KWAN BROWNE: THE CARIBBEAN HOCKEY KING

Kwan Browne is Trinidad & Tobago’s (T&T) hockey King. He’s royalty and still brings it to the pitch every week, as a player or a coach. In his prime, the fans, teammates and opponents would say that he was one of the best in the world. It has been an amazing journey for T&T hockey master.

Words: Tiago Marques
I didn’t want to be the best in Trinidad & Tobago, I wanted to be the best in the world”
When you think of the Caribbean, your thoughts are on vacations with perfect weather, sun, sand and clear water. Nothing seems to relate this paradisiac place to top-level field hockey, but we are all wrong. Belmont, in Trinidad & Tobago (T&T) is the hometown of Kwandwane Browne, also known as Kwan Browne. Looking at his curriculum, you can underline the “T&T Player of the Year” award that he won 9 times, several Pan American Elite Team membership and even more MVP awards in different competitions. In the hockey dictionary (if there was one), Kwan Browne would be synonyms of T&T’s hockey King, hockey royalty and all of that made with passion: I love everything about hockey and it’s what makes me happy. The fact that I can bring some happiness to others is great”.

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“I have destroyed quite a bit of furniture playing inside the house”

All begun when he was a child. Some reports say it was at 3 years old, but Kwan himself can’t remember exactly. What made a mark on Browne’s parents’ life was the furniture that Kwan destroyed: I was too young to remember, but my parents told me that I would do everything with my hockey stick and it started very early in the morning. I have destroyed quite a bit of furniture playing inside the house. My youngest aunt (Gerry) lived with me, and we would play hockey during the holidays in the living room for several hours a day. We weren’t allowed to use a ball, so we rolled up several pairs of socks to make a ball and played”.

Field hockey was in his blood and all because of the women in the T&T international family: “My mom and four aunts all played for the national hockey and cricket teams. The women in my family were really good at sports and I lived with my aunt who took me to all her hockey training since I was a baby”. You can say it worked out great for his aunt, for T&T hockey and to himself…in a time when there were no great conditions: “My family is from Belmont, but we lived on a mountain and there was no Astro turf in Trinidad until I was 17 years old, so all my hockey was played on grass. However, I only lived in Belmont until I was 6 and then moved to Tacarigua which was far away from the grass pitches”.

“Some people have told me that I am talented, gifted, etc. Don’t agree at all, I work extremely hard”

After a while, Kwan Browne started playing at Notre Dame. In a time with no mobiles, with no internet, everything would work out in a perfect way: “I have fantastic memories of Notre Dame. I joined the club when I was 11 years old, and they looked after me for the rest of my life. Mobile phones never existed, and I am still unsure how we made arrangements, but someone collected me from my home and brought me back for every session. I was the youngest on the team and most of the players in Notre Dame were full time professionals, so a lot of my memories are around them giving advice and just being there for me. There are so many great memories that I can’t single one out”.
As we said in the beginning, in Kwan’s prime, fans, teammates and opponents would say that Browne was one of the best players in the world. Formal recognition never came but from someone that started in Trinidad & Tobago (far away from the traditional and most recognized hockey countries) it was already a big step, but something that Kwan looked for: “I trained harder than everyone else, I trained almost every day. I didn’t want to be the best in Trinidad & Tobago, I wanted to be the best in the world. I would study every skill I could find in any VHS tape I could get with the FIH hockey highlights. I would practice it until I was extremely good at it”. He did it and the informal appreciation came fast. For Kwan Browne “it’s great to be considered as one of the best players. However, I just enjoyed playing against top players and top teams. It was great playing in The Netherlands against players I enjoyed watching on television like Teun de Nooijer”.

To overcome himself is like his life motto. Even today: “Some people have told me that I am talented, gifted, etc. Don’t agree at all, I work extremely hard. I love training, I will stay on the Astro for hours!! I’m now 40 and I trained on Monday with Ashley Jackson for four hours. We coached some kids for two hours, but we did everything with the kids and played in the small games. We then stayed on and trained for another two hours on our own. Hard work is the only way”.

