Sat, Nov


There were a few tackles and spells of high pressing. But, at the end of yesterday’s AGM, Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president David John-Williams might have been tempted to pour himself a glass of celebratory wine.

Since the football body’s last AGM, the John-Williams-led organisation had: used TTFA money for its leader’s unsuccessful Caribbean Football Union (CFU) presidential bid, replaced technical director Kendall Walkes and almost every national head coach under the previous administration with largely inferior substitutes, failed to initiate promised sub-committees, entered financial contracts with little to no consultation with the board of directors and/or general council, mixed the business of his W Connection football club with the operations of the TTFA, and created a culture of silence that military-run dictatorships would be proud of.

Six months ago, technical committee chairman and Pro League CEO Dexter Skeene spoke frankly with Wired868 about the appointment of Brian Williams as National Under-20 Team coach. Williams, Skeene explained, was the only name on a shortlist offered by technical director Muhammad Isa.

“You must put proper procedures in place [because] football is not one person’s own and we have to make it transparent,” said Skeene. “When it comes to the selection of coaches, ideally this must be advertised both locally and overseas, so we can get the best coaches possible with everything being done in a transparent manner…

“[Even if the TTFA cannot pay coaches], we are supposed to get everyone who is willing to work for free and then look at who is the best that is willing to work for free.”

It was Isa who requested a technical committee meeting, on Monday 21 November, to discuss Hart’s future. Only, this time, Skeene said all questions on their deliberation and verdict must be referred to the football president instead.

Wired868 reminded Skeene that, as committee chairman, he had been authorised to speak to the media before about things under his portfolio.

“Subsequently they made a further decision,” said Skeene, “that only David [John-Williams] will talk…”

Far from resisting a culture in which one man spoke for everybody under its umbrella, the local football body appears to be warming to it. And, as former referees’ association head Osmond Downer attempted to grill John-Williams on the removal of the Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team coach, many in the audience rolled their eyes.

“[Downer] wanted to know [why Hart was removed] and felt the general council, as the supreme body, should get the facts,” said the TTFA general council member, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

John-Williams responded, according to multiple sources, that as far as the board was concerned it did not fire Hart. Rather the coach and the board of directors came to a mutual understanding, which was predicated on a report from the technical committee that recommended change.

Hart, incidentally, declined comment on the suggestion that he left by mutual consent or—as the Trinidad Guardian claimed—had accepted a TT$3 million pay off, which would represent the worth of the two years left on his contract.

Downer refused to be appeased with piecemeal information at the AGM and, at least temporarily, stood his ground. So, John-Williams put it to a vote.

Did the TTFA’s general council agree with the board’s decision to remove Hart as Soca Warriors coach?

There were three abstentions—Northern FA president Anthony Harford felt he could not vote without detailed knowledge about Hart’s dismissal—but, otherwise, the general council agreed that the coach’s time at the helm should come to a close. Even Downer voted along with the pack.

It was the final nail in the coffin for the long suffering Warriors coach.

Twelve months ago, Hart was considered the TTFA’s most competent member and marketable asset. Yet, in midweek, he suffered the indignity of his contribution to the local game being ripped apart—in his absence—by nondescript women’s football administrator, Sharon O’Brien.

Another general council member, who also spoke anonymously to Wired868, argued that the technical committee ought to bear some responsibility for Trinidad and Tobago’s poor start to the CONCACAF Hex. That committee, he insisted, should have removed Hart earlier!

“My position is the the technical committee should have been doing its work. They are responsible for the analysis of all the technical aspects of our football, which includes how the coach is performing and how the team is doing. And if we look at the technical report from the last Gold cup—when we were all in a euphoria—that report was not a plus for us…

“It tells you Hart needed help in terms of preparing this team to be on the cutting edge for a World Cup qualifier. The fact that we were unable to [get to] the Caribbean Cup semifinals is a statement in itself… It is clear that his dismissal was in the making.”

You either die a hero, goes the famous quote in the Dark Knight movie, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

The Hart issue, though, proved to be the only real tackle aimed at John-Williams—whose very appointment is shrouded in controversy after more than one improperly constituted body voted at the November 2015 TTFA election.

And the membership was merrily trading passes with the president when talk swung to financial figures.

John-Williams told the council that the football body’s debt stands at TT$16 million now. And he pointed to the TTFA’s TT$8 million sponsorship deal with NLCB for its national elite youth development programme and Scotiabank’s TT$250,000 partnership for its season tickets initiative as proof that the private sector was warming to his charms.

