Sat, Sep

The truth about Griffith (Pt 2): How CoP disrupted Soca Warriors, and weaponised TTPS platform

Sometime during the course of Terry Fenwick’s tenure of Trinidad and Tobago Men’s National Senior Team head coach, the players began an informal game in which they would try to guess when the English coach planned to slip Gary Griffith III into the national squad.

Usually, it was whenever silence shrouded the Englishman’s plans.

On 28 May, the players were asked to meet at the Piarco Airport to leave for Nassau and a decisive Fifa match window, which included games against The Bahamas and St Kitts and Nevis.

However, in an unusual move, Fenwick did not reveal his entire squad to the players and only allowed media officer Shaun Fuentes to forward his selections to journalists when they were already on the plane.

“I feel he will travel this time, you know,” one player told another.

And Griffith III indeed got the nod.

In the Bahamas, talk in the camp was that Fenwick promised to give Gary Griffith III 40 minutes of playing time, in what everyone felt would be the easiest game of the campaign.

Griffith III, according to a team source, asked equipment manager Michael Williams if he could wear the ‘number seven’ jersey for the Bahamas game. He repeated the request to team manager Adrian Romain.

Forward Ryan Telfer, who plays professionally for Atletico Ottawa in the Canadian Professional League, is the only player to feature in every match for Fenwick, and he wore ‘seven’ for each outing. In fact, he has played in that number since 2019 when he first broke into the national squad under then head coach Dennis Lawrence.

Griffith III, a rookie on the team who never played professionally, wanted the jersey for himself. His teammates were, at best, bemused.

But, unknown to the Griffiths, things were not working out as they intended in Nassau.

On the eve of the fixture, Fenwick consulted assistant coaches Derek King and Kelvin Jack as to which players should be omitted—as he sought to whittle his 25-man travelling squad down to the stipulated 22-man match day number. According to sources, King and Jack were unanimous that the first player to be cut should be Griffith III.

Did Fenwick ask King and Jack for their opinion on the team only so that he could blame Griffith III’s non-selection on his assistants?

How the teenager responded to his omission from the squad is now in the public domain. According to Griffith, I wrote that his son ‘stormed out of a disciplinary meeting’, which, he insisted, was a lie. In fact, the lie is that Wired868 wrote that at all. What I wrote is that Griffith III refused to attend ‘a team bonding exercise’.

“As he finished dinner, he got up and left, which is not normal protocol,” an unnamed player told Wired868. “You have to wait until everyone is finished and then you get an excuse from the coach. That night, we were having a team bonding exercise because [team captain] Khaleem [Hyland] had arrived earlier and it was the first opportunity we had with the entire squad together.

“Jesse [Williams] went to call [Griffith III] and he said he’s not coming. Then ‘Suggie’ (Justin Garcia) went and came back and said he’s not coming. Since I have been a national team player that has never happened, especially with the youngest player.”

Jack urged Fenwick to deal with the matter. The Englishman allegedly responded only that he ‘would have a word’.

The following morning, Jack took matters into his own hands and rebuked the teenager in the presence of his teammates. Griffith III replied, ‘Wham to you, boy?’ He then used his phone to record the assistant coach and 2006 World Cup goalkeeper.

“Men were in the line waiting to eat breakfast,” said the player. “It was the day of the game and things just got real tense. Terry [Fenwick] just said nothing at all about it and the mood was real heavy.”

At the time, Wired868 heard only that Jack had bouffed Griffith III on game day. That did not, I felt, warrant a stand-alone story.

However, on Monday 7 June, the police commissioner called. He was livid.

“You’re always writing all kinda thing that your sources tell you from in the camp,” Griffith told me. “So how come you didn’t write that the assistant coach, Kelvin Jack, virtually assaulted my son, eh? How come you didn’t write that he had his hand in my son’s face?

“How come you ent say anything when the British High Commission is now investigating a complaint against him for assault?”

