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Sun, Nov

Sheldon Phillips a breath of fresh air.
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Sheldon Phillips began his tenure as Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) General Secretary in May 2013, and in a brief period of time he has already made a positive impact on T&T football.

Though he admits there are still many things that need to be ironed out and fixed, he vows to address those issues one problem at a time. Sheldon is determined and driven, as he along with TTFA president Raymond Tim Kee seek to take T&T football to a higher level of prominence in the region, and ultimately the world.
  
And while many believes that because of his American strong accent Sheldon was born in the U.S., the fact of the matter is that he was actually born in Trinidad at Parks nursing home.

His dad Lincoln Phillips told SWO that: "Flex, I joined the Trinidad and Tobago Regiment (TTR) in 1963 and Sheldon was born in 1966 while I was still a soldier. I left the TTR in 1968 to play for the Baltimore Bays (when Sheldon was 2 years old). My second son Sean was also born in in Trinidad while I was in the TTR in 1966."

"Sheldon and Sean were sent back to Trinidad to be cared for by their grand parents (1969-1971) because I was pursuing a college education as well as playing Pro Soccer. In 1971 Sheldon/Sean came back to the US permanently."

"While in the U.S. I had two other kids Gregory and Derek. My wife made it a point to go back to Trinidad to give birth to her two last kids.....All of my kids are Trinis to D bone," ended Lincoln."

Sheldon meantime, is also no stranger to T&T football and has been an avid supporter of our national football program for over two decades. As such it is no surprise that he was all too willing to do a question and answer session with Soca Warriors Online (SWO).

For those who aren’t familiar with him, Sheldon is the son of legendary former T&T goalkeeper Lincoln Phillips and brother of former T&T left-back Derek Phillips.  With over 25 years in the sports and event management industry, Sheldon brings a depth of knowledge, experience, and relationships through his work with FIFA, CONCACAF, and U.S. Soccer among others.

Some of Phillips achievements since his appointment as General Secretary include helping the TTFA acquire a new Joma kit deal for all national football teams, setting up of international matches in 2013 against Peru, Belize, Jamaica, Romania, Estonia and the OSN Cup matches. He was also instrumental in settling the case with the 2006 World Cup Soca Warriors players and the TTFF (now TTFA).

The former Stamford University graduate has been working non-stop and around the clock behind the scenes for the TTFA; even throughout the Christmas season and plans on continuing his handwork through the upcoming Carnival season as well.

The 47 year old, is determined, committed and brings fresh ideas to his new job and, to top that off he loves what he does. These are all great ingredients for success and there is no doubt T&T football will benefit from his handwork and experience.

Phillips meanwhile, has been a huge supporter of the SWO for many years and visits the website quite frequently. Today Phillips took some time to touch base with us and give us some insight into the Association’s plans for the New Year and what one can look forward to in the near future of T&T football.

Questions with Sheldon

1. Can you highlight some of the things the TTFA is planning for the New Year?

SP: Through President Tim Kee’s vision, we plan on continuing the positive trends that began this year. Certainly, we seek to continue keeping the senior men’s team active as we believe that team is the flagship of the TTFA national program and as the fortunes of the senior men’s team goes so goes the fortunes of T&T Football. So, fans can look forward to efforts from the TTFA to have the team play in all available FIFA windows and with the cooperation of the domestic clubs; schedule matches and camps outside FIFA windows as well. 

However, the beginning of the 2014 will see a focus on our youth and women’s programs, notably the U-20 team as they prepare to compete in the CONCACAF U20 Women’s Tournament in January.  Both the U-20 and senior women’s teams will have a camp from December 14-21 and January 2-6. We’re currently awaiting confirmation for friendly matches. Also, we are looking at reversing the past trend of disbanding teams after competitions and in the case of the U-17 women’s team, we expect that program to continue. A U-13/15 team will also be assembled in 2014. We also have to double down our efforts to expand the participation of girls in our primary school program. A girls football festival will be offered in January and we’ve applied for FIFA coaching course aimed specifically at developing female coaches. Finally, we’ve also applied for the FIFA Live Your Goals grassroots program.

We have to get more girls ages 6-8 to fall in love with the sport.  If we are to cultivate future national footballers, the pool can’t begin to play the game in earnest at ages 11 or 12. The efforts of our Technical Director, his staff, and the Women’s Development as well as Technical Committees will be key in the ensuring the TTFA has significant input in how women’s game progresses.  

On the resources end, we have to generate more corporate support specifically for women’s and youth programs; so we are seeking companies to focus efforts on particular programs rather than always look to have their resources to all TTFA programs. This tailored approach will better address the needs of the teams and help create a deeper sense of relevance for the participating corporate partner. Ideally, we would like to attract one or two corporate partners who will champion women’s and youth national football. We are also very excited about the amount of community fields that are coming on line and ready for use from SPORTT.

In all there are 43 new community fields the TTFA will utilize for the purpose of conducting youth clinics, league matches and tournaments, and other football programs. Having access to such an array of facilities presents increased possibilities for the TTFA to team up with regional associations to ensure not only the grassroots programs are well supported but also the community football competitions are encouraged to flourish.

2. In 2014 will we see an official calendar of games and the possible introduction of season tickets for national team games? Will the TTFA also, award national football veterans free passes to games?

