McKenzie’s debut for PEC Zwolle in the match against Excelsior, 1 September 1976 copyright © Zwolsche Courant/Jan Drost , provided by Gerjos
I do notice him for the the first time when he’s rushing by in the little alley behind our house, the collar of his thin leather jacket raised high, sports bag in hand.
It’s the fall of 1976, it is not very cold, but this black, bearded man does shiver. Just a few days later I spot him again on the football pitch near the Boerendanserdijk in Zwolle, where to my surprise he is training with the PEC squad, right after my own training with the D-pupils. Damn, now I notice: it’s McKenzie, the new signing by PEC Zwolle! My parents confirm: McKenzie is renting a room in the Bilderdijkstraat at Mrs. Uytendijk’s, our neighbor in the back alley!
He is walking around our neighborhood a few more times that same winter, shivering again with cold in his jacket, sporting his characteristic, hip look and ring beard. He is less and less seen on the pitch, though. And at the end of the dramatic season ’76 -77, in which PEC first loses the Cup final, then botches its chances for direct promotion to the Premier League (“Eredivisie”) on the very last competition day before messing up the subsequent play offs too, McKenzie seems to have vanished…
PEC fans do always proudly remember all the drama and players of this hectic season ’76 -’77, yet McKenzie is rarely ever mentioned. Who is McKenzie and what has happened to him?
Altamont or Alty McKenzie is born in 1951 in Kingston, Jamaica, in a family with 3 brothers. His grandparents and parents are active in the horse riding/racing world, and work at the stables of Camyanas Park, the only horse racing track in Jamaica. In high school, Alty stands out as a promising football player, he is even selected for the national Jamaican youth team. He eventually ends up at FC Santos in Kingston, named after the famous Brazilian club where Pelé celebrated his biggest triumphs. Professional football is still in its infancy in Jamaica, Brazilian soccer is the biggest inspiration and Pelé immensely popular.
Alty is not only agile and fast, he is also smart and studious. He isn’t called “Doc” for no reason. Around 1970 he leaves for America, to State University of New York College (SUNYA) in Oneonta. In addition to studying biology, he focuses on athletics and football, joining the university soccer team. His skills and speed are noticed by scouts of the Dallas Tornado, an ambitious Texan club in the newly created American professional soccer league. Speedy McKenzie plays twenty one games for the Tornados in the NASL (North American Soccer League) from Spring of ’74 to the end of ’75, usually as left wing. Alty is part of the first wave of Jamaicans who succeed to earn money overseas with the noble football game.
Alty & Pelé
Alty is not a goal getter pur sang, he scores only three times in the service of the Tornados. He is a team player, strong in interceptions and counter attack. He is a man of assists. A personal highlight is the demo match against the New York Cosmos (NYC) in June 1975, celebrating Pelé’s debut in America for the Cosmos. Ten million American TV viewers do see Alty score the opening goal in the 10th minute!
“The Return of Pelé”, with the goal of Alty in the ~19th minute of this video. The first 10 minutes of the video do offer a fascinating glimpse into Pele’s introduction to the American fans. One can’t fail to notice the deplorable condition of the pitch! copyright: © NASL 1968 – 1984 SOCCER HISTORY, published Sept 11 2016, via youtube
Equally memorable is the friendly match of FC Santos Kingston against NYC incl. Pelé at the sold out National Stadium in Jamaica only a few months later. McKenzie is obviously delighted to be invited to play with his old club against the Brazilian superstar for his Jamaican home crowd!
From January 1, 1976, Alty is under contract at the Tacoma Tides in Tacoma, Washington State. During that year he is also selected for the Jamaican national team which is preparing for the qualifying matches for the World Cup in ’78 in Argentina. These qualification hopes are dashed by 2 sloppy defeats against Cuba.