Getting back again to the individual trophies, Kwan was awarded Trinidad and Tobago Hockey Player of the Year in 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2010; was named Sports Personality of the Year by T&T Olympic Committee; named for the Pan American Elite Team in  2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013…and we could go on. All feels good for the now-a-days defender, but it has little importance: “It’s always nice to win awards, but I don’t play hockey for the personal awards, I play because I love the sport. Winning personal awards never changed my approach to hockey”.

 

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“There is nothing like representing your country. Hearing your national anthem play before a match still gets me every time”

After starting really young, working hard and showing off, it wasn’t a surprise that Kwan Browne was also an early pick for the T&T national team…a record for his country: “I got selected at 14 and played a few friendly matches. However, my first major tournament was at 15. I could remember finally stepping onto the pitch, I only played because someone got injured at the half time. I finally got my opportunity and I started for T&T every game from then to now”. And that’s a joy for Kwan’s life as his dedication for Trinidad & Tobago is limitless: “There is nothing like representing your country. Hearing your national anthem play before a match still gets me every time”.

With the T&T shirt on, Kwan lived some great moments like a “hat trick against Malaysia in Commonwealth Games” where T&T won 4-2. Anyway, the UK based hockey star stands out that “there are so many memorable moments playing for T&T”. One of those is, for sure, when Trinidad & Tobago played in the 2007’s Indoor World Cup, in Austria: “Although T&T plays in the Commonwealth Games against countries like Australia, England, New Zealand, India, Pakistan and Malaysia. Playing in the Indoor World Cup was special, especially as I scored the opening goal vs Germany! Won’t tell you the final score!” Well, Kwan didn’t tell us, but we went back to have a look. In the end Germany won 2-9, Kwan Browne scored the first of the match, Wayne Legerton the second for T&T. Germany would finish as World Champion which makes the result not so bad. In fact, being present in such major tournament leaves a statement: Hockey in T&T is growing. Kwan is part of that procedure and will keep on having his responsibility…not only as a player. The T&T international has been working for some years in clinics for players and coaches: “I have dedicated all my life to T&T. Every time I am in a position to assist/help I will do it without thinking”. There’s no doubt on Browne’s mind that “hockey is growing in Trinidad & Tobago” and believes that the future will be bright. It all depends on inspiration: “Development should be done by passionate coaches who want to inspire. Getting the kids from a very young age. Also, creating an environment that’s enjoyable and young players could see a pathway”.
Unfortunately, development will be late for Kwan’s biggest dream: “I always wanted to play in the Olympic Games. I’ve tried for 24 years, but it’s difficult because we have Argentina in our region and only the winners qualify”.

“It wasn’t hard to adapt to English hockey, in my second year, at 20 years old, I won the English Player of the Season award”

After developing his hockey in T&T, Kwan flew to England to develop even more in his sport, but also in the studies: “I came over to England on a hockey scholarship at 19 years old. It wasn’t hard to adapt to English hockey, in my second year, at 20 years old, I won the English Player of the Season award so it showed that I fitted in really well. The hardest change was the weather!”. The weather is still the same around the United Kingdom and Kwan Browne can say that he is already settled (even if “sometimes the weather is still difficult”)…in such a way that he is making his mark since he went to England. After the player of the season award, there were others: “I have lots of good memories as I was part of Canterbury’s team that won the Premier League. However, East Grinstead was a great memory as it was my first major coaching job, and we were able to win Division 2, win Division 1 and win the playoffs to get promoted to the Premier League. East Grinstead has remained in the Premier League since”.
Currently, Kwan has several tasks as a coach. He’s St. Lawrence College Sports Coach, England Hockey U21 Men and Great Britain U21 Men Assistant Coach, Hampstead and Westminster Hockey Club Men’s 1’s Coach and, like as a player, he has some ambitious goals: “I would like to take my team to become EHL Champions. As for England and Great Britain, it would be great to be part of a technical staff that goes for gold in the Olympic Games”.

