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Photo: Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith (left) has a word with then Soca Warriors head coach Terry Fenwick after training at the Police Barracks in St James on 3 July 2020. (Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

A journalist learns quickly the importance of confidentiality and protecting one’s source. So it is an exceptional circumstance that leads me to now reveal one such informant, in a bid to defend my reputation against a curious onslaught by Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith.

In a last-ditch effort to avoid pulling aside the veil, I messaged my source this morning and offered him a six-hour deadline to recant his public position that was compelling me to expose him.

You see, my source for the story about the confrontation between then Men’s National Senior Team assistant coach Kelvin Jack and 18-year-old footballer Gary Griffith III—which the police commissioner complained about at length in a TTPS media conference yesterday—was none other than Gary Griffith himself.

In essence, Gary Griffith sr leaked a story involving Gary Griffith jr to me. Then, when he saw the published article, he proceeded to attack the reporter, me, for even giving an ear to the source, Gary Griffith.

It is enough to make one giddy. Did the police commissioner just invent the fourth person?

Griffith yesterday made three main assertions regarding the football team. He claimed that my stories are essentially negative gossip, the fall-out from them had impacted on the performance of the national team and caused the demise of their 2022 World Cup campaign, and that his son was a talented player who was suffering because of the identity of his father rather than benefiting from it.

As a long-standing sport journalist, it is literally my job to explain why a sport team is doing well or poorly. So I am duty-bound to respond to this invitation to reveal what off-field business might have affected the fate of the Trinidad and Tobago national football team, particularly where Griffith III is concerned.

First, the most important question of all: is Griffith III good enough to be an elite level footballer?

I have been asked this repeatedly by readers over the past year. I always take pride in providing straight answers. But in this case, I could not.

Wired868 generally covers the Republic Bank National Youth League, the Secondary Schools Football League, the Trinidad and Tobago Super League and the Pro League. The norm is that players distinguish themselves in one of those domestic youth or adult competitions before they are considered for national selection.

Yet, before he was selected two years ago on the National Under-17 Team, led by head coach Stern John and his assistant Kenwyne Jones, I had never heard of Griffith III. To date, I have never seen him stand out in a football match at any level—nor has any of the coaches, players or reporters I have spoken to on the subject.

The police commissioner, like many proud parents, has trumpeted his son’s perceived accomplishments the ‘first and only TT national to get a full scholarship in England’, and ‘signed by Northern Ireland team Coleraine FC’.

Far from justifying his call-up, however, Griffith III’s CV has only raised more questions.

Unlike the United States, England does not have a competitive university football programme. In fact, English footballers who are not good enough to turn professional and want to further their studies seek scholarships to the US.

The reason that the likes of David Nakhid, Shaka Hislop, Brent Rahim and Leston Paul attended universities in the US is certainly not that they were not good enough to cut it at an English university.

But look closer still at Griffith III’s ‘scholarship’ to Sunderland College, which was announced by coach Terry Fenwick in a media release that was subsequently published by the Trinidad Guardian newspaper on 30 May 2019.

‘National Under-17 midfielder Gary Griffith III and Brandon Alves have been accepted in a scholarship programme in the United Kingdom with Catalyst Agency, Improtech and Sunderland College to pursue his (sic) football and academic ambitions through the efforts of the local club, Football Factory Foundation (FFF)…’

For starters, Griffith III was clearly never the ‘first and only’ person to get a scholarship. He travelled with Alves. Is it possible that his father did not know this?

Football Factory is run by Fenwick, who further declared to the Guardian that:

‘[…] Our aim is to fill that void and fast-track youngsters of T&T into life-changing opportunities for the future stars of T&T football. It is fitting that FFF, who have engaged and partnered with Catalyst Agency and Improtech since November 2018, is now partnered with the T&T Police Service (T&TPS).

‘The partnership between FFF and the TTPS will provide expertise, knowledge and experience in the upcoming Commissioner’s Cup and Scholarship Program to ensure a solid, professional and achievable program to project our program nationwide through the multiple police youth clubs.’

