Tue, Aug

On Friday, FIFA Vice President Jack Warner spoke at length with me.

Apart from the big ones, wedding day, children's births, etc, was Wednesday the happiest day of your life?
 My wife and children will understand when I say it was even happier than my wedding day because it was something I worked hard and long for, dreamed of, cherished - I've been in the football business, so to speak, over 32 years - I've taken every abuse known to man. Last Wednesday was salvation.

And after a day like that, you got to work as usual 4 o'clock Friday morning?
The show goes on. We only have seven months to plan for the finals, where other countries have had a year or nine months. We are not going to Germany to make up numbers, therefore serious work has to be done to make sure we perform well. Trinidad and Tobago is the smallest country ever to make a World Cup final, in terms of a budget - under US$5m. I am the deputy chairman of the FIFA finance committee: I have the figures. Every team in the World Cup has spent between US$18m and US$42m.

You've been confident for this whole campaign?
From day one. Even in the bad days. There were times I was a bit depressed but I never gave up. At one time, I even had to have the coach changed, not because [Bertille] St Clair was not good but because we needed somebody better.

You've been gracious to the Prime Minister and his government?
[Chuckling] BC, I have decided to stop fighting anybody. Whoever they are, let their own demons attack them. I want to be magnanimous and even humble... This team and success belongs to Trinidad and Tobago, not Jack Warner or the football federation. This transcends anything political, racial, class, creed. I have to be magnanimous to get that message across.

If you'd wined on them...?
I think I would have been forgiven, but I don't think that would have been correct. I must be able to convince the government there is a place for them. I am told this country shut down after half-past two [Wednesday]. When I came back on Thursday, I saw a sea of people of all colours, creeds and races. BC, this is the country I used to know and want to get back. If football can be the catalyst for this renaissance, so be it. I hope people will come to realise we cannot succeed without the collective effort of all of us. It can't be Jack Warner alone.

For a long time, though, it was?
And, in some ways, still is. This is why I hope the adulation the country showed in the last two days helps to rub off in some positive ways on persons and organisations which can help. Having qualified on the cheap, we won't be so lucky to play in Germany on the cheap.

Earlier this year you and former Chamber of Commerce president, David O'Brien, pitched the team and World Cup to business leaders?
That did not produce a single positive result to date. I said to David when I saw him in the Death March that our efforts have been in vain... Somehow the message has not gone across as it should. I think, after Wednesday, it might have.

Or is it just that Trinidad's wait-and-seeers have waited and seen?
And that is so sad! There are so many positive things that can be achieved. This is a victory that gives every young man in the ghetto a sense of hope; he can be a Latapy or Yorke now. Had it not been for the leadership and experience they brought to the team, we wouldn't be where we are today [but] these guys are on the way out and we have to replace them. We have [also] given every small nation hope. On the plane to Bahrain, when I saw 204 persons paying $15,000, I felt a sense of pride. I decided to form a supporters club which must benefit when tickets are scarce for matches because these people have contributed to our success.

That was one unequivocal negative: the ticket sales for the home game against Bahrain was a shambles?
If anybody can tell me what the solution is, I will listen. We felt it was better to go that route, limited as it was, to make sure the man-in-the-street got access to tickets. We felt it should be transparent, accountable and above board. There was a high degree of indiscipline among the very patrons and, to a lesser extent, among the security officials. I saw no criticism of the indiscipline but there was of Jack Warner. I take that in stride; I'm used to it. But I ask you, BC, to tell me the solution quickly because on March 29 we will have the biggest game this country will ever see!

We're playing Brazil then?
[Pauses] BC, I won't answer you but you're an intelligent man and your intelligence hasn't failed me as yet. I'll also tell you, if I don't get my act together in time for March, we're in trouble! Season tickets may be a grey area to explore...

