As I sat in my home a couple weeks ago watching the Ato Boldon Bahrain special on CNC 3 which showed the behind the scenes of our 72 hours in Bahrain around the qualification to the 2006 World Cup, it brought me to a state of reminiscing and looking back at my journey - the before and after of World Cup 2006.
What an iconic moment it was in my life to be playing in the World Cup at the age of 23. For the opening game against Sweden in Dortmund I was so full of anxiety that my head was telling my feet to run and it wasn’t responding as I wanted it to in the opening few minutes of the game. Not even the experience of Leo Beenhakker and our captain Yorke was able to soothe the nerves in the first 20 minutes but we did manage to be competitive afterwards as fate would have it. The game for me started a couple days before and the first whistle was blown the night before. In fact, I may have had a Covid experience on the night of June 9th, 2006 because I could remember lying down in my bed trying to relax myself knowing that there was nothing to do but to just wait. Almost similar to my routine these days.
We had a real homely atmosphere at the hotel in Rotenburg. The TTFF at the time did everything possible to ensure we had the best facilities, the nicest rooms, we had the entire hotel to ourselves and a local chef, Cecil traveled with us. This meant we were getting the right combination of foods as footballers and athletes but there was that home feel to it. We would get stew chicken and callaloo on some days, Oil down, Macaroni Pie, curry, corn soup and even local flavoured punches. It was most comforting for us as we had been on the road for almost a month before our opening game.
Before we got to Germany, we had traveled to England for a camp at Carden Park and then to Austria for a live-in camp where we played Wales. I remembered coming off in the second half with about ten minutes to go and as I passed Aurtis Whitley who was my replacement, I got a bit of a shove from Leo and a smile as well. His reaction meant that he was pleased with the performance. Even though we went on to lose the game 2-1, we were aware of this but not down. Leo had a way of making us realise that we could play and hold our own with anyone regardless of the strength of the opponent. It proved to be true in our opening game against the Swedes. From Austria, we went to Slovenia and Prague by bus where we played both Slovenia and Czech Republic. Those two games were very difficult for us but it toughened us up some more for the main bouts. Leo took those games knowing exactly what sort of game the opponents would present to us in preparation for what we going to face when we got to our final destination.
By the time we got to Germany we knew what we had to do and what we were about to face.
The Covid-19 restrictions with the stay at home rule has allowed me to delve into some more footage of games from my playing career and the World Cup. The sadness of not being able to go visit my dad who still resides on George St, Port of Spain, my relatives and friends have been overcome with watching Russell Latapy destroy Guatemala on his return, Shaka Hislop pulling off some saves of his life vs Sweden or even myself wining on our plane ride back home from Bahrain. The coronavirus may have led to a new way of life with me only venturing outside on two occasions to the grocery thus far and no sports to look forward to. But I can definitely say I am comforted by watching our past international games which can easily be prescribed as a pain reliever.
Tracking back from June 2006 to 1999/2000
While going to Malick Secondary School with my role model Kerwin “Hardest” Jemmott and my brother, I never envisioned at that time playing for my country but I can recall an elder man in my community telling me that when I go onto play for the country, that is when we will qualify for a World Cup. I guess his prophesy was spot on. At that time I just wanted to play for my school and be the best I could be be whilst being around persons I looked up to greatly. I impacted the school with mediocre success in comparison to their past glories but I learnt a lot in terms of finding myself and working on my purpose.
Shortly after my days at Malick I grabbed the opportunity to move to Toronto Olympians with both hands as I had found my purpose in terms of what I wanted to do after my school years. I could have repeated CXC in order to play more school football but to become a full time professional was more appealing. It was tough sometimes because I received a culture shock in my first week in Toronto. I was maybe the loneliest person on the planet even though I was staying with my relatives. The temperature change and most of all football inadequacies were obvious. I am able to have a recollection now and I can see there is always a greater purpose for those who don’t quit. Wanting to make it is what kept me going until the passing of my mom two years into my stay in Canada.
Devastation, depression, heartbroken. Those are the words to describe my state at the time following mom’s death. But my flame was reignited by Rene Simoes when he became coach of the national team in 2001 as well as Jamaal Shabazz for a brief period before the flame started to burn even further by Bertille St Clair. He was not only brave to incorporate youngsters onto the international stage but he gravitated to me as we shared similar qualities in terms of discipline, work ethic and sincerity.
