegated Boulevard at Bernard Park. PHC had a two-point lead over Village, who had a better goal difference..

PHC clinched the title in dramatic fashion, scoring two goals in the last ten minutes at Somerset to clinch a 3-1 win after Wolves wiped out Raynell Lightbourne’s 52nd-minute opener with an equaliser through Nathan Webb three minutes later.

It stayed that way until a cross from the right reached Stanton Lewis, who scored at the far post in the 80th minute. Then coach Swan, who came out of retirement midway through the season to help end a slump, added the third three minutes later when his volley from a Chris Furbert cross went in off the underside of the crossbar.

“I think I scored about seven goals in eight games, almost every game I played in,” he said.

Swan’s squad that season was made up of players such as goalkeeper Carlyle Crockwell Jr, Lewis, Lightborne, Furbert, Otis Steede, Vic Ball, Kenny Mills and Ricky Mallory.

“The team has done better than just survive and I’m grateful and happy for the guys,” Swan told The Royal Gazette that day.

“A lot of them haven’t had this opportunity before. The best part about it was coming straight from the Second Division.”

Swan also had praise for Wolves for not making it an easy three points for PHC. “They played hard and gave us a terrible scare,” Swan told this paper that day.

“It was just a matter of getting the guys going because they had never been in this position before. We were nervous and it took a while for the team to get going.

“I just want the same thing for the players that I had in my time and hopefully my club will get back to that position.”

Swan added this week: “We didn’t even have any lights; they shut down the club and we trained mostly at Warwick Sec field, which didn’t have lights then.

“We had to go up to Somerset one night out of the week. The club was closed the entire three years I was coach.”

Swan broke into the PHC first team as a teenager in the late 1970s, playing alongside veterans such as Marischal “Mop” Astwood, Jimmy Paynter, Roger Butterfield, John Nusum, Cecil Robinson and goalkeeper Ed “Beaver” Burrows.

“I played under Jack Castle and Kyle [Lightbourne] when they were coach, too,” said Swan, who continued playing into his forties.

PHC first won the league in 1970-71 and since then have had back-to-back wins three times — 1984-85 and 1985-86, 1988-89 and 1989-90, and most recently in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

They have also won the FA Cup a record 11 times and the Friendship Trophy a record 12 times after back-to-back wins in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons to surpass Somerset’s 11 wins.

Scott Morton, who succeeded Mark Wade as coach in 2016 when Wade became the BFA president, led the team to seven trophies in three seasons before he stood down at the end of the 2018-19 season. He won back-to-back league, Friendship Trophy and Charity Cup titles, and one FA Cup, which he achieved in his first season in 2016-17.

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Published January 02, 2021 at 8:33 am (Updated January 02, 2021 at 8:32 am)

Walk down memory lane: when PHC achieved the unthinkable

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