My favourite football quote comes from the legendary Liverpool F.C. manager, Bill Shankly. He famously said "Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that."
To some, this may be viewed rather sceptically, but to those people, I offer my favourite football story, which took place on Christmas Day,1914 on the battlefield at Flanders in Belgium.
The British and French troops were dug into muddy trenches 60 yards from the German dugouts. On Christmas morning, the Germans began to erect small Christmas trees and holding up signs in broken English saying "You no fight. We no fight" Tentatively troops from both sides walked out into no mans land to greet each other. They exchanged gifts such as cigarettes and chocolates. They buried their dead. And then, according to the official war diary of the 133rd Saxon Regiment, the British and Germans kicked about a real football supplied by a Scot. "This developed into a regulation football match with caps casually laid out as goals. The frozen ground was no great matter....The game ended 3-2 for Fritz"
This heartwarming story shows how football, even in the worst possible of conflicts, can still bring two opposing sides together.
Here in Trinidad and Tobago in December 2011, 97 years after that famous football match, we have bitter enemies sniping at each other from their trenches. After the football consultation called by Minister of Sports, Anil Roberts, it is clear that the main barrier to resolving the issues surrounding our football is the lack of willingness by warring factions to unite in the cause of saving our football.
Forget the talent on the field, we have some great talent off the field that is not being utilised because of hatred or fear. But the administrative talent pool is too small to waste through petty rivalries. The warring factions do not have the depth of talent to succeed on their own. As a nation we say we want to tackle the gang situation, yet we all want to be part of a gang. African or Indian, PNM or PP, TTFF or anti TTFF.
We have witnessed a bitter 5 year legal battle between the TTFF and the 13 Soca Warriors which resulted in the destruction of T&T's best performing squad, something we still haven't recovered from. We have ineffective zonal management, a boycott by our most experienced officials resulting in mistake ridden officiating from well meaning qualified officials who lack big match experience. We have empty stadiums at ProLeague and even National level. We have poor financial accounting and a lack of transparency and accountability.
We can point fingers and name names, but we can all see that playing the blame game gets us no where. All of the energy spent by these people defending their turf, protecting their jobs and fighting each other is a wasted resource.
This Christmas, its time that we all laid down our weapons, meet across no mans land, and focus on the football.
The new look TTFF, without the spectre of Oliver Camps and Jack Warner, has a fantastic opportunity to rebrand itself as an open and transparent organisation. It's time to let bygones be bygones. Those players involved in the court case have been vindicated twice by legal process. So lets move on. This was never an attack on the administrators of T&T football. It was an attack on an antiquated system of football management that disrespected those it was there to promote...the players and supporters. Mr Watson needs to restructure his administration to reflect today's football. Bring in new blood, but retain those than can contribute. No jobs for the boys. Solve the immediate issues facing football. Provide open access to resolve the court case, sit down with the match officials, work with Minister Roberts' "Think Tank" to develop short, medium and long term goals and implement programmes to achieve them.
In order to develop the game, there needs to be one organising structure. TTFF must support and help develop the Pro league, the Super League and must take control of school football.
And those who have traditionally criticised TTFF need also to see the bigger picture. The TTFF is immovable. Maybe if you start now at zonal level, you could in 5 or 10 years time become part of the TTFF structure. But why wait? Cross the divide, shake the hand, lay down your weapons and embrace a positive vision. Stop protecting your sinking ships and come together to build a fleet of ships that can sail further as a group than they can individually.
I realise this will be no easy task. Scars must heal and personal vendettas set aside. The question really is: Do those people want change, or are they happy to sit back in comfort and criticise from the sidelines? After all, it's a lot easier to stand together as a group, one of the faceless multitude, and cuss, rather than roll your sleeves up and help the team tangibly.
Mr Watson needs to show that he's willing to do anything required to get football back on track, and that includes parting company with some of his oldest allies. Before Mr Roberts calls the footballing fraternity together again, lets see Mr Watson and the foes he faces in the opposing trenches throw out a few olive branches. Why wait for Minister Roberts? Set up some meetings yourselves, clear the air, build new alliances.
This Christmas, lay down your weapons and play some football.