Sun, May

T&T Premier Football League CEO Colin Wharfe delivers remarks during the league's awards ceremony, at the Trinidad Hilton and Conference Centre, St Ann's.

The second season of the Trinidad and Tobago Premier Football League (TTPFL) kicks off in earnest at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Mucurapo on Friday evening with an intriguing double-header, with the TTPFL also announcing a $ 250,000 prize for the championship team in tier one for the upcoming season.

In the season-opener from 6 pm, Police FC will play the rebranded Eagles FC team (formerly Cunupia FC). In the second game from 8 pm, last season's two TTPFL winners – Defence Force and 1976 FC Phoenix – will lock horns from 8 pm. In the inaugural TTPFL season which spanned from March to June 2023, coach Lloyd Andrews and his Defence Force team stamped their authority on the league as they won both the tier-one league title and the knockout competition. Phoenix won the TTPFL's tier two competition after an undefeated league campaign and also satisfied the financial and club licensing criteria to be accepted into tier one for the upcoming season. TTPFL tier one will have 11 teams this season, as longstanding clubs Jabloteh and W Connection have taken a "sabbatical" for this season due to financial and structural reasons.

On Wednesday, the TTPFL announced an increase in the prize money for both the tier one and tier two competitions. In addition to the $ 250,000 prize for the tier-one winners, the second-placed team will receive $160,000 and the third-placed team will get $90,000 – a total of $500,000 in prizes. Last season's tier one winners got a $ 125,000 prize, second-place got $75,000 and the third-placed team received $50,000. The overall prize money for tier two has grown exponentially from $75,000 to $300,000. The tier-two champions will receive $150,000, with the second and third-placed teams receiving $90,000 and $60,000 respectively.

TTPFL CEO Colin Wharfe told Newsday he is very expectant ahead of the league's second campaign, and he says it is encouraging to see clubs taking an initiative and sourcing sponsorship. He also said the league was able to cut back expenses.

"The biggest thing for us was a better understanding of our expenses. The big one would be the travel to and from Tobago. We had budgeted for more teams representing Tobago. That fell quite dramatically to two (teams) so there was the capacity there.

"The other thing was the number of teams who tried to get their own sponsorship. Let us call it indirect sponsorship because the numbers relative to what we were getting for the teams increased through their own initiatives which meant we could use the $3 million subvention from the (T&T government) and the $2.5 million from Fifa differently."

Army and Phoenix dominated the TTPFL awards on November 3. Army's free-scoring centre-back Justin "Shiggy" Garcia walked away with the Player of the Season and Defender of the Season awards after a stellar campaign which saw him breaking into the Soca Warriors team for their ongoing Concacaf Nations League A campaign. Andrews was named manager of the season for tier-one, with goalkeeper Christopher Biggette, who made his T&T international debut against Guatemala in October, won the goalkeeper of the season award. Phoenix forward Jem Gordon, a former T&T Pro League player with Central FC and W Connection, walked away with tier two's Golden Boot, Player of the Season and Best Forward awards. Phoenix coach Nigel De Souza was adjudged the best coach in the second division, with Phoenix's Duvaughn Daniel copping the best goalkeeper award for tier two.

"What we did last season was basically call around friends and well-wishers because we did not have a product to sell. Now that we have a product, we are going to be marketing it."

Wharfe said Fifa submitted a data-finding questionnaire to all teams, with the responses reflecting a need for improvement in marketing, regional strengthening and governance. He said mechanisms have been put in place to deal with match-fixing allegations which surfaced in September.

"We have now engaged an integrity officer. He will be working directly with his counterparts out of Fifa. We will do training with different elements of the clubs to ensure they are educated on these matters. The teams now have a proactive obligation to say something if they see something."

The TTPFL CEO is expecting a great season across both divisions.

"I am very expectant for the (new season) because you are hearing about a lot of big names who are coming back into the league. You are going to have fitter and competitive teams because the first season was about getting the guys razor-sharp again.

"A number of teams do not feel as though they have done themselves justice in the Caribbean club competitions, so they want to go back and prove themselves again. There is an aggressive pursuit of players and transfers. People are starting to take (the TTPFL) seriously."

As Andrews looks ahead to his team's first game of the season against Tobago's Phoenix outfit, he says Army will be doing all in their power to win the double again.

"(Army have) no secrets. All of our secrets are out in the open because we have won everything (last season). We have to ensure nobody infiltrates our domain," Andrews told TTPFL media this week. "Our domain has trophies so nobody should come there and remove them."

From 6 pm in Mucurapo, a new-look Police FC team will look to lay down the law against ace striker Kevon "Showtime" Woodley and the rebranded Eagles.

SOURCE: T&T Newsday