Noel "Sammy" Llewellyn represented Trinidad and Tobago on 45 occasions from 1972 to 1976, scoring 35 goals. Standing a mere five feet four inches, with a 130-lb body-weight, he was an incredible dribbler, noted for sheer speed and skill.
But this gifted footballer from Old St Joseph Road, Port of Spain, was lost to local soccer in 1976 when he was just 26. Sammy returned home during the Carnival season, not only to see mas' but to take in the USA versus Trinidad World Cup qualifier at Queen's Park Oval, Port of Spain.
He was horrified at the $200 admission fee, staging a one-man protest in front of the Oval. Listen to Sammy, still considered one of the country's best forwards of all time, as he tells it all:
I want to set the records straight right away. Trinidadians never saw the best of me because I was banned from international football at age 26. I was banned by the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (T&TFF).
I only knew of the ban two years later (1978) when Ollie Camps (T&TFF president) told me all about it. I was never officially informed, neither was the public. But it centred around a tour to French Guyana .
I insisted that I must be paid $1,000 to go on the tour since I was getting no-pay-leave from my job on the city docks. The money was paid. But I was hit with a serious ankle injury while in training and was unable to play.
I did make the trip, but when I arrived in French Guyana I informed them that there was no way I could go on the field with such an injury. I did not play. And that was the last of Sammy Llewellyn. I was constantly left out of national selection and two years later, during a discussion with Camps, he divulged to me that I was banned on the strength of a letter written by Capt Ralph Brown, manager of the team, who described me as a "bad influence".
The question of why I was being left out was never asked by the press at that time. Frustrated and fed up, I left Trinidad to play professionally for the Aztecs in the North American Professional League, playing there for one season.
But I have always followed the game and support the red, black and white flag wherever they are playing. I returned home, not only for Carnival, but to see us play USA at the Oval.
A friend asked me to purchase a couple tickets for his children to see the match. To my amazement I was faced with a stunning $200 admission and I decided to protest against this ridiculous price right away.
It means that if a man wanted to carry his wife and three children to see our national team in action he had to find $1,000!
I am sure everyone would agree that a reasonable price, in keeping with the state of the country, should have been $100 for adults and $50 for children.
That's why my placard read "money is not everything'' and such a prohibitive price is certainly taking football away from the grassroots level, the children, and the poor people, denying them the chance to see our national footballers in action.
Throughout my life I have always supported the downtrodden and the poor in this country and I will continue to do so.
I demonstrated for justice with men like Arthur "Jap" Brown, and Dennis Yhip. I protested the fact that Graham Gooch (former England cricket captain) who broke the Gleneagle's Agreement and went to play cricket in South Africa was eventually reinstated on the English team and played at the Oval.
Our own Bernard Julien, who did the same thing (playing in South Africa), was discarded from West Indies selection. I was there outside the Oval when the police broke up our protest and brutalised a disabled man (Dennis Singh) on crutches. What a shame!
This country of ours is rich with oil and natural resources.
There is a dire need, not only to secure meaningful employment for the youths, but also to keep them focused and occupied.
Many thousands are crying out for decent salaries to support their families, with something extra for a few basic things, like purchasing tickets to see a football match, or even to see Test cricket at the Oval.
Let's face it, thousands of them just cannot make ends meet with such poor wages and you must remember we now live in a climate where there are plenty of activities all year-round...fetes, shows, excursions, expensive clothes, shoes, international sporting events, hi-tech equipment...I could go on and on.
But how and where are they going to get the money to afford these? Certainly not on a minimum wage of less that $10 an hour. But I can tell you, they are going to steal and even kill to get them! That's why many of the youths today are involved in illegal occupations. That's why they get entangled into the drug trade. To them it is the only way out of poverty.
I know too well that poverty is no excuse for a life of crime. Take my case. I was born dirt poor and grew up in Old St Joseph Road. I had nothing, but was never, never involved in anything illegal!
Years ago I was reported to the police and was identified as the man who stole a box of apples. I was picked up and taken to Besson Street Police Station.