I assured Griffith that I would check it out and I would publish anything newsworthy which I could support. Whatever I found out from my investigations, I would run.

Griffith’s tone softened immediately. He was only telling me for my own knowledge, he said. There was no need for me to investigate.

I insisted that he could not have it both ways. If the matter was as serious as he said, I would investigate.

As it turned out, Romain confirmed that the normalisation commission was investigating the incident, which I did consider to be substantial enough to warrant a story.

So it was Griffith who tipped me off about the row between his son and the assistant coach. However, sources or other external parties do not dictate the way I shape my story; that depends entirely on the evidence I unearth.

I asked the police commissioner to send me the video that his son took of the incident. He did not respond. However, an edited clip eventually emerged which showed that Jack was clearly angry but did not act in any way that could be interpreted as threatening to the player.

Further checks also revealed that, as the team prepared for a crucial World Cup qualifier that afternoon, Griffith Sr repeatedly contacted them to rage about Jack’s action and his son’s non-selection. The threats allegedly included his vow to reclaim bus route passes from the team’s support staff.

Feeling harassed, Jack blocked the police commissioner on WhatsApp. But the phones of several technical staff members were going off repeatedly.

“The man said he pulling all of his support from the team,” read one technical staff member, from his phone, “and he hopes the team lose.”

He claimed it was a message from the police commissioner.

It is ironic that Griffith, given how he spent the hours leading up to the match that sealed their fate, accused Wired868 of causing the Soca Warriors to be eliminated from the 2022 World Cup campaign.

On Monday 7 June, Griffith messaged me a photograph of Jack, bearing the caption, ‘The face of unemployment’.

Three days later, the Robert Hadad-led normalisation committee fired Jack and King, while Fenwick was sacked the following day.

Was the police commissioner, who was a member of the technical staff’s WhatsApp group, now a special advisor to the normalisation committee? Did he suggest to Hadad and/or his colleagues that it was time to dismiss the coaches?

Hadad and normalisation committee member Nicholas Gomez said, on Monday, that the decision to replace the coaches was made based on ‘affordability’ rather than on the team’s performances.

If the Soca Warriors defeat Montserrat and either Cuba or French Guiana next month, the TTFA would have been obliged to renew Fenwick’s contract for two years at an enhanced salary—from US$20,000 to US$25,000 a month.

However, there was no such extension or pay-hike clause in the contracts held by the national assistant coaches.

Neither Hadad nor Gomez explained why Jack and King were also fired while the rest of the technical staff remains in place, pending consultations with new interim head coach Angus Eve.

On 8 June, when Trinidad and Tobago closed their campaign with a 2-0 win over St Kitts and Nevis in the Dominican Republic, Fenwick selected Griffith III as an unused substitute. He had to settle for the ‘number 16’ jersey, as Telfer again wore seven.

Again, the players suspected what was coming. The coach kept the names of the 22-man match day squad from everyone—including, unusually, his assistant coaches—until they were already at the match venue.

Once there, Fenwick informed right-back Shannon Gomez, left-back Keston Julien and versatile attack Nickell Orr that they would be stand-bys rather than substitutes.

Julien plays professionally in Moldova but was struggling with a knee injury. His exclusion was not a big surprise. However, the 24-year-old Gomez, a former national youth captain, is competing in the United States second tier as a full professional.

Orr, 20, excelled at National Under-20 level and competed in the Cyprus second division this year. In contrast, Griffith has not played a competitive senior game since his stint with the struggling Stars in 2018.

Back in Trinidad and Tobago, the young talent who repeatedly failed to make Fenwick’s travelling squad were 17-year-old playmaker Molik Jesse Khan and 23-year-old midfielder Justin Sadoo.

Sadoo impressed at Point Fortin Civic and often earned plaudits during the local practice games organised by Fenwick. Khan made his Pro League debut for W Connection at 15 and left no doubt about his quality.