The football body, he claimed, was also due a US$1.6 million payment in FAP funding from FIFA.

He offered little details on the youth program—apparently the various zonal bodies are responsible for holding their own screening sessions and inviting Isa to attend—and no specifics on the season pass plan, which would suggest the effectiveness of that campaign.

There are question marks too over the breakdown of the TTFA’s current debt, particularly with looming lawsuits from sacked technical director Kendall Walkes, the National Futsal Team and, possibly, Hart. Not to mention the fact that Raymond Tim Kee claimed the debt was roughly TT$12 million, just before he vacated office a year ago.

Was the TTFA’s debt growing or diminishing?

That possible discrepancy was not raised and no explanation was offered. But John-Williams was happy to discuss the pluses at length. The new ticketing system—which allows fans to purchase match tickets from Lotto machines nationwide—not only offers extra convenience to patrons but also allows the football body to track its customers’ geographic locations.

For the first time, John-Williams noted, the TTFA can tell what communities are most interested in the national team and tailor marketing campaigns to suit.

If council members were not totally sold yet, then most were when John-Williams turned to television rights.

Disgraced former CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb had entered the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) into a television rights deal with Traffic, which offered Caribbean nations US$1.6 million to split amongst themselves for getting to the Hex.

As the Caribbean’s lone representative, the TTFA are due the entire sum. However, John-Williams explained that figure was well below market value—after all, Webb confessed to accepting bribes from Traffic.

The board of directors, according to John-Williams, retained attorney Reginald Armour SC to look into the matter and believed it could have the Traffic deal voided. Should the TTFA manage that, the football president claimed there were global televisions rights companies lining up to pay in the region of US$2.5 million per year on a 10-year deal.

The general council, with few exceptions, had just one question to that: Do we get a piece?

John-Williams answered in the affirmative. The TTFA, he promised, will send money downstairs to help its regional bodies better run their affairs.

“He has achieved a lot in terms of what he met and the hurdles he has got over so far,” said another council member, in a vote of confidence for the football president.

It is worth noting that only 25 from the TTFA’s 49 general council members showed up for Saturday’s AGM. That represented a bare quorum. And just six from 13 board of directors—Richard Quan Chan, Wayne Cunningham, Joseph Taylor, Karanjabari Williams, vice-president Joanne Salazar and John-Williams—were present.

Only interim general secretary Azaad Khan—whose impending replacement, Justin Latapy-George, was at the AGM—and vice-president Ewing Davis are believed to have officially communicated the reason for their absences in advance. And when the board met to consider Hart’s removal, last Wednesday, the same board members, with the exception of Williams (K), were joined by Sherwyn Dyer and vice-president Allan Warner.

Other board members, Samuel Saunders (Central FA), Anthony Moore (Tobago FA) and Skeene (TT Pro League), missed both meetings.

“Downer said the business of football is being taken seriously by one percent of the board and just 50 percentage of members,” said a source. “And he said that was atrocious. That is something we all agreed upon.”

According to the TTFA constitution: “A position will be considered vacant […] if a member of the Board of Directors, irrespective of the reason, does not participate in four consecutive meetings of the Board of Directors.”

Central FA representative, Saunders, has been fingered as potentially being in breach of this rule already. And, if so, it means he will be expelled while his zone will only be allowed observer status—and not voting rights—until the next AGM in November 2017.

Yesterday, the general council mandated the TTFA board of directors to investigate absenteeism and strike off other members who breached the constitution.

Once Downer and the similarly outspoken Veteran Footballers Foundation of Trinidad and Tobago (VFFOTT) vice-president Selby Browne were placated, John-Williams had little problems. Even when, remarkably, the president said he had not yet decided upon Hart’s replacement as head coach.

“He said no concrete decision [has been made] on any coach yet,” said the source, “but they are trying to secure one as soon as possible.”

There is unlikely to be any change regarding the TTFA’s future coach until the technical committee meets again on Wednesday.

Wired868 sent a few questions to John-Williams, this morning:

Is the TTFA considering a local interim coach, as reported in one newspaper? Can he update football fans on the TTFA’s efforts to secure a new coach?

And who will select the interim Trinidad and Tobago squad, which must be named next week, for the Gold Cup Play Offs in January?

John-Williams read the questions but did not acknowledge them, let alone respond. Whatever issues there might be with his relationship with the media—or small sections of them—things are looking up for the administrator internally.

“Our membership was relatively pleased with what transpired,” said a source. “[John-Williams] came away with a satisfied meeting.”