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The name Lloyd Curtis "Sonoltee" Andrews may not be popular in local football to many over the past three decades.

However, after being around the sport for the last 30-plus years, the 57-year-old coach Andrews has finally made his mark at the highest level of domestic football in T&T.

This after guiding T&T Defence Force to a record 23rd national league crown and their fourth T&T Pro League in the competition's 20-year history. It's also the team's first since the 2012/2013 season.

The Army/Coast-Guard, a dominant force in local and Concacaf football back in the day, captured the national league crown in 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1993 and 1995 followed by triumphs in the Semi-Professional League in 1996 and 1997 and the T&T Pro League inaugural season in 1999, 2010/2011, and the 2012/2013 campaign.

And last week following the postponement of the rest of the 2019/2020 11-club Pro League season due to the worldwide Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic a decision was taken to name the "Teteron Men" under the guidance of first-year head coach Andrews as league champions with three matches left to complete the season.

As it stood, Defence Force led by veteran captain Jerwyn "Bally" Balthazar headed the table with 42 points from 17 matches, seven ahead of Terminix La Horquetta Rangers while Point Fortin Civic during their best campaign was third with 28 points, one ahead of six-time champions and last year's league winners' W Connection who had a match in hand.

The Pro League release stated: Given the existing situation concerning the worldwide pandemic, COVID19 (coronavirus), the League has decided to declare the Defence Force Football Club the 2020 League champions. The decision was taken because we will not be able to complete the League anytime soon. At present, we now have nine affected citizens reported and it is more than likely that this will grow in numbers over the coming weeks.”

It said also: “The League is of the view that this is the best decision to take under the circumstances and extends congratulations to the Defence Force Football Club. We also continue to pray for our nation at this time.”

Commenting on being declared champions, Andrews who got involved in the managerial aspect of the sport through a small-goal competition in his community of La Horquetta almost 25 years ago before moving onto La Horquetta Dazzlers in the Eastern Football Association said on Monday: It was a bittersweet feeling for me personally."

He added, "As a coach, it is always nice to lead your team to titles and more so a national league title, but I would have loved to finish off the rest of the season as well, with only three matches to go.

"We suffered one defeat in the first round of ten matches, that was against Morvant Caledonia United, a 2-1 defeat and so far in the second round of competition we were undefeated, and with matches left to play against Morvant Caledonia United, Central FC and Point Fortin, we were pretty confident of not losing any of those matches."

Reflecting of the season before it being declared over, Andrews said the turning point in confidence for his players came when they defeated main rival, Rangers 2-0 at the La Horquetta Recreation Ground, Phase II, La Horquetta despite national defender Curtis Gonzales being shown a straight red card by referee Quincy Williams for violent conduct against Kishun Seecharan on February 4, 2020.

Before that match we came up with specific tactics for the encounter with Rangers, and while at first some of the players were apprehensive towards I got them as well as other members of my technical staff to believe in it.

"During the training drill I boasted to them that once we were able to do it properly in training for 15 minutes non-stop it will work in the match, and despite the early sending off of Gonzales, we were able to accomplish our goal."

It was the first match that I saw people really taking a serious look at what we were doing and afterwards our performance against Rangers was praised in many quarters.

"Coming up against a quality team like Rangers we had to do something different and even though they had the player advantage it looked as though we had two or three players more on the field and this was all down to the players being able to adapt to doing different things while playing different positions.

He added, "So for us, it was mainly about knowing how to manage and control matches and from then on we had a renewed high level of confidence and matches started to become much easier for us."

Andrews, who joined the Defence Force back on January 11, 1982, until 2013 said that it was pleasing to see that sometimes when his team didn't play their best brand of football the players were still able to pull out a win.
"You know you have a good team when you're able to play badly and still get wins, while you maintain that form by winning when playing good football as well.

However, the positive end to his first season in charge of the team was not something many may have expected even though Andrews had the experience of the Technical Director of the Defence Force team who won two Digicel Pro Bowls and a First Citizens Cup under former coach and player, Marvin Gordon, now an assistant coach at San Juan Jabloteh.

A slightly peeved Andrews noted that while he was happy being part of the Defence Force technical staff back then he felt he was never fully given the recognition as being the team's "TD" during those two seasons.

"So when I was approached to take up the coaching role my main focus was on winning what I consider the biggest prize in local football, which is the national league crown."

Andrews, a former Eastern Football Association coach of T&T Coast Guard and then T&T Air Guard/Coast Guard combination up until the 20152016 seasons explained, "I was not in favour of putting too much emphasis on the Ascension League while getting to the semifinals of the First Citizens Cup was my target, as I planned to use those competitions as a key part of my pre-season to try and implement and stamp my style of play on the team.
"At the same time I told the players that if we found ourselves in a position to win the Ascension League we will try our best and do it, but our focus was to be in peak shape for when the Pro League began.

"When we started there were doubts about my capabilities even from within, noted Andrews who was part of a group of local coaches that included the deceased Arthur "Jap" Brown, and Keith Look Loy who travelled to Brazil for a coaching course early in his career.

"That experience in Brazil and visiting clubs like Fluminense, Santos, Sao Paulo, Botafogo and Flamengo was an experience that helped make me into the coach I am today along with the staunch support of my deceased wife, Wendy Andrews., who always said that I would be successful."

"As it turned out, we were able to capture the Ascension League crown and we didn't manage to get to to the semis of the First Citizens Cup, but overall they both served us well in getting the right mix of players in terms of youth and experience with the likes of Adrian Welch, Brent Sam, Jamali Garcia, Jelani Felix, Aaron Enill, Jameel Cooper, Jamille Boatswain, and Dwight Quintero coming into to blend with experienced campaigners Balthazar, Devorn Jorsling, Gonzales, Rodell Elcock, Sheldon Clarke, Andrew Marchan.

Not to be forgotten Andrews also praised the all-round teamwork of his staff which included ex-national midfielder and national senior and youth team assistant coach, Hutson "Barber" Charles, Devin Elcock, Sion Cain (trainer), Demetri Villoreol (physiotherapist), Mc Allister Estrada (medical), Sheldon Barker (equipment manager) and Warrant Officer Ayeesha Sadlow.

Looking ahead, Andrews said he along with his technical staff and players are all praying for the country and taking precautionary measures with regards to the COVID-19 virus and wishing for things to get back to normal as soon as possible so that they can get back onto the field of play.

SOURCE: T&T Guardian