Mon, Dec

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Saundra Baron takes a spot kick during France 2019 World Cup qualifying action at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva. (Copyright Matthew Lee Kong/CA-Images/Wired868)

“I want real, lasting, impactful change for women’s football. David John-Williams ran his campaign on the premise of bringing women’s football to the forefront of his candidacy to lead the TTFA. Why is the Women’s National Team used a sacrificial piece to enhance these men and their chauvinistic values?

“There is no need for nice words anymore; this is the truth. There is no more being silent.”

The following is Part One of a review of Trinidad and Tobago’s unsuccessful France 2019 Women’s World Cup qualifying campaign by goalkeeper Saundra Baron:

I waited to give Wired868 this document, because I am entrusting you to give a true and honest story on the state of women’s football. I don’t care about Shawn Cooper, I don’t care about the Kennya “YaYa” Cordner drama, I don’t care about Lauryn Hutchinson’s video. I care about creating change for respect in our women’s football.

I hope you can help me create an open dialogue, so that the next Caribbean team that qualifies for a major women’s international football tournament is Trinidad and Tobago.

There are so many problems that are bigger than what happened in the CONCACAF tournament, and, yes, as embarrassing that campaign was, we must be proactive in creating a positive path forward for Trinidad and Tobago women’s football.

I have highlighted some injustices I have faced personally and opinions on decisions that have affected the growth of the women’s game. I spoke to team manager Jinelle James last week and she said no one has been paid from September or gotten their money from the last Concacaf Championship.

How do you expect to get more players to play for Trinidad when we cannot even depend on getting paid on time?

The last game against the USA was going to be boycotted but we eventually decided to play. Personally I wanted to play.

Being a foreign-based player, I do not have a first hand look at the inner workings of football in the country, and I never get to to see the good that those who care and value football in the country put forth to enhance the game from the grassroots level, secondary schools and beyond.

I can only speak on being a 12-year member of Trinidad and Tobago women’s football setup. I want real, lasting, impactful change for women’s football.

David John-Williams ran his campaign on the premise of bringing women’s football to the forefront of his candidacy to lead the TTFA. Why is the Women’s National Team used a sacrificial piece to enhance these men and their chauvinistic values?

There is no need for nice words anymore; this is the truth. There is no more being silent.

If anyone in the TTFA truly cared about women’s football that 2015 World Cup campaign would have been built upon, and sustained success would have come from women’s football in the country. That starts with the shortcomings of the last president and the one we have now. Nothing but corruption in our country is destroying the beautiful game.

First, I want to the address our pre-tournament training camp in North Carolina. The mood going into camp was always going to be one of uncertainty and under-preparedness; one that the TTFA helped create.

Right after the CAC Games no one had a plan in place, so we were barely prepared and apparently had to beg to even get our players flown into Jamaica [for the 2018 Caribbean Championship]. We barely had a full 11 for our first game [against Cuba]—we had 13 players with two goalkeepers—and that is on the TTFA. Kayla Taylor and YaYa came later to help strengthen the lineup; but we needed more depth and our bench was not going to cut it.

I believe we did not play our best in Jamaica and change needed to be made to our line-up and player pool to truly compete in the CONCACAF championships. But everything that happened after Jamaica was frantic.

We were told we were going to have a camp in the States. So a week goes by and we heard nothing. I asked our manager what was going on and she said she would provide updates but still days would go by and we heard nothing.

As a player in another country preparing for the final round of World Cup qualifying with no updates, what do you expect us to do? Sit there and be happy about being underprepared?

I am way too much of a competitor to sit there and be happy about the TTFA’s bullshit. I personally had four different goalkeeper coaches from local club teams in my hometown of Rochester volunteer their time to help prepare me for the Concacaf tournament. Then I joined the other foreign-based girls in Richmond, Virginia at local teams there, which Lauryn arranged to help us.

I lifted weights on my own and did conditioning work on my own, because the TTFA effectively told the Trinidad and Tobago Women’s National Team: “You do not matter to us. We cannot wait until you all fail so we can be done pretending to give a shit about women’s football.”