SP: Yes, as our stock has risen, the men’s team is better positioned to plan matches farther ahead than in the past. The March window matches are currently being discussed and we are fielding inquiries for May matches as well from teams preparing for the World Cup after we sent out word to participating teams of our interest to play and host matches in May. 

We are also creating an affinity program, which is essentially a membership card that fans can use in a number of different ways including ordering and purchasing tickets as well as supporting our commercial supporters so we may cultivate a spirit of brand loyalty for national football corporate supporters. 

In regard to providing tickets to national football veterans, this is an initiative President Tim Kee was very keen on seeing through and we engaged the Veterans Committee headed by Gwenwyn Cust to select 50 veterans to receive complimentary tickets for each of our home matches. Also, complimentary tickets were distributed to Strike Squad players and staff as well as local Soca Warrior players for the Jamaica match and we foresee a continuation of this policy. 

I also would support providing access to people associated with Socawarriors.net like Touches who provide match reports that are both insightful and entertaining.  

3. Can we expect to see a player combine where national coaches will have a chance to look at prospective players? A camp in the US might be worthwhile. 

SP: Certainly. With appropriate planning and funding, showcase events in North America and UK can not only help uncover some hidden gems on the field, but also further strengthen the link with diaspora communities throughout the North America and the UK.

4. We have so many players based in North America and a few spread throughout Europe that are eligible for T&T selection. Does the TTFA have an official scouting program?

SP: Our coaches have informal networks throughout the world but a working scouting department that will track players through eyewitness accounts and analytics is a must for the future.

5. Can you outline some of your accomplishments since taking up the job as General Secretary of the TTFA? 

SP: Well, it’s tough to label what we were able to achieve in 2013 as “my” accomplishments. Mr. Tim Kee is a central figure in the new direction and accomplishments of the organization and the administrative and technical staff have all played significant roles in the accomplishments we earned in 2013. Stephen Hart and his staff also played a tremendous role in raising the bar and getting fans and others around the world to once again take note of T&T football. Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, we can honestly say the positive trends the TTFA exhibited would not have been possible without the support of Minister Roberts and SPORTT.

Both Mr. Tim Kee and the Minister recognized national service was at stake and were able to forge an excellent relationship that facilitated the senior men’s national team to get back on track and our other programs functioning beyond what was expected at the beginning of 2013. Hopefully, I’ll  just played my part and will continue to be provided an opportunity to contribute in what is shaping up to be the beginning of an exciting period for T&T football.  

6. In my opinion, I believe the TTFA should get involved in local football (including the SSFL) and try to make all leagues in T&T work under one umbrella governed by the TTFA through FIFA’s approval. Everyone will need to meet a certain criteria and would be obligated to work together to ensure T&T football’s success. Can this be achieved? 

SP: All the major stakeholders are involved in that very discussion. The current model is not sustainable and I think the public would support such an adjustment. However, we have to be careful and respect the regions and local communities and not get too centralized in our approach. What the central office can begin to do is develop and distribute resources based upon guidelines reached by consensus. The national governing body can be a tremendous asset and once the President and Executive Committee provide the road map, it will be up to my office to implement.

7. I believe football should be taken back to its communities and 3 major leagues can be formed in T&T with a promotion and relegation system.  

SP: I wholeheartedly agree. Clubs like PFCC, Club Sando and Guaya United are models for where our local football can go in terms of club support in the communities. It would be exciting to replicate such followings throughout the country. There are a number of community fields the government has constructed so we are not wanting when it comes to facilities. Like everything else, stakeholders have to come together to help determine the best course of action.

A promotion/relegation system is a must-have feature in our competitive landscape. Coupled with a proper broadcast package, a promotion/relegation system provides a sense of relevance and drama to the competition on a weekly basis.

8. Leo Beenhakker was hired as Director of Football, what’s the current status of his appointment?

SP: Leo is set to return in January. His task will be to head our national team programs as the Director of Football. In this stead, he will be the mentor of our national team coaches and work with our Technical Director, Anton Corneal, on establishing a player development program for what will eventually be a national academy. The delay in his start was borne from the arrears owed to coaches and his view was that it wouldn’t be feasible for him to begin his task until the coaches are paid for their work. President Tim Kee and I wholeheartedly support his stance and continue to work on this issue, which we hope to resolve before Christmas.  

9. Finally, SWO is viewed by many as the online hub of all things related to T&T football. What role do you see SWO playing in getting our football program off and running again?

Flex, Soca Warriors Online (SWO) has the capability to generate excitement and interest among the diaspora. The site serves an important role in providing information and an outlet for fans to express their views on a number of different areas associated with our football. 

I think in the case of properties such as the FA Cup and various youth football initiatives, the site can help spread the buzz we seek to create around events. Also, there are some SWO posters who provide some astute observations and solutions-based contributions to discussions. 

Lastly, I am in the process of arranging a central database of coaches, players, referees, and other stakeholders in the football family. For some reason, such a clearinghouse was either never organized by the previous administration or the information has been lost. I should be able to locate all coaches who, let's say, has a B license or find out which players in a particular age group have birthdays after October. SWO can certainly assist in providing preliminary information that will enable the FA to develop a robust database so we can better serve football.


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