Wolde Harris hadn’t heard from his close friend in months, but that didn’t make the news any less devastating.
Last October, Harris learned that his friend and former New England Revolution teammate, Winston Griffiths, had lost his life a day after he was found bruised and beaten by the side of a Clarendon (Jamaica) road. Griffiths was 33 years old.
“It definitely came to me as a great shock,” Harris said via phone. ”I just remember sitting there shaking my head going, ‘Life is so short.’”
No doubt Griffiths’ life was cut tragically short. But it was a life that Harris, 38, remains thankful to be a part of.
Their friendship was sparked in the late-90s, when Griffiths, or “Fanna” to his friends, and Harris both played for an emerging Jamaican National Team that had just come off its first trip to the World Cup at France ’98.
Years later, they reunited as club teammates in July 2002, when Griffiths was signed by Harris’ MLS club, the Revolution. For Harris, it was like old times again.
“He lived in my home,” Harris said. “So we were very close, we went to practice everyday and, gosh, we did almost everything together at the time. I even remember taking him to get his first driver’s license. I was sitting in the back of the car while he was doing (the road test).”
Harris wasn’t the only player Griffiths bonded with. Although he may not have been the most vocal person in the Revolution locker room, his easy-going demeanor lent itself to making new friends.
“He was just very approachable and just easy to get along with,” Harris said. ”He made a really easy transition when he came over from Los Angeles at the time, and the guys on the team noticed that.”
Just as importantly, Griffiths was ready to put in the work. As a speedy left-sided midfielder, Griffiths’ presence added spark to the team’s attack. In eight games down the stretch, the Jamaican international collected a pair of assists, as the team made an improbable run to their first MLS Cup final.
“Even when he wasn’t in the lineup,” Harris said. “You could count on him to inject that energy and go out there and express himself and within the scope of the team and what we were trying to achieve and give 100% every time.”
It was at that final, though, where the spotlight would shine on Griffiths the brightest.
In the 112th minute of a scoreless match against his former Galaxy teammates, Griffiths collected a Steve Ralston corner kick from the top of the box, and gave it a go. The shot deflected off a Galaxy defender, and for a brief moment, looked as if it might sneak under the bar for the game-winning goal.
But the crossbar wouldn’t cooperate, and stood firm when Griffiths’ shot clanked off it. Seconds later, the Galaxy charged the Revolution net and scored.
Even so, Harris couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride for his good friend, who literally brought the Revolution within inches of a championship.
“For him to come off the bench and have such an impact and almost win it was a great moment for him,” Harris said. ”But after the game, we were both really down and disappointed that we didn’t come out with the win.”
Griffiths returned to his native country to play for Portmore United from 2003-04, before he ventured north to Canada, where he played for a collection of clubs. All the while, Harris kept in touch with his friend, who was determined to continue his soccer career.
“I think everything Winston did was to better his situation with his family,” Harris said. ”His experience in MLS with the Revs and all the teams that he played for – that was his goal: to make things better for himself and his family.”
Griffiths, who had four children and was expecting a fifth, Harris could sense that Griffiths missed their native country when they last spoke in 2010. Harris wished him well, and kept his friend in his thoughts. He was sure it wouldn’t be long before he’d hear from him again.
That was until he heard the horrible news, and the details surrounding his friend’s untimely death. According to reports, Griffiths attended a party in May Pen, Clarendon the night of Friday, October 21, 2011. Reportedly, shots were fired and Griffiths ran. The next morning, he was found by a group of his Humble Lion teammates beaten and bruised by the side of a Clarendon road.
He was returned to his mother, who later took her son to the University Hospital of the West Indies after he complained of excruciating stomach pains. He died on Sunday, October 23, 2011. His mother was told by a doctor that her son had been poisoned.
A year after his friend’s passing, the details surrounding Griffiths’ death continue to conflict with the person Harris knew so well. How could this happen? What did Winston get himself into?
So Harris, whom Griffiths affectionately called “Wol,” chooses to remember his close friend and forrmer teammate in a brighter light.
“The thing that really sticks out in my mind about Winston is his smile,” Harris said. ”He always had that laugh that was just like carefree, it didn’t matter how hard the times were.”
That laugh. Harris still thinks about it. It was a laugh that allowed them both to escape whenever the world conspired against them, much like the time that shot that banged off the bar that fateful October afternoon in Foxboro.
“We would always just get together and just laugh about stuff and take serious stuff and be light-hearted about it,” Harris said. ”Yeah, I just really, really miss him.”