When I scored my first goal for my country vs Dominican Republic in the early stages of the 2006 World Cup qualifiers and what a beauty of a volley it was with my left foot, I must confess I was grateful to him as I was seeing the light at the end of the dark tunnel I had experienced the last two and half years. I just kept telling myself that late evening in the dressing room, “Don’ t look back now. Keep pushing.”
Success has a way of getting your head in the clouds and staying there but that wasn’t the case with myself as I continued to represent my country despite coaches coming and going. With my continued presence in the national team for many years, the pressure began to become enormous as the stakeholders demanded and expected more of me on a continuous basis which for any human is not the easiest of things to get through. We see it with Messi and Argentina, Wayne Rooney with England, Ronaldo with Portugal. No excuses here though.
My stint at Falkirk in Scotland thanks to a Latapy recommendation and a good showing at the trial prepared me well for the World cup, not that was my sole focus there. My desire to make an impression and impact at the club led to extra work, detailed planning and preparation that resulted not so much to the benefit of the club as I wanted but for my country. I began to move faster, I was getting stronger and that led to more minutes and confidence from Beenhakker in me.
The boss had a gift of man-management that was second to none. I remembered having a less than impressive Gold Cup in mid-2005 and was dropped from the squad. He talked to me like a father talks to his son after he scolds him and that goes a long way especially coming from a man of his experience. Stephen Hart was the same as well and the only difference is that one took us to the World Cup and the other took us to the heights of some great Gold Cup performances.
As a player you have to deal with so much criticism to your individual performances, loss of confidence, poor performances, being dropped, lack of focus, how you deal with aspects of this reality in your mind. As Beenhakker said, the greatest gap between success and failure is in the thoughts. Your thoughts leads your action, your action leads your habits, your habits determines your character, your character leads to your destiny. A man is a product of his thoughts.
The failings of another Gold Cup in 2013 under Hart lead to my slowly but surely departure from the international scene. I embraced it as nonchalantly as possible even though I was approaching 100 caps for my country. And why? Because I had given it everything to keep myself relevant and one must not deny the truth that Densill Theobald isn’t the most talented player the fans had ever seen but through my discipline, humility, work ethics, morals, values and principles, I was able to progress and attain a fair level of success.
Spending time playing in the league in India in 2011 and 2012 greatly shaped my perspective towards that approach of nonchalance, peace and tolerance. The latter end of my career found me to India but lo and behold, it wasn’t only be about playing football but also starting my spiritual journey. When one sees the poverty that is prevalent there, it makes for a moment of brooding. Life then takes on another meaning for you. It certainly did for me. I had the privilege to accompany my close friend Jan-Michael Williams to Ujpest FC in Hungary for a trial which saw both of us being successful. I stayed on but he didn’t for reasons of his own. Hungary was very beautiful and enjoyable both on and off the field with fantastic accommodation and a highly professional set up that was very attractive to any player. The club was even able to attract Leo Beenhakker after I left and that just goes to show their level of organisation and ambition.
It was totally different to my next adventure in India. This part of my journey was not the prettiest at first. Upon my arrival into the country, I was sometimes made to cry myself to sleep as I questioned myself about what the hell am I doing here. As I look back now I can clearly see that progress is possible when one continues to move on positively by faith and belief. I see it as my second home now and I am very happy that through my impact there I was able to open doors for other countrymen to achieve success there and also importantly, India’s impact on me with the start of my spiritual journey.
I do hope that our country and by extension the world experiences a return to some of form of normalcy sooner rather than later. I hope that we shall see sports again as we look forward to Champions League football, Club football, Youth football, Women’s football, School’s football and our beloved national team on the international stage again. To all of you reading this please adhere to the advice of experts and stay home, keep well and take care. I hope you to see you all around soon god willing in my new profound role in administration and coaching.
Densill Theobald is a former Trinidad and Tobago senior team captain. He grew up on Nelson Street in Port of Spain and was a member of the starting team for T&T's 0-0 draw with Sweden at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Finals. He is currently part of the management team with Caledonia football club.