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The ups and downs of local football in 2017.

It was perhaps the most significant occurrence in Concacaf in 2017, definitely one of the shocking events in world football and the Road to Russia qualifying campaign and certainly a historical highlight in local footballing history.

By now you should know what I am referring to—T&T’s 2-1 victory over the United States at our the Home of Football, Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva on October 10th.

This was one of the positive moments in T&T football in 2017. In this week’s column, we look back at the stories that stood out, the good and the not so good.

Memorable goals

Alvin Jones’ screamer send the Americans packing surely had to make the pick.

Kevin Molino’s goal against Panama to give T&T’s it’s only win in Port-of-Spain during the final round of qualification gave us reason to celebrate reminiscent of the 2005/2006 days; T&T’s ability to go toe to toe with Costa Rica in San Jose in June’s World Cup qualifier left us with hope that T&T could propel its way into the top three at that stage of the campaign; Shahdon Winchester’s go ahead goal which for a few moments left T&T on top of Mexico and on the verge of a historical away victory over “El Tri.”

Lawrence takes charge

On the technical side, the unveiling of Dennis Lawrence as head coach of the National Senior Team brought sense of new light into the national team programme as the former Everton man brought a new direction into the way things were done in preparing the “Soca Warriors” in the midst of a qualifying campaign with “Tallest” introducing the use of the GPS/Heart Rate monitor system into the programme for the first time, plus the presence of Arsenal legends Sol Campbell as part of the T&T set-up alongside T&T prolific goal getter Stern John and W Connection winning coach Stuart Charles Fevrier.

Lawrence replaced Belgium’s Tom Saintfiet, who quit as headcoach with in two months on the job after he replaced Stephen Hart.

Infantino visits T&T

The visit of FIFA President Gianni Infantino in April signaled the start of a significant step in national teams football development as alongside TTFA President David John-Williams, the sod turning for the establishment of the National Training Centre took place in Couva. The construction of training pitches has since taken off to be followed by a player accommodation hotel. In December, the unveiling of a state of the art digital scoreboard with high definition video display at the Ato Boldon Stadium.'

Shabazz returns to national duty

T&T also saw the return of coach Jamaal Shabazz at the helm of women’s football in July following the departure of Italian Carolina Morace.

Shabazz’s immediate business was preparing the Under 17 Girls’ team which tasted success at the Caribbean preliminary level but faltered at the final round.

The Women’s senior team meantime remained active throughout the year with weekly training sessions involving home-based players on monthly retainer contracts as they gear towards qualification for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France with the qualifiers commencing in 2018.

The focus in the latter part of the year shifted to the Under 20 Women’s team in its attempt to qualify for the 2018 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup with this country hosting the Concacaf finals from January 2018 in Couva.

From a coach education standpoint, the FA staged several technical and administrative courses with over three hundred coaches participating in the B and C license courses in 2017.

The TTFA was able to get its Elite Youth Leagues for Boys and Girls off the ground with hundreds of youngsters afforded to change to play the game at the Home of Football.

W Connection, North East Stars impressed

At club level, the news was not exactly great for Central FC and Jabloteh as they both failed to progress to the Concacaf Champions League with Central losing its hold on the Caribbean title and both teams being eliminated in the Concacaf Cup.

But the competing clubs in the Pro League deserved every bit of credit for standing firm during a hugely challenging season affected by serious financial issues. W Connection, the reigning First Citizens Cup winners, added the coverted FA Trophy title worth $100,000 to their cabinet after beating rivals Police in the title match; North East Stars were outstanding in the Pro League and were honoured with the title.

The T&T Super League also completed its League One and League Two competitions with Guaya United and Petit Valley/Diego Martin United being celebrated as champions.

The Secondary Schools Football League also grabbed a bit of the headlines for entertaining and competitive football but also issues of its off the field disciplinary matters.

The League utilised the TTFA’s coaching education programme by staging B and C License courses for its coaches during a season which saw Shiva Boys Hindu College triumph in the Coca Cola Intercol tournament and Presentation College, San Fernando lifting the League title.


Shiva Boys, Fyzabad and Look Loy highlight 2017 football season.
By Walter Alibey (Guardian).

The excitement that engulfed the nation prior to the World Cup qualifiers at the beginning of the year, was forced to make way for the more exciting Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) and T&T Super League in the end.

