The former vice chairman of the Liberia Football Association (LFA), Mr. Willis D. Knuckles, Jr., died in Accra, Ghana, on Monday July 28, 2014, after a brief illness, family sources told the Daily Observer yesterday.
In the 1980s, he was appointed as vice chairman of the Liberia Football Association, to head a team that changed the future of Liberian football for the better.
Though the late President Samuel K. Doe held on to the chairmanship of the LFA, the operational aspects of the association were under his leadership.
Knuckles was assisted by Mr. Paul E. Mulbah, as Chief of Operations, with the late Marcel E. Bertin as Secretary General.
His administrative secretary was Mr. Harry M. Attoh. President Doe worked along with the team at the LFA, and reorganized the administration of football in the country.
Under his leadership, major reforms were introduced, including the establishment of sub-committees and sub-associations throughout the country. They are still the bedrock of the Liberia Football Association.
A regular soccer league was put into place and the traditional Invincible Eleven versus Mighty Barrolle regulars were replaced with a system.
Knuckles supervised a new football association, and with effective administrative skills, backed by presidential support and funding, began football competitions that helped to bring out the George Weah generation.
It was still under his administration that teams in the national league increased to 12, with clubs like Monrovia Black Star, Fulani FC (all in Monrovia) and Young Eagles of Harbel challenged the league’s dominance of Invincible Eleven, St. Joseph’s Warriors and Mighty Barrolle, to begin Liberia’s participation in continental tournaments.
In fact Young Eagles were known as the giant killers, with goalkeeper John Dorbor as one of the nation’s best, despite his height advantage.
Knuckles’ administration expanded the league and encouraged the formation of soccer teams that were fully supported by government agencies.
For instance, LPRC-Oilers and NPA-Anchors were born in this period and with players being financially supported, (many were employed at the various corporations), and much attention was placed on the actual game performance.
Unfortunately, Knuckles resigned his vice chairman position due to what was described as ‘policy differences’ with President Doe and was the publisher of the erstwhile SPORTS WORLD newspaper.
It was later learned that Knuckles advised against spending money to get foreign nationals to play for the Lone Star, at the expense of developing local talent.
After he resigned, Mr. Cletus S. Wotorson, (Grand Kru Senator), was appointed to his stead. Mr. Wotorson had succeeded by lifting basketball to another level and President Doe was convinced he was the best replacement and he did not disappoint him.
When contacted yesterday, Sen. Wotorson told the Daily Observer, “I was in a state of shock and despair when I heard the announcement of Mr. Knuckles’ death. He was my best friend.”
Sen. Wotorson added that the late Knuckles was very dependable and loyal who would go the extra mile for a friend. “He was approachable and well organized for a task, though not an engineer, he did excellently well at the Ministry of Public Works,” Sen. Wotorson said.
He expressed his deepest condolences to the family and prayed for God’s support in this difficult time.
Knuckles also held positions as Public Works Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs of the Republic of Liberia in President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s administration. He was Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Youth and Sports at the time of the 1980 coup d’etat.
He was the founder of the Alpha Old Timers Football Club, and active player in the old timers’ league, till his recent illness, family sources said. It was during his administration at the LFA that the Sports Writers Association of Liberia, SWAL, was organized.
He was also a member of the LFA Advisory Committee that reviews current activities of the Liberia Football Association with recommendations for President Musa Bility’s consideration. It is headed by Information Minister Lewis Brown.
A spokesman for the Advisory Committee expressed condolences to the family and friends, and requested for God’s blessings for the family. Funeral arrangements will be announced later, a family source said.
He is survived by his loving wife, Mrs. Hawa Sherman Knuckles, two daughters, Hawa Ellen and Ethel Virginia, a son, Willis III, grand children, several brothers, including Gabriel Knuckles, a sister, Bushin Knuckles and many other relatives.