A Noble And Quiet Gentle Man, A True Patriot, A Coach and Statesman, Honorable Philip Fanien Robinson
By Borbor H. Gaye
This moment is a time of sober reflections: for the family; his colleagues at home and in Africa; his former class and school mates; his neighbors; people from all walks of life and in particular, all former players of football associations current and former in Liberia, as well as the government and people of Liberia.
As we look back during the coaching career and mentorship of this great and patriotic stalwart of our country, the Republic of Liberia, our hearts are filled with grief and sadness. Honorable Philip Fanien Robinson, a friend and father was not only a national coach of the Liberia National Football Team-Lone Star, he was Liberia’s premier referee ambassador from the continent of Africa, to several international referee associations which are affiliated bodies of the Liberia Football Association, LFA. As an international referee, Honorable Robinson was a member of not only the Liberia Referee Association, he was a highly rated “Class A” Umpire of the Confederation of Africa Football Association – CAF, West Africa Football Union – WAFU and a distinguished Umpire (Referee) of the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA).
The transition of this great stalwart and patriotic son comes at a time when we were away from home in a strange land. We regret this irreparable loss of this quiet giant away from home, mindful of the fact that all sporting organizations would have turned out to bid him farewell for a lifelong service to Mother Liberia.
His death was received with great shock by my family, as the news of his passing echoed throughout the United States and reached my colleagues and other former players in Liberia. The sadness in their voices demonstrated the true love they and the people of Liberia have always had for Honorable Robinson. It was like a lightning had consecutively struck our bodies; hence, it was difficult to console all the players who even as this tribute is being read are calling, crying on the phone. Like them, I am finding it extremely difficult to accept he has transitioned, whenever I reflect on our friendship over some fifty-one years ago. Ambien, as he was affectionately called by us, will be greatly missed. His quiet demeanor and tone of his voice, his unique and gentle pieces of advice will not form part of the learning process of our youths, who no doubt, would have loved to hear his “voice.”
There is a fierce urgency for an astute mentor as a deceased coach; there is a need to fill that vacuum occasioned by the home-going of my great friend and fatherly figure; there is need for a coach of his stature and a referee of his unique abilities to umpire an international match while wearing both the badge of the Liberia Football Association (LFA) for the Republic of Liberia during international matches; there is certainly a need to translate his dream of building a sports academy to be realized; yes, there is a need to finding someone as “Selfless” as our late brother, coach, and friend. There also a desperate need for the Liberia Football Association (LFA) to identify a coach who will train young boys and girls to play for that which emphasizes “Fair Play.”
The doyen of Liberian coaches and the mentor of several former soccer stars, prominent among them is Professor Dr. Charles R. Woefell, Honorable Christopher J. Nippy, First Secretary for Political and Consular Affairs, Chancery of the Embassy of the Republic of Liberia near Washington, D.C., United States.
The late Philip F. Robinson was a great soccer star before and during my time on both the Mighty Barrolle football team and the Liberia National Football Team – Lone Star. In the late 50s and 60s, he played for Youth Leaders and later the Jet Football Team. Given his talent as a dribbler and midfielder, he was selected with David Momo, Jet’s goalkeeper, George and Garrison Sackor and Colonel Samuel Williams, who predeceased him, to train with the Lone Star. Given his profound knowledge of the game, he was sent to Germany where not only his skills were polished, but where he would be trained to develop the soccer (football) skills of soccer stars such as Tarpeh Roberts, Mar Saar, Patrick Teah and Tommy Manneh of the BAME Football Team; another goalkeeper Alexander Peal, a wildlife scientist, several other players including King James Zito Davies, Solomon Sipply, Nyennehtu Santos Maria Brown, Samuel B. Toe, Vava George, Anthony D. Teacher Gray, Paul Broh and a host of several national stars.
In the early 60s, the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) licensed him as Africa and Liberia’s first FIFA Badge Referee to umpire football games in Africa and Europe. By these preferments, he achieved a landmark success and arrived at the apex of his career as an international referee and FIFA certified coach. Philip, as some of his peers called him, was one of the first Liberian and African to be internationally certificated a coach and referee; thus joining the ranks of European licensed coaches and referees. As such, many professional Liberian footballers, including George Manneh Weah, now senior Senator of Montserrado County, Salinsa Debbah, current coach of Lone Star, and several others.
