Football, as we all know, is a sport that transcends contentious subjects such as ethnicity and religion, it is universally acknowledged that football, and sport in general, can bring communities together and provide a platform for personal development and success. Like community, it can provide a sense of belonging and build character. Without doubt, football and sport play a key role in communities all across the world and it is the people behind the scenes such as the community officers, community coaches, mentors and welfare officials that do amazing work in ensuring that football clubs reach out to their community and ensure that there’s a relationship and legacy in place for the club to exist and move forward. The term “legend” is banded about all too often in the world of football, seemingly always in relation to services on the football pitch but it stretches much further than that.
Recently, I’ve been fortunate to spend some time chatting and getting to know Leyton Orient’s very own ‘man of the people’ Errol McKellar. I’m sure if he reads this he’ll wince in embarrassment such is his nature, but just listening to his enthusiasm and passion for his community of Hackney and the work he has done and indeed continues to do, justifies the praise.
Errol is the proprietor of Cremer Garage in Hackney, a business he has owned for over 20 years. He is a mainstay in the East and North London communities, servicing not only cars but the community as a whole as both a football coach and official mentor for local youths as well as campaigning tirelessly in raising awareness of Prostate Cancer. I personally got to know Errol, I’m ashamed to say, when he was selected as the official torch bearer representing the London Borough of Hackney for the London 2012 Olympic Games. It was an honour bestowed upon him in recognition of his dedication and determination to help others in the area. I remember him walking across the pitch as we had our pre season photo shoot, dressed all in white in his olympic tracksuit carrying the olympic torch in hands that can only be described as shovels.
Personally and particularly due to his modesty, It’s sad to think that I may never have met Errol or even been aware of his achievements if it wasn’t for the recognition and selection of him by others. Kevin Lisbie, a fellow Hackney native, joked that Errol must have 24 hour a day security on the torch but Errol’s reply was simply “there’s no need, as the community wouldn’t allow anything like that to happen”. First of all, it would be a brave man to confront Errol such as his size but it also shows the level of respect he has built up within the community from both adults and youth alike.
Like many other inner city areas, Hackney is seemingly always associated with negative press such as gun and knife crime and gang association but around these problems is a strong multi ethnic community centred on trying to eradicate these dilemmas and Errol and many others like him have taken a lead role. Errol spoke to me about his role as an official mentor for troubled youths and you couldn’t help but feel inspired. I’m sure many of us feel weighed down by our own problems at the best of times and to hear someone who takes time out to visit young lads at police stations who have made wrong choices and offer them advice and guidance is an eye opening admiration. To act as a father figure to those who, perhaps, haven’t had a male role model in their life is an emotional strain that I can only imagine but Errol simply shrugs his shoulders and says “they’re my boys and if I can help them in any way then I’ll try”.
I spoke with Errol at length about his football coaching and the players he’s dealt with over the years, I’ll mention a few names but you probably won’t recognise them such as Ashley Cole, Ledley King, Sol Campbell, a young David Beckham and our very own Kevin Lisbie. He’s been involved in football for over 30 years and has helped to nurture future England internationals and now is fighting to get Orient’s representation in the Hackney area to a point where they’re a main beneficiary of the borough’s talent.
In 2010, Errol was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer and is now thankfully in remission getting on with his life. To say he was devastated by the news is an understatement and it certainly changed his outlook on life and men’s health in particular. With his wife nagging him to go and see a doctor about his snoring (apologies to Mrs McKellar maybe nagging is the wrong word). Errol went, read a pamphlet about prostate cancer in the waiting room and thought ‘I might aswell get that checked since I’m here’. Within a couple of weeks of the test he was being operated on to have the cancer removed and thankfully it was a success. How something as trivial as snoring can lead to getting a cancer check is one of life’s little mysteries but it undoubtedly saved his life and Errol now uses his experience to campaign avidly in raising awareness for the disease. The facts are 1 in 8 men are affected by prostate cancer and the risk is considerably higher in Afro-Caribbean men, a statistic which Errol was and I’m sure the majority are completely unaware. Undoubtedly shocked by this, Errol now offers discounted rates at his car garage to men who promise to get screened. To date, he has helped 16 men identify the disease and seek treatment and this has fuelled his desire to keep raising awareness and break down stereotypical male ignorance surrounding their health.
I’ve tried my best to keep this piece to the point and I’m sure I’ve only just touched the surface. I could write and write and continue to ‘big up’ a man that doesn’t seek recognition but if it took the Olympic torch procession to make me aware of Errol’s work and achievements then how many others are oblivious to the tireless work that goes on within our little club and community. Errol says his Jamaican parents always emphasised the importance of giving back and being someone who people respected, I think it’s safe to say he’s doing them, Hackney and our club proud.
For those of you who want to put a face to the name and hear him chat about his experiences then simply type the name ‘Errol McKellar’ into YOUTUBE and watch “A story to tell with Annetha Hall”.