The following column was written by then Trinidad Express journalist Lasana Liburd on 6 June 2005:
If Angus Eve stacked stationery or cut out newspaper clippings at CCN for a living, he would be afforded a proper send-off on the day that he, or the company, decided his talents belonged elsewhere.
Granted, we are only talking about cake, ice cream, pizza and soft drinks—and he would have to move sharply to avoid being trampled by eager co-workers from the sports desk and a certain editor-at-large, who pride themselves in being great eating company.
But, after the speeches, greeting cards and slaps on the back, Eve would leave feeling proud to have made a difference and left a mark at his place of employment.
Eve did not work for CCN. The Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (T&TFF) employed Eve for the past 12 years and he served with distinction—twice handed the captain’s armband by former coaches, Ian Porterfield and Bertille St Clair.
New Dutch boss Leo Beenhakker had less faith in the versatile 32-year-old attacker and Eve was omitted from the squad that faced Panama and Mexico over the past week. It was the first time since 1996 that an available Eve was ignored for World Cup duty.
Few can argue that Eve had not passed his best form some time ago, while Beenhakker already has the benefit of experienced players like Dwight Yorke, Marvin Andrews and Stern John.
The question, though, is how will Trinidad and Tobago football fans show their appreciation? How will the federation that he represented show gratitude for a player with an unprecedented number of national appearances?
It is the time for administrators and supporters who preach the gospel of patriotism to stand up and show the value of their sentiments. I admit to being an unbeliever.
Patriotism, when used by administrators, is a meaningless word engineered to whip athletes into submission by appealing to the irrational emotions of supporters who want to believe that, when West Indies cricket star Brian Lara lashes a century or John stabs home a goal, the player is thinking specifically about him or her in the stands or in front of the television set.
The athlete’s failure to play is therefore viewed as a personal slight. The administrator who mischievously accuses a player of disloyalty is fully aware of the implications.
It has been a long time coming but finally Caribbean fans are becoming aware of the significance of money in sport in relation to their athletes.
The Digicel conflict between West Indian cricket administrators and players over personal contracts opened a few eyes. So too did the strike by the Trinidad and Tobago Men’s National Senior team in February 2003.
In both cases, the gains by athletes were minimal.
Lara lost his role as team captain—almost certainly, it is a permanent loss—while Ramaresh Sarwan was denied the chance to replace him.
In football, national goalkeeper Kelvin Jack, who was perceived as an influential figure behind the strike, seemed to have been blacklisted. Jack, who was first choice at the time, won just seven national caps since the standoff, while Travis Mulraine, another player who seemed destined to a long national career, managed just five outings. There are others who never got the chance to play for their country again.
In sport, as in life, the employee bears the brunt. Lara and Jack knew the risks. They know that the respective boards do not like to have their authority questioned. But the players might have felt let down by the fans.
They did not believe that the word ‘patriotism’ could provoke such a change in the public that idolised them and who they often pleased with their output on the field.
The Trinidad and Tobago public denounced Russell Latapy and Yorke when they refused to turn out for an international friendly—a friendly!—in 1999 after they complained that T&TFF special advisor Jack Warner changed the date of their proposed clash with Colombia to suit the timetable of then Prime Minister Basdeo Panday.
The fact that the 8 September date decided upon by the T&TFF infringed upon their club duties was deemed irrelevant. Yorke and Latapy were disloyal for turning their backs on their country, and the T&TFF demanded an apology.
Fast forward to 2004, when the T&TFF held a money-spinning match against a veteran Brazil All-Star team. It was not even a full international and the wording on the advertisements suggested that the encounter did not fall under the aegis of the local football body. Yet, the T&TFF faxed letters requesting that the players be released to play.
Who knows what might have happened if someone was injured. The public seemed oblivious to this fact and the administrators were certainly not called disloyal for unnecessarily risking the careers of national sporting heroes.
Compare this to Northern Ireland’s weekend outing against Germany in an international friendly. Northern Ireland manager Lawrie Sanchez begged five of his players who were free agents to turn up. Keith Gillespie played but Jeff Whitley, Phil Mulryne, Colin Murdock and James Quinn refused on the grounds that, if they were injured, they would be unable to find work at the start of the football season and would have no way of earning a living.
Northern Ireland were trounced 4-1 and Sanchez was disappointed but there was no threat of a ban. He respected the player’s right to protect their livelihood.
In contrast, Clayton Ince, Brent Rahim and Hector Sam all showed up for national camp as free agents. Marvin Andrews’ dodgy knee is a story by itself.
Trinidad and Tobago football fans do not realise their fortune in the era of a professional sport.
Forget the good old poverty-stricken days when stars like Michael Maurice and Clayton Morris earned nothing but love and administrators became wealthy and bought beachfront property. It is immoral to ask Densill Theobald to play for free when money is being paid at the gates and from television and radio companies.
Sporting fans must accept that they are in a new era. They must demand value for money rather than make irrational requests of their stars based on a romantic but meaningless notion of loyalty in a financially driven world.
Lara turns out for work for the same reason that you do on Monday morning—and it is not because it is your patriotic duty to do so.
Yet, if Trinidad and Tobago wants to show that love and respect is a two-way street between athletes and the public, then they could not have a better opportunity than Eve’s departure.
Eve made 115 caps, which is a national record. (Strike Squad goalkeeper Michael Maurice made more appearances for the national team, however several of his outings were against club teams and therefore not recorded as full internationals.)
The RSSF website for statistics places the CL Financial San Juan Jabloteh player level with former French World Cup winner Marcel Desailly, while only 36 footballers have played more times for their country.
He scored 34 times for his country with 12 of those goals coming in World Cup qualifying competition. Only Steve David (16) and John (13) have more World Cup qualifying goals.
If Eve was in another line of work, he might expect a gold watch and sizeable pension. But he was not a banker or policeman. He was a national footballer.
Now let us see what that means to supporters and administrators alike.
Eye on Eve
Highlight: Playing in 1991 Portugal World Youth Cup and got opening qualifying goal in 2-0 win away to Canada in 2002 World Cup qualifying series. Also won six Caribbean Cup titles.
Low point: Ejected for elbowing Mexican player Marco Antonio Ruiz in 2002 qualifier after the Mexican allegedly spat on him.
National Senior Team coaches: Everald ‘Gally’ Cummings, Kenny Joseph, Jochen Figge, Zoran Vranes, Sebastiao Pereira de Araujo, Jimmy Blanc/Muhammad Isa, Ian Porterfield, Rene Simoes, Bertille St Clair.
Editor’s Note: This article (meant for the Trinidad Express) was put on hold because, shortly after it was written on 6 June 2005, Soca Warriors head coach Leo Beenhakker selected Angus Eve for his 2005 Concacaf Gold Cup team. It was never published before now.
At the Gold Cup, Eve was a second-half substitute in a 2-2 draw against Panama and a 0-2 loss against Colombia on 10 July and 12 July respectively. He never represented Trinidad and Tobago again and remained on a record 117 full international caps.
Eve was never recognised by the TTFA, the TTFF or the Ministry of Sport for his record contribution to local football.