So Griffith III’s scholarship was part of a business arrangement between an obscure UK company, Fenwick and the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service?

‘The son of Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith II was accepted,’ the release further claimed, ‘on his own merit for his abilities and commitment to work hard and smart to make it.’

Doth thou not protest too much, sir?

Coleraine FC is a top team in the Northern Ireland League, which is a semi-professional competition. Their players work during the day and train at night.

A Trinidad Express article further suggested that the team planned to stick Griffith III and his best friend Jesse Williams into their academy rather than have them compete for places on their adult first team.

Neither player was granted a work permit to join the team in any case, and they were never going to come close to meeting the criteria set by the British Home Office.

Is it likely that Fenwick and the other British middle-men involved were unaware of this?

But two things seemed odd about Griffith III’s dalliance with Coleraine. First, the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) began announcing Griffith III as an employee of the Northern Ireland team from as early as July 2020. Yet, Griffith III’s and Williams’ trials with the club only took place in October 2020.

Clearly the TTFA, through its media statements, was passing off the young man as a professional player when he was not. But why was the police commissioner so certain that his son would be accepted by the team when, in the football industry, nothing is more uncertain than a trial?

(Up until last month, TTFA releases still claimed that Griffith III was a Coleraine player.)

The second thing about Coleraine that caught my attention was their kit sponsor: Avec Sport. It was the same sport apparel supplier that Fenwick’s friend and agent, Peter Miller, brought to the TTFA in a controversial deal signed without board approval and subsequently voided by the Fifa-appointed normalisation committee.

So although I could not speak directly to Griffith III’s qualities as a player, it seems clear that, whether directly or indirectly, Fenwick was involved in virtually every aspect of his football career. And that, simultaneously, Fenwick was enjoying—or seeking to enjoy—benefits from the TTPS.

The reason that Wired868 readers have not heard more about these odd links is not negligence on my part. In fact, Griffith’s professional relationship with Fenwick has been the subject of quiet probes for months. The commissioner’s knowledge of such investigative work was partially responsible for his angry rant on 4 June, directed at Trinidad Express journalist Denyse Renne, in which he vowed to withdraw all his beneficial support from the national team.

But more on that later.

Unsurprisingly, in June 2020, Fenwick named Griffith III on his first training squad as national head coach. The Englishman invited several national youth players supposedly to aid in their long-term development rather than to necessarily play them with the senior squad.

Young Griffith qualified on the basis of his selection at Under-17 level—in conditions where, with the youth team starved of funding by the TTFA, Griffith sr stepped in with TTPS resources.

However, in July, when Fenwick trimmed his training squad and Griffith III was still included, a school coach rang me.

One of his former players, he said, was in tears. The young man had worked hard and tried to please Fenwick as best as he could, only to be dropped. But what really deflated the Pro League stand-out was that Griffith III was still on the squad.

“It is not right what is going on here, man,” said the coach. “The youth man from the ghetto, giving his all, and you take his dream away from him because of blatant favouritism?”

The coach and I agreed to talk on the record. But when the time came, he had a change of heart.

“I talked it over and I feel if I say anything, they would only victimise the boy more,” he said

The coach might have no regrets about that decision. The axed player went on to regain his place on the national team and eventually earn a cap under Fenwick—something that Griffith III still has not managed.

Despite the school coach’s about-turn, I reached out to others who had worked with Griffith III. All suggested that he was not nearly good enough for consideration on even a national youth team, let alone a senior one. But none would say so on the record. They did not want the ‘top cop’ as an enemy.

Earlier this month, however, Wired868 received correspondence that revealed what it was like as a coach to have Griffith III around your team.

Ken Elie, a retired army warrant officer class one, is a former Trinidad and Tobago national youth team coach and one of only two coaches to win the TTFA FA Trophy while in charge of a second tier team, WASA FC.

