Mon, Jan

RACE ON: Trinidad and Tobago’s Ryan Telfer, left, chases the ball while pursued by Barbados’ Jamaal Watson-Cummings during their clash in the Courts Caribbean Classic, at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain, on March 25. T&T shut out their Bajan opponents 9-0. —Photo: ISHMAEL SALANDY

It really doesn’t matter whether or not the figure of 10,000 given as the attendance for last Tuesday’s game at the Hasely Crawford Stadium is reasonably accurate.

What matters is that football fans in this country are showing yet again that they are willing to come out in support of the national team notwithstanding all the challenges associated with the governance of the nation’s most popular sport. And this is not just about the present FIFA-imposed “normalisation” period but decades of instability, financial impropriety and other associated bacchanal which have combined to successfully turn generations of would-be supporters completely off from any sort of real connection with the local game.

Of course, it can also be argued that the encouraging turnout for the 1-1 draw with Guyana had more to do with the continuing easing of Covid-19 regulations and therefore many who would not normally have entertained the thought of parting with a blue note (or $150 for the covered stand) for such a game jumped at the opportunity after almost two years of stifling restrictions.

Still, the evidence across several decades is that the average Trinidad and Tobago follower of sport, and in this case football, is no different from his or her counterpart anywhere else in the world. We often lament how fickle and lacking in loyalty we are, and there is a legitimate argument in that direction, but let’s put it this way: if we were to take into account the comparative differences in population sizes and other advantages of scale, would Brazil and England internationals at the Maracana or Wembley be as consistently well attended if the domestic games in those countries were riddled with as much chaos and uncertainty as prevail here?

Look, everyone loves a winner and indeed our bandwagonnist tendencies are well established. There must be something though in the argument which suggests that consistency and stability in the administration of the game and the operationalisation of the sport through a proper zonal and national league structure (all age-groups and both genders), reinforced with an effective communications strategy — especially in this era of such a powerful phenomena as social media — is precisely the type of foundation required to properly harness the sporting, social and commercial potential which football in Trinidad and Tobago surely possesses.

But all of that comes at a cost, which is precisely where we run into a solid concrete wall of suspicion, because unless the government of the day seizes an opportunity to win votes for whichever election is around the corner, which private business do you know of, big or small, will put money in the hands of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association with the confidence that it will go for the intended purpose of establishing a solid bedrock for the sport?

So unless someone or some group of well-meaning persons can gain enough support to actually get into positions of authority and influence in national football (that is a challenge in itself given the politics of the TTFA’s structure), we seem to be locked into this perpetual mode of cynicism brought about by an endemic culture of corruption and outright thievery which we just cannot seem to escape, even as fans show so very occasionally that they are yearning for something to identify with on the football pitch.

Obviously wearing the national colours at senior level and getting to a World Cup finals are the ultimate ambitions. However only a very tiny minority will achieve that. Yes, almost every member nation of FIFA constructs its national programme with an eye to the next World Cup qualification campaign. That is too short-sighted though and quite frankly, too ambitious given our many limitations and challenges.

We need to lift our heads and look toward the horizon, not ignoring the immediate objectives, hopes and dreams of today’s crop of blossoming talents but also not losing sight of the greater objective of making football our truly national game where the net is thrown as wide as possible to harness as much of the talent that is available.

Obviously much of that involvement will be recreational. Not everyone aspires to the highest competitive level, or even any level of competition for that matter. Yet that is also a vital component of any sport, not just football, as an essential element in the social fabric where healthy sporting activity is available and encouraged, especially now as our youngsters are gradually emerging from two years of lockdown and where many, many more have to be dragged away from their addictive devices and urged to take to the open fields of play once again.

A couple thousand more fans turning up for a single game is no new dawn for local football, but a reminder of golden opportunities we continue to squander.

SOURCE: T&T Express