Over time, Honorable Robinson soon discovered that it was now clear that attention by central administration and those at the Liberia Football Association (LFA) lacked the interest to construct a “sports academy” through which he would have trained coaches in basketball, football, table tennis and many subjects in sports training and management, and he transferred his efforts to build an organized sports foundation in Liberia. As a result of fulfilling his dreams, Coach Robinson organized youth programs in various high schools and local communities with the view that government would be encouraged once something was started. Finding it very embarrassing that government was not forthcoming, he decided to help in developing the soccer talents of youths as feeder teams – one of such teams he named “The Scholastic All Stars,” whose players were drawn from high schools in Monrovia and rural Liberia. This primarily was a “Strategy” to support and replenish players on the senior national soccer team. This resulted into my being drafted along with several young high school student-athletes; we were ONLY taken to the national camp when the national team – The Lone Star – had international matches; when the game (s) were completed, we were returned home. As a direct result of this practice and even though we were highly competitive to Ghana Black Stars, Syli Nationale of Guinea and Nigeria Green Eagles who were constantly camped, it was difficult to fully handle our counterparts, resulting in games either being tied or a win for the opponents by a lone goal.
Over time, providence would intervene given his creativity and imagination, to be promoted to the position of Director of Sports at The Ministry of Youth & Sports, taking Liberian sports to another level by organizing training camps for kids and coaches of various sporting disciplines. In the 80s, he was promoted to the position of Assistant Minister for Sports, Republic of Liberia. As a gentle and quiet giant who is always on the move, Coach Philip Fanien Robinson, affectionately known as Ambien by us footballers, especially players of the Lone Star, this man of less words but wisdom was a member of several other international sporting organizations, including: The Liberian National Olympic Committee (LNOC); The International Olympic Committee (IOC); The Federation of International Football Association (FIFA); The Confederation of African Football (CAF) among others.
In 1963, I and some other young boys were encouraged to take our education and athleticism as gifts needed to be harnessed to fulfill our dreams in life, in spite inviting us to camp at the former Chiefs Compound on Camp Johnson Road, where the Lone Star was being camped in preparation for a match against the Nigerian Green Eagles (now known as Super Eagles). Based on this invitation, at 16 years, I was selected to the Lone Star team comprising (Dr.) Charles R. Woefell, George and Garrison Sackor, Jackson Weah, Jasper Domino, Josiah Johnson, David Momo, Jadeh Williams (We Go), Monkey Brown, among others. On the 1963 team (many of those named have predeceased Coach Robinson), except Dr. Woefell, Josiah Johnson and in 1972, Honorable Robinson and Mr. Les Courtier, his counterpart, a British international coach, trained another group of very skillful and talented group of stars whose names were trumpeted throughout Africa as they were in Liberia; but, like the first group, lack of interest by government would dash the hope of Liberia ever capturing the West Africa or African Cup of Nations – there was absolutely no support from central administration. This never defeated now resting giant with the heart of a lion in 1979 and would at least have his dream realized by winning the Six-Nation Tournament during the administration of President William Tolbert. The winning of this trophy demonstrated and proved that if Fanien was given the necessary support by previous presidents, Liberia would have won several African championships during the David Momo and Christopher J. Nippy’s era as goalkeepers on the Lone Star team in 1962 and 1972 respectively.
As I close this tribute in profound memory of our mentor, your father, and our father: a man of tremendous wisdom, but a gentle and quiet voice; a once driving force of several successful football players; an astute gentleman; an exemplary leader; a selfless and great man of integrity; a statesman and true patriot; a visionary and mentor; I will be remise by not informing all of us, that the man whose lifeless body in a few minutes will be laid to rest had groomed administrators, academicians, diplomats, forest and wide life scientists, a senator and an array of other distinguished professionals, including ministers of the Gospel. Most of those who Coach Robinson mentored were once referred to as “Go Round-Grona Boys” by their countrymen; the once despised were encouraged to take each day a meaningful step at a time forgoing all hardships and focusing on their respective future. I want to thank Mrs. Minerva Crayton- Robinson and her children for sharing a piece of your dearest husband, father, cousin, and uncle with us. In the name of each of the former players of Lone Star, and in my own name as Captain, I wish to convey our deepest condolences to you Mrs. Robinson, our mother, and through you to Robinson’s family.
May his soul and the souls of all faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace and may light perpetual shine on them.
About the author: Mr. Borbor H. Gaye, was the former captain of the national soccer team, Lone Star, and former deputy minister for administration at the Ministry of Youth and Sports.