Now Trinidad and Tobago can be considered a footballing nation, will you become FIFA president?
If we do in Germany what I think we are capable of, not just on the field but off the field, you'll be the first man I'll tell I'm going to put my hat in the ring. And, BC, if I put my hat in the ring, it won't be because I have a hat to throw away. But the team has to be prepared. It has to have practice matches. It has to play in Europe, in Germany against top teams. Even if we lose by two and three and four goals, it is preparation for the big occasion. We don't even have to win, but to play well. When that happens, I will come to you and tell you, "I am ready".

It'll cost a lot to get to Germany?
Between US$12m to US$15m. Our players deserve the best. I've been giving them business class travel, five-star hotels, the best kit. I swear to God, those guys played on Wednesday not knowing what [money] they were playing for. I told them, "Guys, I'll be fair to you. I'll give you between US$30,000 and US$100,000, even if it's from my own pocket." Look at Bahrain, with their Benzes and houses and money. The guys took me at my word, BC. I've told them, as from today [Friday], they get 30 per cent automatically of all the money that comes in to football. We shall form a new registered company on Saturday, Germany 2006. This is separate from TTFF. For the time being I've asked Dr Gluber, Mr Camps, Mr Grodan. I'm going to Mr Clive Pantin-seven people of the highest integrity.

Can football really unite the country with you at its head and the PNM in government?
The way Mr Manning and I hugged [on Thursday] is a good start. He made the joke that he never thought I would speak on the same platform as him. I told him I longed for the day when he can speak on the same platform for me. You can never tell. There are all kinds of possibilities. We have to know where we want to go; once we know that, we'll find the means of reaching there.

Was it weird to hear Sports Minister Roger Boynes praising the team so loudly when he's been so quiet with his cheque book?
[Chuckling] I don't believe there has been any ill-will on his part or his government's. I would like to believe it's a lack of understanding. I have to sit down with Mr Boynes again and go through page by page, line by line, to show where the money's going. If that fails, then I'll move on. But I am the perennial optimist. I trust that when we sit in the next couple of weeks, we shall overcome these problems.

Would the country be better off having $850m invested in a youth programme rather than a sporting complex in Tarouba?
I will go to my grave saying the Tarouba project is misconceived and misguided. I read a statement that, regardless of what any Tom, Dick, Harry or businessman say, it shall be built; I guess the businessman was me. But I haven't seen the public outrage I thought I would have. So I said to myself, a country gets the government it deserves and, by extension, the kind of projects it deserves. You ever hear anybody talk about the quality of stadium in Brazil, Germany, England or Korea? They talk about the quality of sportsmen! Invest your money in them! I would not allow this country with its gas and oil to have unlit playing fields. Every single field would be lit, not for TV, but so people could play sports after dark. All would have coaches and technical people assigned to them. In one day that would change the face of this country.

Having taken our football to the highest level, would you accept the nation's highest award?
That thought has not spent more than a minute or two in my consciousness. When a guy gets a Trinity Cross, what does it mean to him? Does he get a pass for the bus route? Medical expenses or a seat of honour for national festivals? Is there a heroes' cemetery? What does it mean, apart from a cocktail reception at President's House. I don't want to demean the Trinity Cross or its recipients but what does it mean? In the old days, when you became a knight, that meant something. [Smiling] If the Trinity Cross comes next year, I'll be even older and wiser and may consider it then.

Bahrain has filed a protest against Wednesday's game?
[Laughing] BC, five minutes ago, I received a letter from FIFA that we have qualified for Germany. Just to make sure Bahrain received it, not to taunt them, I sent them a copy. I could understand Bahrain's behaviour; I don't agree with it. I could understand the lack of fairplay; I don't accept the indiscipline or the way they destroyed their stadium.

The name, "Soca Warriors", is back?
We have to respect the public and the public has not given up the word "soca" in Soca Warriors.

Will the TTFF adopt one of the songs written for the team, such as Chris Garcia's, "Soca Warriors"?
We'll do more than that. We have to look at all the COTT regulations but we shall make a soca CD of all the top songs and give them as gifts all over Germany. We'll have a steelband play the theme song. It's mind-boggling what we can do.