The 30-year-old Marcus Joseph, a two-time World Youth Cup attacker with a hammer of a left foot, was also ignored. There are some local-based players who suggest that, based on their training sessions, he might well be the country’s most in-form option at centre-forward.

The trio were among scores of talented players forced to look on from the outside as Griffith III toured with the national squad and his father boasted about his bright future.

In the age of the internet and mass media coverage, there remains no evidence of any kind of Griffith III’s football ability—other than the claims of a scholarship and Coleraine FC deal which were rebutted in Part One.

And what exactly was it like to be an independent journalist covering football during the Griffith III era?

In the past six months alone, I received one legal letter, two threats about being made ‘a person of interest’ in a police investigation and countless messages and phone calls from the police commissioner—helpful source today, furious critic tomorrow.

When Griffith III was an involved member of the national football squad, the commissioner reacted angrily to any story criticising it.

“Every article you put is always littered with negativity,” he once told me. “[…] This is why as a country we can never get anywhere.”

But when Griffith III was not very involved, the police commissioner was not only happy to criticise Fenwick and the national team but also leaked information for stories he later claimed to be ‘negative’.

‘Lol. You were very diplomatic,’ Griffith wrote, referring to Wired868’s match report after Trinidad and Tobago were mauled 7-0 by the United States.

Griffith III was an unused substitute for that match and his father insisted his son was one of the fittest players in the team and blamed Fenwick for using unfit players.

On another occasion, after I criticised the local football administration, the police commissioner had this comment: ‘You by far do the most research and get the most indepth (sic) I have seen in sport journalism. Too many of our sport reporters are lazy and […] get little other than quotes.’

After Trinidad and Tobago’s goalless draw away to the Bahamas, Griffith wrote:

‘Terry will blame covid. (sic) He will blame Hadad. [He] will blame David Williams. He will blame not getting paid. He will blame Shaun Fuentes. He will blame Liburd.

‘He will blame not getting the players who never had TT passports. He will blame [Keith] Look Loy. He will blame Andre Baptiste. He will even do like Milli [Vanilli] and blame it on the rain. But he will never look in the mirror to lay blame.’

A week later, Griffith blamed the team’s elimination on Wired868 and me.

Griffith’s constant ‘good cop/bad cop’ role-playing—I lack the qualifications to deem it ‘schizophrenia’—first took a dark turn in January when a Facebook user named Deonarine Deyal commented on a story involving his son: ‘What Gary Griffith III doing on that team because the coach got a firearm in record time’.

Griffith insisted that I should delete the comment. I refused on the grounds that it was posted on Facebook rather than on my website and I did not know enough about the matter to determine whether it was libellous.

Within hours, I received a phone call from a man who identified himself as Corporal Perez of the Firearms Unit. He said the police commissioner had told him to question me based on information I had on an alleged bribery matter involving the commissioner.

Griffith, according to the self-declared ‘Corporal Perez’, was directing an investigation into his own supposed bribery.

The lawman insisted that he had been ordered to speak to me, despite my protests that I had no idea who Deyal was and knew no more about his claim than anyone else who saw his post on Facebook.

There was a get-out-of-jail clause; the supposed Corporal Perez said I only had to say that I refused to cooperate and, since he could not compel me to speak, he would have to inform his boss that he could not do anything else.  And then the commissioner would be forced to sue me as a private citizen. The officer said Deyal chose that option.

I declined his offer, explaining that, as a journalist, I did not want to be on the record as refusing to assist a police investigation—even a silly, contrived one. So since I had no intention of going to the police station, the supposed Corporal Perez would have to come to see me.

I never again heard from the supposed lawman and I have no idea how he represented my official position.

However, Griffith sent me a pre-action protocol letter next, via attorney Keon Gonzales, which relied heavily on an exchange I had with Facebook user Timothy Christopher P Nokio.

Nokio, during a series of posts in the Wired868 Facebook group, insisted that I defend Griffith and delete the same comment that the police commissioner found offensive.

