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Off-field issues plague the ‘beautiful game’.
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OFF-FIELD issues were the common theme for football in TT during 2018, with problems affecting national teams, the Pro League, the Super League and, most importantly, the local governing body TT Football Association (TTFA).

Hardly a fortnight went by without any news which painted local football in a bad light.

A number of times, fingers were pointed at TTFA president David John-Williams, who did himself no favours by his reluctance to address contentious matters within his own organisation.

One such matter was the Home of Football project, at Balmain, Couva, which is located next to three major sporting venues – the Ato Boldon Stadium, the National Aquatic Centre and the National Cycling Velodrome.

Throughout the year, certain members of the TTFA, including Keith Look Loy (TT Super League president), Selby Browne (president of the Veterans Football Federation) and Anthony Harford (head of the Northern Football Association), tried unsuccessfully to get John-Williams to offer any form of transparency on his project.

Among the questions repeatedly asked were the contributions of FIFA, TTFA and Government towards the project, companies who submitted bids, the names of the project manager and contractor/sub-contractors and terms of contracts, and the financial status of the project.

In a Newsday article dated November 8, John-Williams told reporter Ryan Hamilton-Davis, during a tour of the facility, that a US $2.5 million (TT $16.85 million) grant was given to the TTFA. The TTFA boss said that the Home of Football was the first fully-funded FIFA Forward project.

He said then, “I have absolutely no problem with transparency in this project. But we took a different approach that a lot of people are not too happy with.”

A stain on the image of local football occurred on December 13 when members (players and technical staff) of the national futsal team were awarded TT $475,743 plus interest at three per cent per annum, after a two-year lawsuit against the TTFA for unpaid salaries, match fees, per diems and expenses for the 2016 CONCACAF Futsal Championships in Costa Rica.

The TTFA was also ordered to pay the legal costs of the futsal team, valued at TT $69,200.

The case revolved around an oral agreement made between team coach and former Strike Squad captain Clayton Morris and John-Williams’ predecessor Raymond Tim Kee.

But the TTFA adopted a stance that the agreement was done before John-Williams took up office (in December 2015) and was in violation of Article 36(j) of their constitution, which gives the board of directors the sole authority to select technical staff for a national team.

In November, the TTFA agreed to pay $207,174.88 to the Metro Hotel in Couva, in 12 equal instalments, to cover the costs for accommodation and meals for the TT Under-20 team and the Barbados men’s team, for various periods, between January and April 2017.

Controversy also followed a pair of national women teams, ahead of respective CONCACAF Championships in the United States.

Ahead of the CONCACAF Women’s Championship in October, defenders Lauryn Hutchinson and Arin King took to social media to call for support for the TT women’s programme, as well as assistance for a pre-tournament camp in Richmond, Virginia.

That team featured three people (Jamaal Shabazz, Anton Corneal and Shawn Cooper) holding the positions as coach during this year.

However, they failed in their bid to qualify for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France.

The national Under-15s did not even kick a ball in their CONCACAF tournament as they were denied access to travel to the US, in August, due to the lack of visas.

US Embassy Charge d’Affaires John McIntyre condemned John-Williams for his lack of planning regarding the team’s visa applications.

“(John)-Williams and the TTFA just flat out dropped the ball on the visa process,” said McIntyre, in a media release. “Our Embassy for months noted that individuals and groups should plan well in advance for any trips to the USA. Many groups have successfully travelled to the USA by being prepared and planning in advance.”

The men’s team were active on most FIFA match dates, but their on-field results were average at best.

In six matches, the Dennis Lawrence-coached team won twice (1-0 away to Guadeloupe and 2-0 away to the United Arab Emirates), drew once (a goalless result away to Martinique) and lost three (1-0 at home to Panama, and 1-0 away to Iran and Thailand).

Lawrence, whose two-year-long contract is set expire in January, was touted as the next manager of his former club Wrexham FC in Wales. However, the TTFA issued a media release emphatically stating that Lawrence would not have any talks with Wrexham over the vacancy (which was eventually filled by Graham Barrow).

Lawrence may have a problem on his hands in the foreseeable future as members of his T&T squad have threatened to go on strike over their failure to receive match fees, since October 2017, from the TTFA.

National youth teams also faced problems ahead of CONCACAF Qualifiers, and the end-results were disappointing.

The men’s Under-20 team, coached by Russell Latapy, barely had any training session before their Championship in the US in November, and they failed to progress to the 2019 FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Poland.

At home, in January, the national women’s Under-17s, under the guidance of Shabazz, lost all three matches, in the group stage, of their CONCACAF qualifiers.

The three main local leagues – Pro League, Super League and Secondary Schools League, were contested this year.

In the Pro League, W Connection captured their sixth league trophy while Central FC claimed the First Citizens Cup.

FC Santa Rosa triumphed in the Super League, with Cunupia FC taking home the Cup title.

And, in the Secondary Schools League, Naparima walked away with the treble – Premier Division, South Zone Intercol and National Intercol crowns.