Walsall FC manager Dean Smith, 42, touched based recently with the Soca Warriors Online (SWO) and gave us a quick Q&A about his team’s upcoming preseason tour to Trinidad and Tobago.
Ironically, Smith, a central defender in his day started his playing career at Walsall, played for Hereford United, Leyton Orient, Sheffield Wednesday and Port Vale.
In January 2005 he left Vale Park to become youth team coach and assistant manager at his old club Leyton Orient, before joining Walsall in the role of Head of Youth Development. Smith was later appointed caretaker manager of Walsall on January, 4th, 2011, following the dismissal of Chris Hutchings. Seventeen days later he was announced as permanent manager of the club until the end of the season. In January, 2013, Smith was named Football League One Manager of the Month.
The Saddlers meanwhile, are an English League One football club based in Walsall, West Midlands. Some of their top players includes, 2012-13 Player of the Year Will Grigg, 2 time Player of the Year Andy Butler, winger Jamie Paterson, defender Andy Taylor and top scorers Jon Macken and Alex Nicholls.
While the current Walsall team are 100% Brittish-born players, former Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Clayton Ince once played for the Saddlers and was named 2008-09 Player of the Year. Former San Juan Jabloteh striker Hector Sam also had a one-year stint with the Club in 2006 and is currently attached to Central F.C., the Club responsible for bringing the West Midland team to the twin island republic.
It has been a while since any foreign Clubs visited T&T and though there were talks of prospective visits by TT Pro League administrators and former Minister of Sports representatives, none ever materialized. Today we see a new beginning, one that can surely open the doors to a bright future and the possibility of more foreign clubs visiting T&T shores.
It has been reported that newly promoted Super League team Malabar FC, that is based in Sport Minister's Anil Roberts constituency, has been receiving more funding than any Pro League teams in the sum of $140,000 per-month. They are also offering higher salaries than many Pro League teams can pay their own players. The team is allegedly benefiting a whole lot from Life Sport funding, a government agency designed to help sport, community groups and individuals in support of their plans, programmes and activities that foster sport development, facilitate athletic performance and engender a spirit of community living.
While other Pro League teams are receiving government aid of $50k - $83k per month, Central FC are the only Pro League team not receiving any government funding. In spite of this they are still determined to put T&T back on the map for foreign teams to visit. As a result of undertaking such ventures they are also aiming to build a stronger community.
Sport tourism is essential to Trinidad and Tobago and despite no support from the current Ministry of Sport to assist in promoting the game in any way, Central F.C. are digging deep into their pockets to help keep the local game alive and entertaining.
TT Pro League CEO, Dexter Skeene is in full support and must ensure that the games are well advertised and marketed as it could benefit the T&T league in many ways.
The support of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) is also vital as this venture and future ones of its kind can add to the efforts of all stakeholders to arduously work on repairing the damaged reputation of T&T football. To date though, only Central F.C are putting their efforts forward, while the rest are just supporters behind the gate.
Central F.C. meanwhile, will play Walsall FC on the 9th July at Ato Boldon Stadium, but prior to that Walsall will spend 4 nights in Tobago where they will play two games including a match against a Pro League XI.
And while there will be no half-time show from Nikki Minaj at the game against Central, you will be thoroughly entertained by the rhythmical and pulsating music of SWO member and Jointpop lead singer Gary Hector (Big Magician). Hector will perform his song "Walsall Wonderland" which was inspired by Jointpop trip to the UK when Clayton Ince invited them to a Walsall FC game.
Below are a few questions we asked Dean Smith.
Dean, thank you for agreeing to speak with Soca Warriors Online. Trinidad & Tobago has a strong history of visits by British teams such as Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspurs, Coventry City, Crystal Palace and Aston Villa, but there hasn't been a visit by a British team for some time, so it's really exciting to have Walsall visit our twin islands. What were your first thoughts when you were invited to T&T by Central F.C.?
It was an honour to be invited considering the stature of some of the clubs who have previously visited Trinidad and Tobago. It will be a fantastic experience for our players as we are generally a young squad and a club who has a history of developing young players.
Since featuring in the 2006 World Cup, T&T football has actually been in decline. We will however be playing in the 2013 Gold Cup in July, which can viewed by many of our fans as a sign of improvement . Have you any idea about the current standard of football in T&T, both internationally and domestically?
In England, T&T obviously jumped onto the scene when opposing England in the World Cup and whilst we know a lot about the players who have made careers out in the UK, we know relatively little about the standard domestically, but we do know that historically they have produced some quality players. Over the years, there have been many players from T&T playing in Britain, including Dwight Yorke, Russell Latapy, Stern John, Kenwyne Jones, Jason Scotland, Dennis Lawrence, Brent Sancho, Marvin Andrews and Carlos Edwards. Walsall also has a good connection with T&T through former Saddlers favourites, Clayton Ince and Hector Sam.
Will we see you trial any T&T players while you're here?
We will certainly be looking at trialing some players whilst we are there and who knows like Aston Villa when they visited, we may unearth the next Dwight Yorke! I know T&T have a lot of talented players and it would be nice to give some of them an opportunity to play in the UK.
Dean, this will be your first full season in charge at Banks Stadium after a brilliant managerial debut, losing only one game in your last 19. Tell us a bit about your ambitions with Walsall.
I was previously the Head of Youth Development at the club and have a big interest in the development of young players. It is a big talking point in the Uk , as the National teams are struggling at the moment due to the lack of game time and experience at the top level, namely in the EPL. Here at Walsall FC we are looking to produce young players who can go on and excel at the higher levels of the game whilst developing a style of play that will be entertaining and hopefully successful, in the long term for the football club.
Will we see a partnership form between Central FC and Walsall and how can we make that possible? How do you feel both teams can benefit from this?
I feel that this is a unique opportunity for both clubs to share ideas, views and good practice for the long term development of players and coaches alike. We all want to continue improving and this I am sure will be the start of a longer relationship between the two clubs.
As mentioned, you had Hector Sam and Clayton Ince at Walsall. How did the fans take to them and do you feel there is a soft spot with Walsall fans for T&T footballers?
Clayton Ince and Hector Sam were and always will remain part of the Walsall FC family. Their characters and personalities aligned with their ability enabled them both to have a great affinity with the supporters. They are still very often talked about which is a credit to them both.
Who are some of the top players at Walsall that we can look forward to seeing in T&T? Have you made any new signings who you are excited about?
We had a good season last year and I would not want to pick any individual players out as I genuinely felt that they all performed excellently. We have not made any new signing just yet, but we are bringing a couple of trialists with us to look at.
T&T is the land of Carnival and has a reputation as a great place to party and socialise. Will the players be allowed to relax with a few beers or hit a club or two, or is this visit pure work for the squad?
The visit is part of the pre season programme which has been set to make sure the players are ready for our kick off on 3rd August, so they will be focused on their professionalism. To be a top footballer you have to be an extremely good athlete and sacrifices have to be made to do this and whilst we be in T&T we will have a good time but we know the importance of what is going into the body!
What are you and the players most looking forward to in your visit to T&T?
To experience a different culture, to test ourselves in a different climate, to learn different ideas and to explore new opportunities in a fantastic setting with new found friends. It would also be nice to see a decent size crowd come out to the games.
The Saddlers will take part in three fixtures during our stay:
Friday 5th July vs Stokely Vale at Plymouth Recreation Ground at 4pm
Sunday 7th July vs Pro League XI at Ato Boldon Stadium at 6pm
Tuesday 9th July vs Central F.C. at Hasley Crawford Stadium at 7pm
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