The controversial replacement of Stephen Hart with Belgian coach Tom Saintfiet by the T&T Football Association did not get the approval of John Public and less than two months on the job Saintfiet quit and the TTFA in a surprise move hired former national standout Dennis Lawrence, a move that did appeased the masses temporarily, it but did not change the course as the Soca Warriors as the team was eventually eliminated from the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

A dubious 0-1 loss to Mexico at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Mucurapo, followed by a 1-0 win over Panama for the Soca Warriors at the same venue in March gave new coach Lawrence’s men hope, before five consecutive defeats to USA (2-0), Costa Rica (2-1), Honduras (2-1), Panama (3-0) and Mexico (3-1) confirmed the Soca Warriors exit.

However, Lawrence’s ability to motivate his young bunch of players to victory 2-1 over the mighty United States at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva, the new Home of Football in T&T, may have wiped his slate clean, earning T&T revenge for a 1-0 loss that prevented the then ‘Strike Squad’ from advancing to the 1990 World Cup in Italy some 28 years ago.

The match was shrouded in controversy due to a water-logged Ato Boldon pitch that led the US team to take to social media to criticize the playing conditions and earning T&T worldwide publication. But their complains were met by feverish attempts by the T&T Football Association and the Couva/Tabaquite/Talparo Regional Corporation to ensure the conditions were ready for the encounter.

On the field, Shahdon Winchester got the faintest of touches in the 17th minute to put the Soca Warriors in the lead, before Alvin Jones caught goalkeeper Tim Howard napping with a thunderous shot from 30 yards out to send the Americans out of the World Cup for the first time in two decades.

However, Lawrence decisions in selection and strategy had provided a pleasing sight for football pundits despite the earlier losses, and had earned him the right to shift gears to preparation for the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, despite minor calls for him to be dismissed.

Shiva Boys had the last laugh

The Premier Division of the schools football league provided a revelation of the ills that existed for many years in the game. Fyzabad Secondary School’s Physical Education teacher Nigel Lakhan and principal Troy Jebodhsingh appeared in court each charged with six fraud offences for their roles in falsifying CSEC certificates to get a schoolboy footballer into school to play. The matter is still in Court.

For the incident the school was thrown out of the school’s league, and SSFL president William Wallace directed his league to embark on a massive clean up drive for the 2018 season.

The league also saw more off-the-field decisions taking centre stage, and led to the relegation of Shiva Boys Hindu College. The Penal school which eventually made amends by winning the Coca Cola National InterCol title, lost several league matches in the protest room for the illegal use of a number of key players, which led to points and goals being deducted.

Shiva manager Sheldon Maharaj and its principal Dexter Sakal later accused the SSFL of breaching its own constitution by allowing schools the opportunity to appeal beyond the allocated period to do so. Both men were prepared to slap the SSFL with a lawsuit, but backed out at the last minute to prevent further public damage to their players.

Meanwhile, Presentation College, San Fernando claimed the hotly contested premier division title by beating Fatima College 2-1 in its final match to move to 35 points, two points ahead of Naparima College 33 points and third St Anthony’s College 30 points.

TTSL v referees over-shadowed Guaya United success

This year’s T&T Super League which was hosted by clubs for the first time, also created a major stir with more off-the-field incidents dominating the spotlight. FC Santa Rosa coach Keith Look Loy had been in the centre of it all due to his concerns with the quality of officiating that led to match officials boycotting matches that involved his teams. His clash with Fifa women’s referee Cecile Hinds on November 5 in a hotly contested encounter Hydro Tech Guaya United and his team at the Arima Velodrome, after his striker Rashad Griffith collided with goalkeeper Shane Mattis, prompted Hinds to submit a report in which she claimed she was verbally abused by Santa Rosa’s assistant coach Jovan Rochford and Look Loy.

Both officials apologised for their behaviour when they appeared before the TTSL’s Disciplinary Committee and were fined $1000 and hit with a one-match ban. However, local officials refused to take the field for Santa Rosa’s matches as they believed the punishment was not severe enough.

Unofficial referees then appeared to do Santa Rosa matches to bring the league to an end, but both coaches later had to agree to served another match ban to appease officials of the T&T Football Referees Association as the unofficial referees were not appointed by the TTFRA.

Meanwhile, Guaya United won both the Caribbean Football Trust League (CFTL) League Cup and League One titles of the TTSL, but Look Loy, president of the TTSL, resumed his attack on the referees by asking for a reimbursement of monies for matches that the referees boycotted.

He later challenged the legitimacy of TTFRA and the FIFA-recognized T&T Referees Committee working together, saying it was against the regulations of the FIFA. Before the year ended Look Loy announced that he has stepped down as Santa Rosa FC head coach to focus of his TTSL presidential duties.