TWO Sundays ago, football fans at the Queens Park Oval were treated to a very exciting National Championship (Big Four) final between Naparima and El Dorado.
The game finished in a 2-2 draw after extra-time, with El Dorado coming from behind on two occasions to earn the tie. Neither team held back in giving a performance that was in keeping with the occasion: the meeting of, perhaps, the two best secondary school teams in the country with the purpose of determining the national champions for 1999.
However, it seems that the game was not given the treatment that it should have gotten from the SSFL. First of all, there was the problem of scheduling: the decision to hold the Big Four tournament amidst the start of the National Intercol competition has seriously backfired. For some reason, the SSFL never bothered to set a replay date in advance and are now in a quandary since both Naparima and El Dorado went into Intercol action over the weekend.
The League may have been hoping that the final would have resolved via a penalty shoot-out. But this scenario was always going to be unlikely in the circumstances. The match commenced at 3:30 p.m. and, when one took into account the possibility of extra time, there was all likelihood that open play would not have come to an end before 6 p.m. at which time it becomes quite dark at this time of the year. In addition, it has been proven more than once that the Ovals floodlights installed for cycling in 1987 are inadequate for on field sporting events. There have only been a couple of occasions on which referees have ventured to go ahead with penalties at night, and each time there was a sense of sympathy for the participants.
The current confusion regarding the status of the replay has only served to exacerbate the error of sandwiching the Big Four in between the zonal competition and the National Intercol. Now, there is no time to hold the replay until after the Intercol has been completed. Yes, there has been talk of having the replay as part of a double-header with the National Intercol final provided that neither Naps nor El Do are involved in the latter. But, such a scenario would only serve to devalue the Big Four, particularly in light of its aforementioned purpose.
Because the Big Four tournament decides the champion secondary school team, it is only just that it be held at the end of the season. Then, there will be plenty of time for replays. In fact, there will also be the opportunity to revert to the more challenging round robin format, rather than the knockout formula that belongs with the Intercol.
The SSFL has been understandably concerned about the relative lack of interest in the Big Four on the part of fans of those teams whose seasons have ended during the Intercol. But this is simply natural behaviour that happens to be exhibited by a large portion of football supporters. What the League must do is to try and promote the Big Four and let it be known that the participants are the top teams in the country, the sides that have proven themselves in zonal competition. It has to target those fans that are interested in seeing the best in action.
Overall, the SSFL must do everything it can to ensure that the champion secondary school is the last team standing, at the end of the season.