Word soon got around that "Sammy" was in the station and in less than two hours, at least a dozen marched down to Besson Street Police Station to swear on my behalf that I would never, never, steal anything. Not "Sammy"! Wrong man!
Even a couple of police officers turned up and insisted that I be released right away. But this is an exceptional case. Not every youth from "Behind the Bridge" is a Sammy Llewellyn, but we have to cater for the poor and the weak-minded if we want to reduce crime and create a better society for us all.
We have to meet the unfortunate ones halfway. We have to consider their plight, their poor circumstances.
And I hope Jack Warner takes note, because I'll be coming back to see more home matches in March and I also intend to continue my protest action if prices remain the same. I'll keep on protesting until something is done. I repeat soccer should not be taken out of the reach of the poor youths who want to aspire.
Now back to football, on the field.
The game has been good to me. I owe everything I have to football. I am what I am today because of football. Football made me a man.
But I am not satisfied with what I am seeing in local soccer
Our best possible team should include Dwight Yorke and Russell Latapy and I have a problem with seeing a 41-year-old David Nakhid on a national team. I read once where Jack Warner said some $13 million was spent on the preparation of the Soca Warriors. Imagine that after spending $13 million we still cannot come up with a good midfielder.
It is my strong opinion that Yorke should apologise to the nation for once refusing to wear the national jersey. If it were another player, I am sure that the authorities would have demanded an apology.
Latapy should be given a call to join the team immediately. This current team, under coach Bertille Sinclair, is definitely facing a midfield crisis and in my view, Latapy is still the best midfielder around.
"Latas" would make a far better player in the position that Nakhid. But I still maintain that with some luck the Trinidad and Tobago team could qualify for the World Cup Finals in Germany if the best team were to be selected.
But let's face it, local football has not improved since the 1960s and there is too much interference from Warner and his advisers. They are obviously interfering with the preparation of the team which should be left to the coaches.
Consider Everald "Gally" Cummings. I am not saying that Cummings is the best coach, but in 1989 the man had the "Strike Squad" playing as a team. As a unit. Cummings brought some professionalism to that team. He made a great input. Why not use him now to motivate the Soca Warriors, as he did with the Strike Squad?
He certainly brought togetherness and teamwork which is lacking now. We have good players playing out of sheer ability. No real teamwork.
I was the first to talk to Jack Warner concerning players going to Europe. Well do I remember Jack at the time saying he did not see the need to send our talent out there. He told me that in New York. I wonder if he remembers that. It was me, Sammy Llewellyn who arranged to send Anthony Rougier to Scotland.
I never got a red cent for it. I was promised a lot of things. Finally I was told I would be paid the fee as a talent scout, but all I got was word to send my back account number to the agent, but nothing was ever deposited and up today I have never even mentioned it to Rougier.
But I am happy with my life. I am happy how things turned out. I know I got a raw deal, but that's life. I have no regrets!
I played for Trinidad and Tobago from 1972-76 and I did my best tin 45 International matches and scored 35 times. I played against Pele here at the Oval and I read somewhere were Pele said I was the best player on the T&T team that day.
I represented Progressive High School and later Midvale, Essex and Aviation Services Ltd. I think my best match was in a FA final against TESCA of Tunapuna at PSA Ground, Long Circular Road, in 1976. I had the honour of scoring the winning goal in that match...a cross from Hannibal Najjar.
I am now 53 and reside in Brooklyn, New York, USA, with my wife and children, Edson (named after Pele), Jodi, Armani and Blossom. I work at the Bank of New York. But I still play football with a group of ex-nationals like Tony Douglas, Curtis Murrell, Norbert Rogers, Curtis Riley and Tom Phillip. We travel around the USA playing at West Indian communities.
I am always prepared to assist with the development of the game here in any capacity if asked. As a coach I have an excellent track record. I coached teams from St Joseph Road and I was always successful. Again, I'll be back here for the home games...and again I will demonstrate to fight for a more realistic admission price which would enable the poor boys on the block to attend these matches.