Sun, Mar

Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Nathaniel Garcia on the ball during an international friendly against Saint Martin at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on Sunday, January 29th 2023.

There was much to observe Sunday afternoon in Mucurapo. That’s where the facility now known as the Hasely Crawford Stadium was playing host to a practice match between the Trinidad and Tobago football team and St Martin.

In its original incarnation, the place was just called the National Stadium, until the powers that be saw it fit to give the country’s first Olympic champion official recognition.

But whatever its name, the stadium has been home to many matches like Sunday’s, since the late Prime Minister George Chambers opened it in June, 1982. That’s nearly 41 years ago. I’ll return to that detail a little later.

However, Sunday was my first time watching a national team play “live” in many a year. The absence was largely by choice, but last weekend, professional duty demanded that I check out the match.

I got much to think about.

There was entertainment even before kick-off. The soca music blaring out of the speaker boxes of the house deejay was a little too loud for casual conversation. But it seemed ideal background for the match officials’ warm-up routine. Yes, they warm up too!

I watched as referee Kwinsi Williams and his two assistants, Ainsley Rochard and Kirt Charles stretched in rhythm to the music. Their movements seemed choreographed, the assistants revolving around their leader and taking their cues from him, all to the vocals of Bunji Garlin and company.

To their left and right, the two teams had formed circles for a kick-about, one touch stuff. I once had the opportunity to see Lionel Messi involved in one of those sessions when he was still at Barcelona, and marvelled at the precision of those players. Not once was a second touch required as the ball pinged from boot to boot at the Camp Nou. Sunday in the Stadium though, the ball got through the T&T and St Martin circles more than once.

Up in the stands, an older couple had settled in seats across the aisle from me. I don’t know if they were paying attention to the warm-ups but the music was certainly getting to Mother, whose right foot was tapping out a discreet rhythm. It was good to see the older ones having a sporting evening out. I wondered whether they had family in the T&T squad. A grandson maybe?

The same family thought went through my mind about the young woman bouncing her baby on her knee to the soca, early o’clock.

Apart from them, a number of pre-teens filtered in with fathers and mothers and fathers. This was just a practice match, with nothing at stake other than much-needed game time for the T&T players.

But by the time the contest had got to half-way, close to three-quarters of the approximately 6,000 capacity main stand, which the Football Association had opened to the public, was occupied.

It was a well-behaved crowd too. The place was almost golf course quiet during the first half when no goals were scored and few shots were taken.

However, 20 minutes into the second period with no change in score, a man in the back piped up:”Leh we go! Leh we go!”

Point to me was though, that people could still enjoy their sport in peace despite the turbulent times here. Sporting occasions can still be good family time. The little girl chirping in the back of me was certainly getting into the match. She seemed to have a liking for “M-bappe,” although he was not playing in this game.

Soon enough though, Kadeem Corbin’s opening goal gave her and “Leh We Go” something to cheer and with ten minutes to play, substitute Real Gill added to their satisfaction. Minutes earlier, Gill evoked howls from the stand when he shot wide of an open goal. At least he made the place sound like a sports arena.

By the final whistle, the eight T&T substitutes had contributed to a more incisive performance and a win that everyone could go away reasonably content with. Professional duty caused me to journey across to the eastern end of the facility for post-match interviews. When they were done, nature began to call, urgently.

I searched for a washroom but it was a task finding one that was suitable for use. At last I wandered into an unused dressing room that I could negotiate. The smell in there was less pungent than a previous room I had tried.

The state of disrepair witnessed was not at all pleasant. But it gelled with what I had noticed in the main stand. All the booths at the top of that stand bar one had been gutted, and looked like a wasteland of broken toilets and rotted wood. Down below, more than once, I saw patrons testing seats to make sure they wouldn’t give way beneath them.

I asked myself, why?

Why is it that, not for the first time, this venue, the principal sporting location in this country where Ato Boldon ran and the “Soca Warriors” played on their way to the World Cup in Germany, 2006; has to undergo a major makeover? Why is it that neighbouring Jean Pierre Complex is now a not-so grand old lady, condemned to the “grave”?

This couldn’t be what “Father of the Nation” Eric Williams envisioned when the Jean Pierre was opened in 1979, nor what PM Chambers foresaw back in ’82 for the National Stadium?

Dear reader, I’m sure you personally have fond sport or culture memories of both those places. The Hasely Crawford and Jean Pierre have become part of your personal history. But the Jean Pierre will make no more memories for you now.

A part of T&T history will also go with that place when it is torn down. The new facility will make its own stories.

But there must be something fundamentally wrong when in islands as small as these, facilities reach the point of no return in about 40 years. Isn’t it a waste of money to build and not preserve?

The other newer stadia —the Larry Gomes, Manny Ramjohn and Ato Boldon are also in sorry states. So despite the pleasantness of the afternoon,

I left Mucurapo with a heavy heart, silently lamenting how easily we throw away what is ours; how often we mistreat ourselves.

SOURCE: T&T Express