Before the Tacoma Tides go bankrupt in the autumn 76, Alty finds a safe haven at the Los Angeles Skyhawks. With the Skyhawks he reaches the American Soccer League (ASL) Championship’s final against the New York Apollo’s on August 27, 1976 in LA. The ASL, founded at the begin of 1976 as the 2nd American national professional soccer league, is a smaller version of the NASL. The SkyHawks win the exciting final: 2-1! McKenzie personally contributes to all the tension and emotions by already being (controversially) sent off in the 1st half for foul play!
Alty in Zwolle, the “metropolitan city of Overijssel”
McKenzie can’t really celebrate this championship for long. On Monday morning August 30th 1976, Alty is picked up at Schiphol Airport, the Netherlands, by PEC chairman Van der Wal and taken to Zwolle, the rather sleepy and conservative provincial capital city of the northeastern province of Overijssel, with less than 80,000 inhabitants! The chairman drops Alty off at Hotel Wientjes, the most chic establishment in Zwolle. Van der Wal is in a good mood, the previous day his PEC has booked its first victory after two earlier draws at the start of the new season. And finally his star player, whose arrival has been eagerly awaited since the begin of August, can be added to the squad. That same Monday McKenzie completes a light training session before going to bed early. The next morning he will be presented to the local news paper, the “Zwosche Courant”, accompanied by coach Alleman.
The sympathetic and cheerful Alty (invariably referred to as MacKenzie by the newspaper) admits to know little more about Dutch football than Ajax, Cruijff and Neeskens. The contact with van der Wal, the Chairman and bank director who is well-connected in the US, has been made earlier that summer. McKenzie’s team-mate in America, the Uruguayan Pepe Fernandez, active in the Netherlands at Haarlem, PEC and Go Ahead until 1974, strongly recommended PEC to Alty. McKenzie is eager to make his debut in Zwolle: he says he can play as a left winger, but prefers a more free role behind the strikers.
Whether Alleman is familiar at all with Alty and his specific qualities is doubtful. The player is probably forced upon him by his Chairman, who had signed on another player from the American competition the year before. Yuri Banhoffer, an Uruquayan striker with a great fighting spirit, has left a very good impression on the PEC fans. The ambitious Chairman likes to think big, loves publicity and makes a lot of efforts to promote PEC locally and nationally: perhaps he is already dreaming of screaming headlines praising the swinging South American attacking duo in Zwolle! McKenzie is offered a one-year contract. Coach Alleman has very good news for Alty at the same August 31st interview: McKenzie, though still a bit jet-lagged, will immediately play the next day in the home game against Excelsior!! He will replace the suspended Banhoffer.
At the start of the competition, PEC barely has its house in order. A week before the opening match defender Henk Warnas, midfielder Koko Hoekstra and right forward Ronald Hendriks are signed on. Midfielder René Ijzerman and left winger Cees van Slooten are not entitled to play due to contractual problems. Alleman realizes he will still have to work hard during the first games of the season to form his favourite team. At season’s kick-off PEC is anything but a solid, well prepared squad.
Alty’s weak ankle
According to the newspaper Alty does not make an overwhelming impact in his first game, although his zeal and passion contrast positively with the miserable play of his teammates in the bloodless 0-0 against Excelsior. McKenzie’s debut is very memorable and historical for other reasons nonetheless: it is the first performance of a Jamaican football player and international in Dutch professional soccer.
Luckily enough more games do follow for Alty. Once Banhoffer returns from his suspension, McKenzie is posted to the left of the Uruquayan. Unfortunately for him, it doesn’t generate swinging samba football against SVV and Vitesse. Then bad luck hits: an ankle injury sustained during training keeps Alty out for about three weeks. Alleman still has not figured out his definitive formation, but is increasingly opting for a 4-4-2 system, with Ronald Hendriks or Tjeerd van ‘t Land alternating as right winger and Banhoffer as the forward striker. Midfielder Hoekstra is often to be found in the vicinity of Banhoffer during crosses and set pieces, whereas the left side belongs to the left defender and mid-fielder.
