Wed, Oct

Football fans and enthusiasts have been quietly voicing their displeasure at the present "state of affairs" of Trinidad and Tobago's football.

There's no doubt that even with the inclusion of several overseas-based professionals and foreign coaches to our present national team, we're still trying to demonstrate a winning attitude. The future of the game doesn't look bright for the starving football fans of this football-loving nation.

I remember as a boy growing up behind the bridge at Old St Joseph Road (around the John John, Besson Street, St Paul Street area...that's my "roots") and in the late 1950s, early 1960s, walking up Piccadilly Street, up Charlotte Street, to the Queen's Park Savannah (the mecca of football in the north) to watch games in front of the Grand Stand. Seeing teams like Maple, Malvern, Colts, Shamrock, Casuals, Notre Dame, Dynamos and Sporting Club, amongst others, playing in the Port of Spain Football League. In those days football was the biggest attraction, outside of horseracing at the Savannah and Test cricket at the Queen's Park Oval.

Teams then displayed an attractive brand of football, leaving die-hard fans clamouring for more.

I believe football then was of a very high standard because the systems employed by the respective clubs, as outdated as they might appear, produced goals galore. The football to me then was more creative and it appealed to the masses. People supported the game, and club teams had just as much support as the national squad.

I well remember policemen on horseback, controlling the Savannah crowds; the nutsman, the original "Jumbo"; the Pressmen (we call it sno-cone now), "Colts" from Belmont and "Queen" from Newtown, Woodbrook; not forgetting the men, who used to put up the scores on the scoreboard during the games infront the Grand Stand-"Geese" and his assistant-and some of our greatest football supporters the late Lord Kitchener (calypsonian), Sonny Dew (City Police), the late "Lulie" Abbott (Malvern supporter), the late Michael "Short Mikey" Khemkaran (Colts supporter), the late Pa Aleong (talent scout on his bike), who were all just as popular as the footballers themselves.

Some people could say the same thing about the days of old in the Southland- Southern Football Association (SFA) and Southern Football League (SFL); not forgetting the East and Central Leagues. In those days we had competitions in the Haywood Shield, the Red Cross Classic, North versus South, so the best players in the country could be on show at least twice a year.

We produced some of our greatest players during that span: Carlton "The General" Franco, Alvin Corneal, Tyrone De Labastide, Lincoln Phillips, Leroy De Leon, Everald "Gally" Cummings and Warren

Archibald, amongst others.

That trend of exciting and entertaining football continued until the mid 1970s. Players had some hope, soccer in this country was on the rise. I remember Trinidad and Tobago capturing the bronze medal at the Pan American Games in Winnipeg, Canada in 1967, and on the way to their medal beating Argentina 1-0, Colombia 5-2 and for third place drubbing Canada 4-1.

There was Trinidad and Tobago hosting the CONCACAF Finals in 1971 with some matches being played under lights at George V Park and Gerald Figeroux (T&T) being the most outstanding goalkeeper of the tournament. Trinidad and Tobago also reached the finals of the CONCACAF qualifying series in Haiti in 1973 in a bid to qualify for the World Cup Finals in 1974 in West Germany, only to lose the final game against hosts Haiti 2-1, by some faulty and debatable refereeing decisions...some call it "voodoo". Everald "Gally" Cummings being voted the most outstanding player of that tournament.

Trinidad and Tobago also reached the final of the Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Games in Santo Domingo in 1974 only to lose to Cuba on penalty kicks. I also remember the Trinidad and Tobago Youth Team (Under-l9s) playing for third place in the CONCACAF Youth Tournament in Canada in 1974. Almost all the players later went on to represent the national senior team and some played professionally overseas-Kendall Walkes, Earl "Spiderman" Carter, Richard Chinapoo, John Granville, Michael Grayson, Curtis Murrell, Brian John, Gerard Homer, Robert Francis, Whitney Hackett, Michael Maurice. Somehow or the other the football powers-that-be failed miserably and did not keep this group of players together.

I can remember Trinidad and Tobago playing in the Pan American Games '75 in Mexico, beating the USA 1-0. Yours truly was the goal-getter.

Then the people at the top of Trinidad Football Association (TFA), most notably secretary Eric James, Ken Galt, Cyril Austin and Phil Douglin, did a fairly good job with what little resources they had.

In those days we did not have any representation on the Caribbean Football Union (CFU), CONCACAF, or any FIFA executive member battling for easy draws or fixtures for T&T so we could win the Caribbean Cup, reach the Gold Cup Final round, and have the chance of a lifetime to reach the World Cup Finals.

Oh, how well I remember those days. The TFA then was run by the clubs of the association, no one was appointed because of their financial status or position. The clubs voted for who they wanted to run the association. The people of Trinidad and Tobago were led to believe there was some "kind" of democracy in football so they went out and supported the game in large numbers. However, in truth and in fact there was never no real democracy in this country's soccer.

Trinidad and Tobago as a growing football nation has not learned from our mistakes of the past that is why the game is where it is today. We keep on making the same mistakes, over and over again. We have moved from Caesar to Caesar.

I mentioned earlier growing up behind the bridge. I use to hear the older guys talking about Eric James doing everything...he moved like Jack Warner-a law unto himself. James made decisions with no regard for the love of the game itself, he was holding the position of secretary of Maple and a member of Queen's Park, the most powerful sports organisation in this country, then and now, ambassador for Haiti in Trinidad, a "big man" in the Trinidad government railways-he was the boss, take it or leave it.

Teams were crying out for democracy, asking for one club, one vote, he give them one club, one vote, with a separate set of voters, voting to make sure they kept their positions. It was more select than elect. As things stand now, the present "system" calls for a complete overhaul. We're not getting the desired results.