Nokio: Lasana Liburd, do you think accusing someone of offering and receiving a bribe doesn’t cross a line? How about accusing coach Terry of taking an inducement and big GG of giving said inducement. Does that cross the line?

Liburd: Timothy Christopher P Nokio, did the coach get a firearm? Is he a friend of the commissioner? If neither is true, then sure. If it is, then although borderline, it probably isn’t slander.

Gonzales, acting on Griffith’s behalf, claimed in his legal missive that my response insinuated ‘that the COP engages in unscrupulous and dishonest conduct by providing bribes for the purpose of securing a position for his son on the Trinidad and Tobago national football team’.

The legal threat did not go to my home address and, by the time I collected it, the police commissioner’s mood had long changed and he was again acting as one of multiple sources for local football tidbits.

I forwarded Griffith’s pre-action letter to my attorney and waited for the commissioner to mention it. He never did.

Another occasion when Griffith’s response to my work took a bizarre turn was when he felt that young coach and agent Joshua Lamb had been a source for two Wired868 stories.

On 9 December 2020, I wrote that SRP Keon Trim, along with QPCC, was conducting training sessions in breach of the Covid-19 regulations. Contacted by Wired868, Trim, who also served as an unofficial assistant to Fenwick with the national team, lied about whether he was flouting the health regulations. However, we had photographs to support our story.

Once more, Griffith was furious—but not at Trim. He insisted Lamb was the source of the story and was engaged in the same activity, only I had deliberately left him out.

Lamb was not the source. But I contacted the coach, based on Griffith’s accusations, and he admitted to also flouting the rules. So I did a follow-up story that outed Lamb as well.

Later that month, I also wrote about friendly matches that Fenwick’s Warriors were playing across the country. The national head coach allegedly asked teams, who were not training at the time, to leave out their experienced players and face them with mostly youths instead.

When the Warriors won the matches handsomely, with Fenwick often serving as referee, the coach boasted about the results on social media. His antics were criticised by several coaches, who spoke to Wired868 anonymously.

Griffith again insisted that Lamb was my source, although I said otherwise.

I remembered that exchange on 15 April 2021 when the police commissioner accused an unnamed local agent of ‘human trafficking’ during a TTPS press conference.

From his comments, it seemed obvious that Griffith was referring to former national youth players Jaheim McFee and Isaiah Garcia, who were in Egypt, on trials arranged by Lamb.

After speaking to McFee, Garcia and Lamb, I contacted Griffith for comment.

Liburd: Can you say how you’ve assisted or are trying to assist the boys? And why did you compare it to trafficking since neither player is a minor and nobody reported them missing or anything like that?

Griffith: Oh so trafficking is only for children? Keep talking. Some fight to defend crap based on affiliation. Now my official response, this is an ongoing police investigation. You seem to have in-depth knowledge of this investigation, so you would be contacted to assist us. Thank you.

Within an hour, Wired868 published an article which revealed that it was not a case of human trafficking but rather a trial gone horribly wrong in which both players felt badly let down by Lamb.

Minutes later, Griffith wrote back: Sorry bro. Spot on article.

If the police commissioner knew that it was not a case of human trafficking—as my story stated—then why did he say otherwise in the TTPS media conference?

Within days of Griffith’s public accusations, Lamb was fired from his job as Fatima College goalkeeper coach.

Did Griffith use his position and a TTPS media conference to try to cut down a perceived enemy? How could he blame Wired868 for destroying the national team’s World Cup chances when he not only privately praised our coverage but was sometimes the source of our stories?

(Wired868 has also published several of Griffith’s Letters to the Editor, both before and during his term as commissioner.)

On Tuesday morning, I offered the police commissioner the chance to recant his statements, which impute improper motive to Wired868 and concealed his own involvement and sentiments on our work.

To rebut him, I explained, I would have to expose communication between us that would otherwise have remained private.

Griffith did not respond. So Wired868 has.