Ben Francis a father figure at Vere - 'Skill' Cole
Allan 'Skill' Cole, one of Jamaica's best-ever footballers, has described the late Ben Francis as a father to everyone who came to Vere Technical High School. Cole, who starred when Vere began to dominate schoolboy football, was speaking just after the thanksgiving service for Vere's founding headmaster at Up Park Camp on November 2. Cole called Francis a shining light.
Cole, who later became the first Jamaican to play pro-fessional football in Brazil, described Francis as "a man full of compassion, he was like a father to everyone who came to the school.
"Mr Francis was always warm. When I think about Ben Francis, I think about a father, who was a father of many great persons that passed through that institution," Cole enumerated.
Cole helped the school Francis opened in 1961 to make its name in football. With Englishman Derek Tomkinson as coach, Vere won the daCosta Cup for the first time in 1965, with Skill banging in 38 goals. When schoolboy football resumed in 1967 after a hiatus in 1966, the team from Hayes swept away all opposition. It was the start of a dynasty that would last until 1971 as Vere won the Olivier Shield, then the symbol of schoolboy football supremacy, from 1967 to 1970.
Vere would regain the Shield in 1976 and 1980.
15-year winning streak
During Francis' tenure at Vere, the school first won Girls' Championships in 1967 and would compile a 15-year winning streak that ran from 1979 to 1993, with squads that included the likes of World Champion-to-be Merlene Ottey and future Olympic champion Deon Hemmings.
Complimenting Francis' work in ISSA, the Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association, Cole commented, "(He was an) outstanding figure, in ISSA and everything, made his contribution and as far as his contribution in the system is concerned, he was just a light, what you call a shining light, that shone brightly."
During the service, former ISSA President Clement Radcliffe praised Francis for the role he played in strengthening ISSA and laying the basis for the organisation's growth.
Cole commended his former headmaster, saying, "Ben Francis, to me, was the father of a new beginning in inter-schools sports and everything, and he did it in such a way that it was outstanding.
"He was the type of individual that he left something with everyone who came across him in his lifetime, and I'm sure that there are thousands of people who would endorse what I'm saying - that he was just a special person," Cole added.
Francis, who also gave outstanding service to the Jamaica Combined Cadet Force, died on October 19, a month and half short of his 95th birthday.