THIS YEAR has been a topsy-turvy ride for Trinidad and Tobago’s football team goalkeeper Clayton Ince. While a member of English Championship Division club Crewe Alexandra, the 33-year-old Ince suffered a broken finger during a training session and was forced to miss up to six weeks of action.
 At the tail-end of his six-year stint with the team, Clayton’s contract was due to expire at the end of the 2004-2005 season, and manager Dario Gradi was indecisive about whether to keep the tall goalie in the squad or not, due to the fact that Crewe were fighting a relegation battle. In the end, Crewe avoided the drop to League One, and Clayton was offered a new deal by the club, who were satisfied by his determination to overcome his injury to ensure they stayed in the Championship Division. Earlier in the year, Clayton was tempted by the offer, which would see him remain at Crewe for the next two years.

“I feel good about what the manager has given me because I really worked hard (at) myself, keeping the team up,” he said a few months ago. “It’s good to see that the work I put out has really paid (off) for me. I got a two-year contract and the team stayed up in the Championship Division.” Concerning the 2004-2005 season, Clayton noted, “I think it’s just (working) hard and perseverance because the only success you can get is (from) working hard.” Eventually, Clayton joined fellow national Stern John at another Championship club Coventry City, signing a two-year contract after becoming a free agent at the end of last season. According to Clayton, “it was a big upheaval to be leaving (Crewe) but it’s a bigger challenge and I want to test myself at a high level, so coming to Coventry is a good challenge for me and I hope I live up to it.” Looking at the current 2005-2006 season, he said, “I’m hoping that we can get promoted and with me coming here it’s just putting a bonus on to it, and that the club reaches where it should be, and that’s top-flight football.”

He is also certain of helping Coventry remain at the top of the Championship Division standings, and also earn promotion to the Premier League. “I always look at the highest places in the table and the play-off places are not a hard place to reach once we are consistent, and with a lot of hard work I hope we can reach it,” he said on the Coventry’s website. “From a personal perspective I want to get that number one spot, but my target is to stay fit and get the team where they deserve to be,” he added. Concerning his free transfer from Crewe to Coventry, the six-feet three-inch tall Clayton commented, “I didn’t let anyone down at Crewe and now I want to move forward at Coventry. It was a big stepping stone for me because prior to that I had not always been the manager’s first choice so when I got my opportunity I knew I had to put myself about and show that I deserve a contract somewhere.

“I have been at Crewe for six years and sometimes you need to expose yourself to a more challenging environment and Coventry is a club that wants success because they have had that in the past and want to get back to the top flight,” Clayton pointed out. “The manager (Micky Adams) has impressed me with his passion. He wants to win and wants to get to the highest level.” There is another incentive for Clayton to succeed at his new club. After he was shockingly omitted from the TT’s starting line-up for the CONCACAF World Cup Final Round qualifier against Panama on June 4, Clayton was reported as having tendered his resignation from international football to the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF). According to TTFF special advisor Jack Austin Warner, Ince felt slighted by his demotion (in favour of Kelvin Jack), adding “I think he has been misguided.”

Coach Leo Beenhakker admitted that Clayton was complaining of a stiff back prior to the match, hence the reason for the move, but Clayton was reported to have returned his uniform to manager Bruce Aanensen. Days later, Clayton admitted his disappointment on being left on the bench for the game but said he never offered his resignation from the squad. And the TTFF also revealed that they were never notified of Clayton’s desire to quit the team. Another twist to the saga surfaced in late June with Ince confessing that he had a spat with assistant TT manager George Joseph over the issue of match fees for the qualifiers, and also felt miffed about the TTFF’s lack of interest in his back injury. Ever since that dramatic turn of events, Clayton has never been called for TT duty by coach Leo Beenhakker, who seems contented with Jack as his number one goalie. But Clayton, who made his international debut on April 4, 1997, is still keen on adding to his tally of 62 caps.

Born in Arima on July 12, 1972, he began his club career with Fulham before moving on to another Arima outfit Memphis. Originally a defender, he took up goalkeeping during his time with Arima Boys’ RC, one of TT’s leading primary school teams, and made a name for himself at El Dorado Junior and Senior Comprehensives (now Secondary and Secondary Comprehensive respectively). He was on the losing end for El Dorado Senior at the Intercol final against Signal Hill in 1989, but, even though he was figuring prominently for his new senior team club Airports Authority, his assertiveness in goal attracted the eye of Signal Hill’s coach Bertille St Clair. Two years later, St Clair included Clayton (as well as St Augustine’s Michael McComie) in the national Under-20 team for the 1991 World Youth Championships in Portugal.

With elder sisters Erla and Alicia, and younger siblings Nigel and Tricia, the quintet, and their mother Barbara, “grew up in Port-of-Spain, (on) Abercromby Street, then we went to Arima, then Curepe and then we settled in Maloney, where my mom is right now. And I’m trying to make her proud,” he added, “from the position we came from to the position I’m at now.” He continued, “I have two girls (but) I don’t think they’ll be (following his steps), but they’re doing well in sports. One (Melissa) plays netball and she’s a multi-person,” Clayton said, “and Tuana, she’s doing well in karate and cricket. The girls are really picking up in the sports and I’m supporting them all the way.” St Clair, who was installed as TT coach in 1997, used the core of the 1991 team in his line-ups, including Dwight Yorke, Angus Eve, Jerren Nixon, the late Richard Theodore, Michael Mc Comie and Clayton, who had a fairy-tale entry into the senior team.

Self-assured and solid, both on and off the field, Clayton was the third choice goalie for Defence Force, behind national keepers Ross Russell and Hayden Thomas, but was daringly included in the TT team for the Copa Caribe (now Digicel Cup) competition in ’97. There he earned the first of his four successive “Best Goalkeeper” of the tournament awards, and also picked up the TTFF Player of the Year 1997 accolade. After joining Crewe for a fee of 50,000 pounds on September 1, 1999, he was voted the club’s Most Valuable Player for the 2002-2003 season, mainly due to his club record of 25 clean sheets during that year. Like his mentor, former Denmark and Manchester United goalie’s Peter Schmeichel, Clayton wants to keep on playing until age 40, normally the sell-by date for most players, especially attackers. Ince noted that he is pleased at where he has reached today, adding, “I want to play football at the highest level, I want to play until 40. I just want to play at my best, at the highest level I could.”