Mon, Jul


It was the morning of October 5, 2006 when the "Soca Warriors" finally received word on bonuses promised to them by Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) special adviser and FIFA vice-president Jack Warner--now the Minister of Works and Transport in the People's Partnership Government--for their historic qualification for the Germany World Cup.

At the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain, the jaws of more than a dozen young men sagged and faces contorted as a contingent returned from the TTFF headquarters with news of their financial reward.

"How they came up with that?" asked one player.

One year prior, the national footballers hammered out a deal worth 30 per cent of all commercial revenue attributed to the 2006 World Cup should they be successful in their qualifying bid, but, in the following months, the TTFF proved elusive when it came to honouring its promise.

The Warriors returned from Germany to a $1 million prize apiece and Chaconia Gold Medals from the then PNM government, but there was still no word from the TTFF. By then, Warner's offer had risen to 50 per cent, although there was no mention of a dollar figure.

In October, the TTFF finally made an offer of $5,644 each and national captain and ex-Manchester United star Dwight Yorke phoned Shaka Hislop to relay the news.

"(Dwight) was talking very quickly and sounded very agitated," said Hislop, who was in the United States at the time. "His tone was one of absolute disbelief and disgust."

In the subsequent press statement read by Yorke but written by Hislop, the national players threatened to resign as their contracts with the TTFF were allegedly "not worth the paper they are printed on", although they went on to thrash St Vincent 5-1 in a friendly on October 6 and, two days later, defeated Panama 2-1.

After a second unsatisfactory TTFF offer of $19,008.07, the players hired English sport attorney Michael Townley to act as their counsel, although Yorke and veteran playmaker Russell Latapy decided against proceeding.

"I understood why they didn't want to go to court," said Hislop yesterday. "I agreed with Russell on their stance. Let us just say they had different professional and personal circumstances which I respected."

Dennis Lawrence, whose goal secured a famous World Cup qualifying playoff win against Bahrain, also declined to participate in legal action, as did Jason Scotland, Carlos Edwards and Clayton Ince.

All four players were represented by English agent Mike Berry who also worked as liaison officer for the TTFF in the build-up to the World Cup.

Caledonia AIA midfielder Densill Theobald also broke ranks.

"Densil contacted me when the TTFF pressured him and we had a long talk and I really sympathised with him," said Hislop. "I don't criticize him at all. I know what it is like to be at that age and put under pressure by the national team… He always had my utmost respect despite what others may believe."

The cracks were widening by then between players and administrators and among the Warriors themselves.

Theobald was the only 2006 World Cup player named in Trinidad and Tobago's 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup squad and Warner congratulated the TTFF on "the principled stand you guys have taken in resisting being blackmailed" by "a mercenary few".

After the PNM government revealed, on September 14, 2007, that the TTFF had understated their World Cup earnings by nearly $155 million, the Football Federation offered to go to arbitration and the blacklist was lifted.

In May 2008, Warner made his last offer to players at a meeting in Crowne Plaza, Port of Spain.

"Jack walked in nonchalantly and asked 'what allyuh want' and 'what is the problem'," recalled World Cup defender Brent Sancho yesterday. "I answered that 'you called us to meet so what is your offer'. He said he was tired of this nonsense and that we were lucky he was giving us a bonus at all.

"He told us the deal was 30,000US, 'take it or leave it'. The room was stunned into silence. He then said 'you know what to do if you want the money' and walked out."

There was nervous laughter in Warner's wake but, as the months passed, Marvin Andrews settled, while Chris Birchall and Ian Cox are believed to have followed suit.

Four years on, though, at least 13 players remain defiant.

World Cup and Ma Pau defender Cyd Gray shared much of his initial reward from the government with family and friends, while he married Natakie, the mother of his five-year-old son Jardel, in 2007.

"My life revolves around my son and my wife and I hope I can use this money to look after them," Gray told the Express yesterday. "I hope this fight can help in the long run too. Maybe if Jardel grows up to play for the national team, it will be different for him."

Hislop singled out 26-year-old Ma Pau utility player Anthony Wolfe for special praise. Wolfe was 22 at the World Cup and did not play, while the court case took its toll on his subsequent career.

"As much as we share equally in this step forward, Anthony Wolfe is the face of this victory for me," said Hislop, referring to last week's High Court decision in favour of the players. "Wolfey has not wavered in his commitment to see this through, when the personal cost to him has probably been the greatest and while many who hold themselves in higher regard have fallen by the wayside.

"He is someone you'd want in the trenches alongside you when the going gets tough."

Wolfe, an unsuccessful candidate for the PNM at the recent Local Government elections, used his government reward to build a home in his Manzanilla hometown at 23.

"The bonus would be to put things in place for my son Anthony Junior," said Wolfe, "but before I even touch the money I am going to give a donation to my church (Manzanilla Pentecostal) because I think God played an important role in us winning the case.

"I thank Mr Warner for the opportunity to play in the World Cup, but he is not a man of his word. Nobody begged for this (money). They are the ones who promised us, so how come we are called greedy?"

Wolfe, like his teammates, vowed to go the distance in the court room against daunting odds, just as they did, four years ago, on the field of play.

The battle ground has changed but the Warrior spirit lives on.