Steve “Nato” Hurst: An Enigma before His Time
By Colin James
The King is dead!
Long Live The King!
They say a King has no honour in his country,and so did this mortal who I have been asked eulogized today, who lived and experienced the joy, pain and agony of those who adorned him and those who mistrust his genius.
Whether or not you knew his christened names were Tony Troy Jerry Hurst; or you though it was Steve Hurst, alias “Chicken”, “Nato” or “George Prang” or simply “Prang” one thing you would not disagree with is that has etched an indelible mark on every playfield he walked-on; a legion of footballers – past and present – and has written his own chapter in the annals of the sport.
This dreadlocks maestro was a legend who led a legendary path that would hard to follow much more emulate.
He was an icon whose iconic status would never be dampen.
He will go down in the pantheon of Antiguan football and folklore as one of the greatest to grace playfields across the country, and to an extent the Caribbean.
He was a striker par excellence; a dribbler, a creator, a playmaker and a deadly marksman.
Mack Pond, King George V, Princess Margaret School ground, Villa, YASCO or AGS Top Field, Liberta, English Harbour, Freeman’s Village and Barnes Hill were his early stomping grounds before he won national championships at the Antigua Recreation Ground, Police Recreation Ground and YASCO for Attackers, Liberta and English Harbour. I’ll delve into those later.
All along his comparable teammate and defender Dave “World B” Edwards – who both grew up in Bassa and practiced their skills in the steel band house on a concrete floor amongst iron racks and galvanized pans – spurred him on to greatness.
“Nato” was who Keithly “KS” Sheppard was to Empire and Grays Green community; he was who Mervin “MR” Richards was for Supa Stars and the national team of Antigua & Barbuda; he was who Daryl Greenaway was to Parham football and the community.
As blasphemous as it may sound, he exhibited the skills illuminated by the incomparable greatBrazilian, Pele, in the movie ‘Escape to Victory’; he had mercurial talent and ball-running wizardry of Argentineans maestros; the late Diego Armando Maradona and Lionel Messi; he would fit comfortable into the dribbling boots and mesmeric skills of another Brazilian wonder, Ronaldino; and Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo would not be embarrassed if Steve “Nato” Hurst articulated the step-overs with panache and brilliance.
Locally, “Nato” formed a deadly combination Everton “Batow” Gonsalves in the youth and senior national team; he was forerunner to what Andy “Gandtone” Nesbitt exhibited in an Empire jersey; he schooled his cousin Kevin “Saxman” Watts into his silky skills. The likes of Derrick “Pretty Boy” Edwards, Peter “Big Pete” Byers, Randolph “Etty” Burton, Tamarly“Ziggy” Thomas and many others would have dreamt of achieving “Nato’s” exploits before coming to fame.
For me, the only other player who came to close to immolating “Nato” was his fellow All Saints villager, Vernon “Pointe” Carter who along with Steve “Laro” Isaac would have made an effective front-three as Mohammed Salah, SadioMane and Roberto Firmino did for Liverpool between 2016-2022.
Others would say that “Nato’s” advent into the Attackers’ team in the late 1970s formed an awesome attacking trio with either of each: Kingsley “Fresh I” Charles, “Badman” or Adam “Muller” Davis.
Let me use another sport – cricket – and three luminaries to demonstrate: “Nato’s” mere presence on the field was as intimidating as the master-blaster Sir Vivian Richards while at the same time sheer-dominating with ball as Sir Viv with the bat; he was elegantly gracefully, awe-enticing but spell-binding enigmatic as Carl Hooper, but was conquering and deadly with his left-foot as Brian Lara welding his blade.
“Nato” mesmerized opponents; bamboozled his team-mates; gave coaches and managers mild heart-attacks; and left spectators and fans dumbfounded in glee and agony with his many career-defining and trademark ball-control, dribbles, passes, shots-at-goal and inventions and creativity.
Conjure up these electrifying images: he had the knock of trapping the ball with his backside; he would leap airborne to control the ball with his instep, tight or chest; he mastered the bicycle or overhead kick; and would utilize any part of anatomy to score a goal – legitimate or otherwise.
