Indeed, many of those who knew him were shocked at his incredible ability to talk non-stop for many hours.
On Lone Star’s trip to Mauritania to honor an African Nations’ Cup encounter, many of the players, and this was confirmed by Photo-journalist, Mozart Dennis, he spoke non-stop till it was announced that the plane was readying to land at Nouakchott International Airport.
Radio Moscow was his nickname, and as a coach he felt he needed a strong arm to control and manage the players.
If you guess it, and your mind settled on Coach Walter Pelham, you are right.
During his playing days, the lanky defender was a no-nonsense attacker. His fondest memories were the matches he played against the Black Stars of Ghana and even the then Flying Eagles, now Super Eagles of Nigeria.
So as President Samuel Kanyon Doe took over the Liberia Football Association as its undisputed chairman, it was national coach Walter Pelham, having assumed the post from ex-Coach, Cameroonian Anthony Kuoh, and assisted by Wilfred Kijani Lardner, who handled the Stars.
It was a period of unexpected soccer politics, and Invincible Eleven and Mighty Barrolle’s officials played it to the hilt.
We recall the final encounter of the Africa Zone 111 Finals, and with two of Liberia’s super stars in the persons of James Salinsa Debbah and George Oppong Weah in the midst of their soccer revolution, it became clear that they were unbeatable and made for great things.
Not forgetting the support from colleagues like midfielder Mark Gibson, striker Dominic Brapoh, (Lucky Shango), Patrick Saar, Pati Rossi, Pietor Kromah, among others, with the clever goalkeeping of Pewou Bestman, the Nation’s Best, Anthony Tokpa and others, the Stars were ready to rumble against the Black Stars of Ghana.
Liberian soccer fans knew good soccer when they saw one. Like the former national coach, Josiah N. Johnson would always say, it was in such moments that soccer could speak the language of the turf. However, being as wise as he is, he always reminded himself that the art of soccer is like breaking a piece of biscuit.
It normally never breaks where it is not intended, and therefore he always reserved room for disappointment. Now the finals of Zone 111 Tournament were here, and Liberia could not let the trophy slip out of her hands.
Team preparation involved many aspects of the game. At some point some players would insist that they need “their thing” to rob on themselves. With soccer’s incredible surprises, there is no wonder that players have always wanted some “divine” help.
But then we are confronted with what many knowledgeable supporters of the game describe as “Scientific football.” For where is the scientific part of it when a player would insist he would rob his “thing?”
With everything said and done, the time for the finals ticked by the minute and the hour, and it came out that there was a problem with the Lone Star team. The report was not encouraging, for the nation’s celebrated soccer star, James Salinsa Debbah, had announced that he was unfit to play the finals.
The report shocked the entire Liberian nation, and team doctors, the best there ever was, got themselves busy, examining the particular leg that the “Miracle Man” had declared was unfit to defend the country’s honor against the raging Black Stars of Ghana. The Black Stars had the indomitable left winger Opoku Nti as its skipper.
The president of the Barrolle Sports Association Mr. Alhaji G. V. Kromah, in his fatherly role as President of Barrolle, sympathized with the “Miracle Man,” and Salinsa entrenched his unwillingness to play against the Black Stars. Lo and behold, after careful examination by the best team doctor that ever was, it was announced that James Debbah was as fit as a fiddle, and he had nothing to worry.
The relief by that announcement was short lived, but the entire Barrolle leadership could not see eye to eye with the opinion of Lone Star’s team doctor and Coach Pelham.
Coach Walter E. Pelham was in a quandary of losing the finals, if the Miracle Man held on to his decision, since the BSA officials were not helping the situation in any case.
Walter Pelham saw the emerging development as the end of his career, for he had worked harder with the technical team to reach the finals of the Zone 111, for the first time in the history of Liberian soccer, and sadly everything seemed to burst asunder.
As the dew upon the roses warms and melts the morning light, Walter saw his dream of holding on to the trophy, and presenting it to the chief executive fading and escaping, and he knew he would awake to the tears of Liberians who had thronged the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex, cheering and hoping for eventual victory.
With a heavy heart, George Weah led his friends, minus the Miracle Man, onto the field, with thousands stunned in silence. In the end the Ghanaians made victory certain, and the trophy returned to Accra the city that had held it since the competition was organized.
Like wasted hours of youth, Walter E. Pelham never recovered from what he saw as the greatest betrayal of his life. Though he held on as a coach, and won several matches, Pelham was done with the Lone Star. Finally when he left the Lone Star, the mantle fell on the shoulders of Wilfred Lardner and his deputy, Manneh Peters.
The two men, with the support from George Weah, Jonathan Sogbie (Boye Charles), and other professionals, managed, in 1996, to qualify Liberia for her first participation in the African Cup of Nations. Though Pelham was still active and was an executive member of the Liberia Football Association, the fire that burned in his heart for Liberian football had been dimmed.
Salinsa’s lack of cooperation angered Mr. Willis D. Knuckles, the former vice chairman of the LFA, that he was forced to pen a scathing response, demanding that, “Salinsa should either shape in or shape out,” of the national team. But like everything James Debbah, many Liberians agreed that he was “bitter sweet,” and sports officials could not swallow him whole, neither could they condone his sometimes erratic behavior, for he was a man gifted with soccer sense that his team mates always needed for the final countdown to victory.
As fate would have it, Walter E. Pelham became a casualty of the tragedy that befell then Police Director, Joe Tate, in a plane crash that smothered their remains beyond recognition in 1998.
The sad thing was that the new coaches, Lardner and Peters eventually succumbed to their deaths several years later.