Fri, Feb


BERTILLE ST CLAIR was in Trinidad, having been hospitalised with a heart issue when he was inducted into the 2020 First Citizens Foundation Hall of Fame. He is better now, back in Tobago and buoyed by finally having received national recognition while he is alive.

St Clair cherishes the occasions those around him have honoured him, like a year ago when a three-day extravaganza was held in his honour in Tobago. St Clair is equally pleased at being inducted into the Hall of Fame.

“Nothing happens before time,” said the 78-year-old, who confessed to feeling elated.

St Clair boasts a long history of achievement. He has coached national football teams at every level—Under-13, Under-16, Under-19, Under-23 and twice at senior level. He is still the only coach to have taken Trinidad and Tobago to the semi-finals of the Concacaf Gold Cup and also has five InterCol finals wins, during his time with Signal Hill Senior Comprehensive.

For St Clair, football was always about getting the best out of footballers. One could sense a smile on his face when he spoke of Dwight Yorke, a 10-year-old he put on the national Under-13 team for a Puerto Rico tournament despite objection from the then team manager.

“When I pick him, the manager said ‘where you going with that ‘lil boy,” St Clair recalls. “I told him, ‘who picking the team?’”

He remembers Yorke, a lanky Neil Shaka Hislop and cricketer Brian Lara as players he had selected after a national Under-13 team screening, and gave instruction that they return to St Augustine the next day.

“Lara was not a bad player,” he said. “After I choose him, the father tell Lara if is cricket ah go take yuh, but if yuh going to football, yuh go have to walk.”

That ended Lara’s football career, before he went on to become a record-breaking international cricketer.

St Clair rates Yorke, Russell Latapy and David Nakhid as the three most talented players he has worked with and he had a special place for Nakhid, who he said was a superb player who did subtle things other players didn’t and some coaches never recognised.

“Latapy was a good player, too,” said St Clair, who also rated the goalkeeping pair of Shaka and Clayton Ince among his top players along with Angus Eve who, he said, “did a lot for the country.”

St Clair recalls always having to discipline his stars, particularly Yorke and Latapy, who sometimes wanted to be apart from the team in private cars. A strict disciplinarian, St Clair would have none of it. The former Montgomery school teacher recalled dropping in at Canaan and seeing 10-year-old Dwight among big men, with a beer in hand.

“When he saw me, he dropped the beer,” recalled St Clair, who promptly gave Yorke push-ups to do.

He also sent Latapy home for coming late to national team practice, let Angus Eve run the side-lines for a training session for a similar infringement and warned Arnold Dwarika as well.

“On Charlotte Street I saw Arnold Dwarika, a very good player, drinking in a bar. I told him if I ever saw him in a bar again, then don’t come around again.”

St Clair felt Nakhid was one of those that led by example. And despite having to sometimes curb the former Manchester United striker’s activities, St Clair also praised Yorke for his dedication on the field because when others were scurrying away after training, Yorke remained on the field to do what he termed his “homework”.

St Clair recalled the bittersweet experience of coaching Trinidad and Tobago to its only Concacaf Gold Cup semi-final in 2000, but being fired immediately after. The Soca Warriors went down 1-0 to champions Canada although St Clair felt T&T should have at least reached the final.

Having taken care of Costa Rica 2-1 at the quarter-final stage, T&T dominated the Canadians although Yorke was injured and not playing. Outstanding keeper Craig Forrest kept Canada in the match with a series of good saves, including to Nakhid’s first-half penalty, before a defensive lapse saw Mark Watson’s 68th minute header win the match for Canada and the North Americans went on to beat Colombia 2-0 in the final.

An incident in Los Angeles on the morning of the match might have had a profound outcome. Yorke and Latapy wanted to travel in a private car while the rest of the team, including Dwarika, Nakhid, Anthony Rougier, Stokely Mason, Shurland David, Ancil Elcock, Marvin Andrews, Ince and Eve were expected to travel in the team bus.

“Latapy came to me and tell me that a lady came for Dwight and I,” said St Clair, who informed Latapy that all will be travelling in the team bus.

“In football, you have to have a level playing field. What is good for one, is good for all,” St Clair declared.

Like St Clair, Yorke, Latapy, Eve and Hislop are now also in the First Citizens Sports Foundation Hall of Fame. St Clair recalls Eve, now national Under-17 men’s coach, joking and stating, “all aboard” to the great entertainment of the others as the stars were forced to also ride in the team bus that morning.

Yorke was the designated penalty taker, followed by Latapy and Nakhid in that order.

“Latapy was to take that penalty but he was vexed because I did not give him the opportunity to travel in the car and didn’t,” St Clair stated. “David Nakhid tried to take it and he missed, and that is how we didn’t go on to the final of the Gold Cup.”

St Clair still has some underlying resentment, like having an unbeaten national Under-16 team taken from him and given to another coach, and also being replaced by Englishman Ian Potterfield immediately after giving the country its greatest success at the Gold Cup.

“They fire meh before I reach home,” St Clair stated.

As a schoolteacher, St Clair applied incentive and discipline to making players better, more disciplined people. He frowns on coaches who allow stars to do what they want,

“You have to lead by example,” he said. “We have an attitude that if you are a big player, you could go as you want. But if that same big player is injured, ent we have to play without him?” he asked.

“I used to tell Dwight Yorke and them ‘yuh see what you do in England, do the same thing here.’

“Discipline is for all and respect is mutual,” he said.

For St Clair, football was never about money since it was never motivation for a man who has lived simply and is dedicated to his vocation.

“I see all about, people suing the TTFA for millions of dollars,” St Clair said. “I could have sued, too. But I love my country. And I love football.”

SOURCE: T&T Express