Warning! Clear the way. The "Big Truck" coming through. St Benedict's College continues to be a dominant force in Secondary Schools football and while they extended their stature as a football superpower in Secondary Schools football by winning the Coca-Cola Intercol final 3-1 against Princes Town Senior Comprehensive,the success has been dedicated to former principal Dom Basil Matthews.
When the school was founded in 1956, principal Matthews saw football as a way of getting students to develop self-esteem and self confidence. During the 1960's Matthews brought in foreign coaches August Wooter of Surinam and Brunner of Brazil. Back then the 'Saints' were decked with such individuals as Warren Archibald, Bobby Sookram, Leroy De Leon,Wilfred Cave,Jan Steadman,Kenny Joseph and Steve David.
At that time they were simply an unstoppable force at the youth level. More recently with the likes of Ivan Sampson, Glen Benjamin, Wesley Webb, Kurt Spencer, Addison Belfon, they continued to show their class, winning the South Zone Intercol in 1987,1988,1989,1991, and 1994.
In 1995, with the help of of Jason Suite and Kurt Spencer, they reached the Intercol and league final, losing out to Signal Hill and Malick Senior Comprehensive respectively. Last year the misery continued as not even the terrible trio of Ronnie Hunte, Kester Cornwall and Nicholas Benjamin could get them past St Anthony's College in the final at the Queen's Park Oval.
This year however,there would be none of that. On Wednesday 28th October, the La Romaine "Big Truck" faced Southern rivals Princes Town Senior in the final at Skinner Park, San Fernando.
Before the game, the boys in green and gold stood in the dressing room, well aware of the fact that they had beaten P/Town on seven successive occasions dating back to 1994, and were confident of victory. But just like all that had occurred in the couple of previous finals, a loss in the 'big one' was anything but impossible. Team psychologist, former Trinidad and Tobago Olympian Trevor James repeated throughout the minutes leading up to the kick off, "Attitude is everything this evening fellas."
Indeed it was all about attitude on the evening. Following a disjointed display in the first half, going behind 1-0, the "Saints" came out with their guns blazing in the second. Moments before the interval, their striker Dia Hunte had to be stretchered off with a broken hand, and already being behind their was cause for concern among all those concern with the St Benedict's team. As it turned out, Hunte's replacement, Andre Toussaint became the man of the moment, pulling the scores level and then ending the war with another item in added on time.
Before this, Kevon Clement had given them a 2-1 lead. Speaking after the victory Hunte said "Maybe it happened for a good reason. While in the hospital, my father told me we had equalized, then the doctor said we were up 2-1. For a minute there the pain went away.When Toussaint assured the victory, Hunte added "I felt happy, all I was thinking off was to get over the pain and going back with the team to celebrate."
The road to glory was not an easy one especially after beating last year's winners St Anthony's College, 4-2 on penalty kicks where it was all patience and determination that got past that hurdle. While for a moment it appeared that P/Town would have made it "sorrow, three times in a row" for the La Romaine boys, they instead gave a second half performance full of nerve, ambition and running as they attained glory in a positively exciting manner.
Reflecting on the "Saints" triumphant march, present school principal Declan Singh said for a while he was a bit puzzled on how his team could not pull of the win when it mattered most. "It was really an achievement to have been in the final on three occasions. Yet we could not achieve that ultimate goal and we wanted to know why we could reach thus far and no further. Well we are not going to be bothered about that anymore.
The jinx has been broken and I think it's going to be very difficult for other teams to take away the trophy from us. Singh compared last year's team with this year's saying "The difference last year is we had a gifted bunch of individuals and I don't think there was the same kind of team effort that was on display this time. Football is still a team game at the end of the day.
Singh spoke highly of his technical staff , which is made up of coaches Muhammad Isa, Mervyn Phillip, Hamil Cayerne and Rasheed Ali, who is the manager as well as a teacher at the school.Commenting on Isa and Phillip, Singh said "Isa is a very experienced strategist as far as the game of football is concern. In the final, when we were down 1-0, I just waiting for him to go into the dressing room and I knew something was going to happen. He said that Phillip and Isa, both former students of the school "make an excellent combination."
Arthur Regis, a teacher at the school now and a footballer and student at the college during the 60's would have appreciated the title to a great extent, having been there since the days of Wooter and players Archibald and De Leon and the rest of the Saints band known as the "Brunner boys" during which time the Brazilian Brunner was in charge. "It was Dom Basil who really had this idea of building a sense of loyalty among the student body. " He mentioned that Wooter had laid the foundation and then Brunner transformed the team into a successful one.
This year, a large part of Benedict's ascendancy came from the intelligent midfield prompting of skipper Ar Razi, Silvio Spann, son of former Strike Squad player Leroy Spann, along with Nicholson Thomas and Kevon Clement. The defence consisting of goalkeeper Perry Martin Dwayne Millington, Lee Baptiste and Anthony Haynes kept the fight up in the match that mattered most, while their strikers Dia Hunte,Toussaint and Davis ended the march home.
Clement, Davis, Millington, Haynes, all enjoying a relaxing moment following Wedneday's war, all added that though they didn't know much about the 87 year old Matthews, they had brought the trophy back to La Romaine for his sake.
Ar Razi, now in Upper 6 at the College was as proud as any winning captain. Having been with the team since 1994, he experienced the losses in '95 and '98. "The feeling was something to remember and treasure. We had a score to settle and we did it, now we are to try our best and win the league."
The 1998 La Romaine 'Big Truck" was able to transcend their traditional efficiency and demonstrated just how stern the stuff of which their ambition was made of. Following their intercol blowout of P/Town, their large band of supporters were caught up in a football fever like never before, dancing to the smooth rhythm of the Point Fortin Engine Room as they celebrated their team's success. Though they could only muster a third place finish in the South zone in the league phase and were out of the "Big 7" competition, the players of St Benedict's College will continue to be in all their glory as they rejoice in one another's talent.