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“I started as a striker with the national team but played most of my career as a midfielder. The last 8 years I’ve played as a defender”

Nowadays Kwan Browne plays as a defender, but he started at the other end. Some specific skills led the T&T player to different positions: “I started as a striker with the national team, but played most of my career as a midfielder. The last 8 years I played as a defender. Just kept moving further back! The positions happened naturally. Sometimes it was tactical: Especially against a really good team, I would play as a defender because one of my strengths is passing long and being comfortable on the ball under pressure”.
Having played as a striker and being used to defend the opposition attack, Kwan leaves you some tips: “There are a few things that were important especially playing for T&T where we hardly had ball possession. 1st: Brave – I was happy to stand anywhere in the circle with a player shooting and be ready to score a deflection or rebound. 2nd: Mindset – I always believed that the ball was coming to me in the circle. I was ready for everything, so I often scored from deflections off goalkeepers or defenders. 3rd: Winning the ball – Especially because of T&T. We never had the ball so my timing of closing down a defender was crucial if I wanted to get the ball”.

PENALTY CORNER

What do you think about the Self-Pass crew and work that has been done for a while now? Are you a fan? Why?

I’m definitely a big fan of Self-Pass. I love how the guys bring skills to hockey and keep them exiting. I like that you guys show us individual clips of things that can be done with a stick and a ball, but also linking nice things that happen on the pitch as well. It’s a different way to look at hockey and it’s really exciting. This is also what hockey needs. It needs more people to use social media to get to even more people to see how exciting and skillful this sport is. I really, really love what you guys do. I do, everyone does, but my son absolutely loves your work. I hope it carries on and gets bigger.

What would you do if you weren’t a hockey player? Or if hockey didn’t exist?

I would be a lawyer or working for the UN as I did a law degree and Masters is in European and International Law.

Indoor or outdoor? Why?

Very difficult to choose. I honestly cannot make a decision and I love them both. 

Who is your hockey idol?

Shahbaz Ahmed from Pakistan. The way he carried the ball and used deception was really exciting for me to watch.

What are your future plans as a player and in hockey?

I’ve been coaching for the last 16 years in England, I’ve been involved with England juniors and seniors for the last 7 years and I’ll love to continue coaching at the top-level. My next goal will be to win a gold medal coaching at the Olympics. 

What do you think of hockey nowadays? You support the way the game has been changing and developing?

I love the fact that hockey is always trying to keep it fresh and is happy to experiment with the rules to keep the game entertaining. 

What do you think is lacking hockey to get into even more audiences worldwide?

This could be a very long list of ideas. However, more professional domestic leagues that are televised which gives the opportunity to the best players all over the world. There are quite a few players from Trinidad & Tobago that could play in the UK Premier League. Over the last 15 years we had 11 players from T&T playing in the English National League only because they knew me. I’m sure there are thousands of players in different parts of the world that would love the opportunity to play abroad. More players from different countries playing in a few top domestic leagues will inevitably mean bigger audiences as more countries will be following their local stars.

Do you think that social media is important for that? Is that something important to you?

Social media is important and it’s something I need to do better.

What do you like the most about hockey?

Playing/coaching at international tournaments. 

 What do you like less about hockey?

Playing in the winter in England.

Would you change something in hockey? What?

Goalkeepers will hate this, but I would probably make a bigger goal. They have too much influence on a game given it’s only one position and I’ve seen too many unfair results because it’s too easy to block the goal. Hopefully, a bigger goal will make it much easier to score so teams won’t be able to get away with defending deep as they can still be scored against easily if the 10 players on the pitch are playing better. Of course the goalkeepers will have a big influence, but at the moment a drag flicker and goalkeeper could take you a long way and this takes away from some other skills. 

Do you have any message to send to hockey fans worldwide?

I’ll never say ‘THANK YOU’ enough to the T&T hockey fraternity who has always shown me love, support and has guided me throughout my career. Finally, to the English hockey family for accepting my style by giving me the opportunity to express myself as a player/coach and making me feel welcomed. 

Kwan Browne

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