In 2018, Elie was head coach of lower mid-table SSFL Premier Division team, Trinity College Moka. Griffith III, who went to St Mary’s College but never made their first team, transferred to Moka.

In October, Trinity College Moka principal Carl Tang called Elie into a meeting with Griffith. The topic was the coach’s failure to use the police commissioner’s son in his first team.

“It was a straight case of trying to undermine the selection process,” said a member of the Trinity Moka technical staff.

Wired868 was unable to reach Tang for comment. Tang is also vice-captain of the Trinidad Rifle Association, which is headed by TTPS superintendent Wayne Mystar.

Elie stood his ground, insisting that Griffith III did not have the necessary quality to play for the Trinity Moka first team.

After their meeting, Elie wrote Tang on 15 October 2018 to clarify his views on ‘our most recent intervention with one of our parents, whose child is a member of our football team’.

‘[…] The perception of fairness goes a long way in harnessing, moulding and protecting the school and sports team/s from the perception of bias, favouritism and nepotism. This, of all the external concerns, is a most swift and corrosive element that diminishes, retards and poisons team cohesion. In fact, in some constituents the team never recovers.

‘The coach is the hub on which salient decisions are made in sports. His duty conduct and decisions are always effective and just when it’s done from an ethical and moral conscience (informed decisions).

‘[…] The ‘greater good’ must be the ‘golden rule’. Generally, based on the meeting’s core purpose, aim and understanding of the parents’ desire for their child, I perceive that the ‘greater good’ may not be realised, if all conditions remained unchanged.

‘What was clear, however, is that the parent will simply be satisfied if the child is automatically selected to participate in the Premier Division. This I suppose is a criteria (sic) for the student to gain acceptance at another organisation.

‘It will require an explanation to another player(s) on the team that will question justification for the inclusion of one against the exclusion of another. Presently, in the circumstances, this justification cannot be valid…’

Elie never played Griffith III. Yet, within six months of his failure to make a modest school team, the young man was jetting off to Florida as part of the National Under-17 Team.

In between, Griffith made a handful of appearances for North East Stars in the local Pro League. Stars finished bottom of the table with one win and six points from 18 games. They scored 16 times and conceded 58 goals.

Wired868 asked then Stars head coach Zoran Vranes, a former Trinidad and Tobago national senior and youth team coach, about his reason for selecting Griffith III.

Wired868: Was that because you thought he was at that level?

Vranes: Hahaha. At that time he was very young. He wasn’t ready yet, but you know l love to support young guys. He has a football future, but needs to work hard and be patient…

Vranes’ assessment was the most generous one offered to Griffith III by any coach, with the exception of Fenwick. Still, the Serbian said the commissioner’s son ‘wasn’t ready’ when he picked him.

Wired868 spoke to several current national players and technical staff members. They all agreed with the first part of Vranes’ assessment: the boy was not ready.

It is harsh to so dissect the dreams of a young athlete, but then it is his father who, inadvertently or otherwise, chose to make the boy’s supposed talent a topic of national discussion; and a rod with which to attack the credibility of Wired868’s coverage.

In truth, Griffith III seemed to always be a distraction to the national team.

“He was normal at the beginning but then you saw the spoiled brat behaviour start to come out,” said one national senior team player, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “He is a player that holds on to the ball. He has always been that type of player from the first day he started to train.

“He would hold on, and hold on. And if anyone talks to him, he would say some kind of foolishness.”

Several eyewitnesses report that, once during a training session in Nassau, national midfielder Hashim Arcia was irritated by Griffith III’s antics.

“Boy run back, nah!” Arcia shouted, as the rookie repeatedly lost possession while trying to dribble and then left it for his teammates to attempt to win back the ball.

It is alleged that Griffith III’s angry response included the phrase ‘I am a real bad man!’

Arcia, a soldier, just walked away.

“Hashim [Arcia] just laughed,” said the source, “and said ‘I am not wasting my time with you’.”

By the end of the following day, nobody was laughing.