There was once a time when Avery John had snuck off to South Africa in the hope of nabbing a transfer to the Orlando Pirates.
His manager at the time – Alan Matthews at Longford Town – on discovering he had not in fact been in Trinidad minding his sick mother mused “He is not only positionally naïve but also geographically inept.”
There was to be no such detours for John on the way to the World Cup in Germany in 2006 however, save for an awkward second leg qualification play-off tie against middle-eastern minnows Bahrain.
That night, back in November 2005 marked a watershed for Trinidad and Tobago. Avery was part of a back four that kept Bahrain scoreless while his defensive partner Dennis Lawrence rose in the 49th minute to head home a Dwight Yorke corner.
One nil it finished, and the ‘Soca Warriors’ had qualified for their first World Cup finals. A measure of the emotion that qualification had brought to the tiny island nation can be gleaned from the words of Lennox Grant of the Trinidad Guardian.
On Lawrence’s winning goal he wrote: “The header worked like a gesture to inaugurate a state-religion season of Advent, heralding arrival or hope of deliverance from evil. Amen, said a million T&T voices.”
Avery himself was to go on to create his own piece of World Cup history. Unfortunately for him it wasn’t divinely inspired but for the first red card of the 2006 tournament. Going in hastily on Sweden’s Christian Wilhelmsson after 15 minutes in Trinidad’s opening game earned the former Gypsy and Shels’ left-back his first yellow.
He came out for the second half a little over zealous to keep the Swede’s at bay and for a second time upended Wilhelmsson and referee Shamsul Maidin flashed a second yellow. “I was just hoping and praying we didn’t lose,” said an understandably relieved Avery after T&T had held the Swedes to a nil all draw and thus gaining their first ever World Cup point.
“In a situation like that it’s very easy for people to just point at you and say because of you we lost the game. So, me personally I’m very happy and very, very proud of the guys…that we didn’t concede, that Shaka [keeper Hislop] didn’t concede and we held on zero-zero.”
As the dressing room celebrated a fine point earned, Avery had time to reflect on his time in Ireland to reporters, “There are a lot of good things in Ireland. You were competing against guys who were in England, you had the weather….the pace of it, all of those things were a big plus and I’m glad I had the experience.”
The red card John received meant that ultimately he would miss the second group game and possibly the biggest match of Trinidad’s football history; against Sven Goran Eriksson’s England. A two nil winning margin for the three lions “flattered England,” by BBC’s own admission.
Peter Crouch and Steven Gerrard spared Eriksson’s blushes with goals in the last seven minutes. Avery was far from flattered and spoke in the build up to the final group match against Paraguay about his nations Corinthian spirit.
“You had some parts of the media saying that we were here for the jolly-up and that we were going to get hammered but that has not happened. Our expectations were to come here and acquit ourselves well and I think we have done that so far.”
With the slightest of chances of taking Sweden’s spot in the last 16 allowing for a win against Paraguay and an overhaul of a three goal difference John came back into the side for the final group match at Kaiserslautern's Fritz Walter Stadium.
It was all to take a turn for the worse however, when after 25 minutes Brent Santos scored an own goal putting the Paraguayans 1-0 in front. Avery’s World Cup was to end six minutes later when his manager Leo Beenhakker decided to switch him for the fire power of Kenwyne Jones. It wasn’t to matter.
After several attempts to regain parity- Jones himself rattling the post at one stage- the South Americans settled the matter with a Nelson Cueves goal four minutes from time.
In these days of the winner taking all, of the bilious hatred for the moral victory, the likes of Trinidad and Tobago in 2006 reminded some of us that we can’t all be winners but we can try hard to lose well.
“There was definitely a case of us being not taken seriously,” said John. “You hear reports of people saying that we were not going to do anything at the World Cup but we have made a point.” It was a point well made.
John was not favoured by Trinidad and Tobago’s new manager Francisco Maturana after 2006 but got recalled in 2008 after the initial qualification series for South Africa started badly.
It was too late - the Soca Warriors finished last in the penultimate group behind El Salvador. Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico and the USA qualified from the group of six.
Jody Moylan is an ExtraTime journalist based in Dublin, Ireland. He has a particular interest in world football, and focused on Avery John for a feature leading up to the FIFA 2010 World Cup.