After recovering from his injury, McKenzie suddenly finds himself on the bench. Alleman only lines him up in friendly matches against local amateur teams: the coach maintains Alty has still to get used to his new life and the playing style of PEC. “It is especially important that he knows how to adjust well. If that adjustment succeeds, McKenzie will certainly get his chance”, Alleman tells the Zwolsche Courant on October 18th.
Alty on the bench
Five days later the extremely talented Ijzerman finally secures his new contract with Zwolle. Alleman has been complaining about the lack of a pure left wing striker for some time. The talented Ron Jans, who is making his mark in the Uefa youth team, is seen as too young and inexperienced. But the coach no longer seems to consider Alty as a candidate for this position. He prefers Ijzerman to cover the left flank. McKenzie has to put up with a few and brief substitutions for Banhoffer until the winter break, although Alty is anything but a pure striker. The Zwolsche Courant is becoming increasingly critical and states McKenzie “has not been able to justify his long journey across the ocean for one moment.” Cees Cuilenborg of the popular football magazine VI adds fuel to the fire after watching an Uefa youth’s game at the beginning of December: “Not a bad one, that Ron Jans from PEC Zwolle. Powerfully built, fierce shot in his left foot. You don’t understand why PEC is looking for exotic merchandise, with this kind of own talent being available. “
After the winter break, Alleman somewhat unexpectedly decides to give the 4-3-3 system with Alty again as left forward another try. McKenzie is part of the starting line-up, first against FC Groningen and then against Heracles on January 16. Bad luck continues to haunt him: after a charge from a Heracles player, he sustains another ankle injury. It is the last match he will play for PEC. In January the club adds another two foreigners (the Danes Sörensen and Pedersen) to the squad, who are regularly getting playtime. McKenzie is left to himself and works on his recovery most likely in loneliness, not much is heard about or from him anymore. After his recovery he is no longer called up for matches of the 1st team of PEC. I never see him again in our neighborhood. And during that nerve wrecking end of the season, Alty is the big absentee, a seat on the bench isn’t even bestowed on him.
On 12 June 1977 PEC finishes the last game of the play offs against MVV in Maastricht. Three days earlier the local newspaper reports in just a few lines McKenzie has already returned to the USA to join the team of the LA Aztecs, the former club of Banhoffer. The good-natured Alty has quietly left Zwolle, not many fans have taken notice.
McKenzie plays another thirty games for the Aztecs and scores three times before returning to the old nest, FC Santos in Kingston, Jamaica. He is again called up for the Jamaican national team, but luck isn’t his best friend: the Jamaican Football Association has insufficient resources to register for the qualification rounds for the World Cup in 1982. Around this time McKenzie calls its quits and retires from professional soccer.
Alty finds a job at the oldest rum distillery in Jamaica on the famous Appleton estate in Nassau Valley on the south coast. He works his way up to management level and is given an award by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries’ at his retirement in 2014 for his dedication to promote and modernize the Jamaican rum industry. In America they have not forgotten him either: in 2000 he is admitted to SUNYA Oneonta’s Hall of Fame.
Two of his brothers become celebrated jockeys in Kingston. After his parents pass away, the Alty & Rita McKenzie Memorial Cup is held annually at Caymanas Park to commemorate their contributions to the equestrian sport in Jamaica. Alty McKenzie may be a footnote in Zwolle and in the Dutch professional soccer league, in Jamaica he is celebrated and well respected man. He is one of the early heroes of FC Santos and Jamaican football.
PS: I am trying to get into touch contact with mr. McKenzie to hear his personal story and impression of his period in the Netherlands / Zwolle, which perhaps at times must not have been easy due to the sustained ankle injuries and eventual feelings of loneliness in sleepy Zwolle during his recovery. The contact with his old club FC Santos has been established, but I haven’t spoken to mr. McKenzie personally yet. I will keep you informed as soon as there is more news!!