Opposing goalkeepers feared his awesome power he generated from a low back-lift executed by both feet fueled by thighs which resembled the pistons of an engine, well-oiled and fine-tuned.
“Nato” tested and fooled referees into awarding him penalty and free-kicks; he challenged administrators; you would be able to late Eustace Newton or St Claire Crump but Keithroy “Bordo” Colbourne or Uriah Calebwould tell you; and he divided opinion among coaches; those who watched the stands, among commentators and the media and those on the field who often questioned if he couldn’t do it simpler.
But that was not “Nato”. He played to entertain and bring fun to the masses.
“Nato” was conscious of what his status meant to the All Saints community. He was cognizant that his talent endeared his village to the wider Antiguan society. Just his father, the later Edwardson “Markie” Hurst demonstrated when he carried the banner in the calypso arena in the 1970s & 1980s; or as Saints Brothers championed as brass-o-rama winners in 1975; or as King Progress became Calypso Monarch in 1984; or as King Bankers ruled the roost 12 years later.
“Nato” grew in the close-knit area, once known as Mack Alley, but renamed Bassa in the 1970s from where he honed his early football skills.
His mother, Lilian Mathew, an industrious hotel employee, did not have the privilege of spending the quality time she may have wanted with him because of work commitments, but the presence of his father, Edwardson “Markie” Hurts, a senior health inspector, and the care and nurturing of his grandmother, Nacessa along with his aunts, uncles and cousin, and that of the neighbourhood, guaranteed the guidance needed was there.
This is not to say he was unlike any ordinary boy who played games in the roads; cooked-out at ball-pasture; hunted birds with a catapult;fished at the ponds and dams; reared animals; played the steelpan.
He knew how to charm and mesmerize the opposite sex with athletic ability and handsome features. Mary… the mother of … of his children can attest to that.
Like many of his generation he grew up listening to conscious lyrics of King Short Shirt, King Swallow, King Obstinate, Latumba et al; Sparrow, Kitchener, Shadow, Chalkdust and David Rudder of Trinidad & Tobago; Jamaican great Bobby Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Gregory Isaac just to name a few.
Learn to play via football on TV
With no dedicated coaches around in the 1970s, Nato relied on the television for his tips which he gleaned from probably one of the few TV at the late Percy Thomas’ home, jostling with his peers to watch from the window.
Just after the 1974 World Cup finals in Germany, which he may have watched after it was shown on the big screen at the Drive-In Cinema at Michael’s Mount in St John’s, he was exposed to viewing the professional game regular when ABS TV showed the Big League highlights from England’s First Division, now the Premier League, and the German Bundesliga.
From about age 11, he was inspired and fascinated by the likes of Holland’s genius Johan Cruyff, Germany’s Gerd Muller, Kevin Keegan of England.
When the 1978 World Cup finals were played in Argentina, he was impressed with home country’s star, Mario Kempes, while a certain Maradona was emerging.
I believe Hilroy “All-round” Carr played a mentoring role like a father-figure in “Nato’s” early development. Although not trained formally as coach, “All-round” was there to guide him like so many of us from the Mack Alley or Bassa commune.
Afterwards Norman “Dread I” Charles – someone whom he idolized — the hard-nosed uncompromising defender and Attackers captain, took up the mantle when “Nato” moved to play with Dreads following a fallout with Bassa in the All Saints Community Football League.
Some well-known figures in the community, a few of whom I would have already mentioned, also played an integral role, while the late eminent Director of Sports Pat Whyte and highly-respected coach Daintes “Danny” Livingstone had their influences.
CONCACAF Youth Championship in Miami
It was Messrs. Whyte and Livingstone who selected him and “World B” among a group of talented national youth team for the inaugural CONCACAF U20 tournament in Miami in 1980 to compete against and losing to the United States, El Salvador and the Netherlands Antilles but defeating Barbados 1-0 in their group matches.
The exposure would have further spurred the imagination of “Nato” that he had what it took to develop into a great player. You can glean what it meant to us when he and World B returned to the Bassa block at the culvert next to where he lived to recall what transpired in Florida.
A&B National Team
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