I am not the only one who believes that football president David John-Williams was rooting for the women’s team to fail. I have not an ounce of respect for a man who does nothing to enhance his country’s game, which so many sacrifice for.

I am convinced that DJW was ready for the women’s team to just fail so he could be done with us.

I have never properly met the man. He showed up randomly to one practice I was at. There were no introductions, no gathering the team around to show support for us or to share words as we prepared for the summer tournaments we had to compete in.

Not a word from our president? It was disgraceful. He is not a leader.

Many girls on this team quit paying jobs and turned down coaching positions to wear the red, white and black; and we still were treated with absolute disrespect from DJW and the TTFA. As much as it is an absolute honour to play for your national team, you cannot hold national team athletes hostage with inequality and a standard-less environment, that is clearly corrupted on all sides.

Ultimately it got to a point where Jinelle James had no answers or updates to provide for anyone.

It was honestly strange to us that before the CFU Challenge tournament [which was an exhibition series], they were flying in all the all the girls from North America to prepare. Yet for the most important Concacaf Championship tournament, they was no effort to get the team together to train; and foreign-based players were left in the dark as to what was going on while we heard that between five to seven girls were training in Trinidad under a different coach.

There was no damn stability at all.

We are worse off than we were four years ago in not only women’s football but in all football! Trinidad and Tobago should have been the first Caribbean women’s team to qualify for a World Cup; that’s why I came back!

I love football. It saved my life when I felt I had nothing and no one. I love the country I get to represent; it is my country too, no matter where I was born.

I am the daughter of Joffre Baron, a professional geologist from Belmont, and the late, Dr Shirley-Anne Haye-Baron—God bless her soul—a PhD bioinorganic chemist from Port of Spain.

If she was alive today, I know my mother would be standing next to me fighting for women’s equality in the country she loved and that she called home.

The following sentence describes our pre-tournament camp in Raleigh in a nutshell. If Concacaf gives you regulation fields to practice on with nets and goals, why would you choose to have the team walk to a recreation ground near our hotel that didn’t have field lines or goals—because they were chained up—to train on multiple occasions?

It was just one example of the unprofessional approach to our preparation. How do you expect a goalkeeper to train without a goal behind them?

And that’s not to mention the fact that we didn’t go over set pieces once until the day before the USA game—and again we used the recreation field with no goals or lines. I wish I was making this stuff up, but unfortunately I’m not.

Our camp in Raleigh was insanity. It was basically a whole new staff. Our goalkeeper coach had changed, Cooper was in charge and Dernelle Mascall was the assistant. Cooper had changed completely from the person he was at the Caribbean Championship in Jamaica. Two words: power trip.

First off, I understand our usual goalkeeper coach, Ross Russell, has a commitment to the men’s programme; but I wasn’t even notified that he wasn’t coming. He was the only one who I had trained with since April.

They brought in Jason Sheppard, who had never worked with me and had only worked with Kimika for two weeks prior. So why was the women’s team not assigned a goalkeeper coach for the duration of our campaign, who would then be able to train, coach and evaluate us properly?

By the end of the tournament, I had genuine respect for Coach Sheppard; but he had never coached at the national team level and the way it was handled was unfair to everyone. But once again, this is Trinidad and Tobago football; nothing can operate professionally and consistently.

Mascall had not been on staff for any tournament prior to our most important one and all of a sudden she was on the bench. I personally like Mascall a lot; she was my teammate and is on track to be an amazing coach for our country. But that was the wrong timing for such a drastic move to happen and the excuse that she knew the players was not a good enough reason to do that.

We should have never been in a position where we had three different head coaches and in such a short space in time. I don’t believe we put anyone in a position to succeed when things like that happen.

Cooper wasn’t in a position to succeed either—let’s be honest—but that has a lot to do with line-up decisions, the strength of our player pool, and I think grudges. Also the player/coach situation was baffling. What credible national team programme has a player coach?!

That was laughable and unprofessional. Who is going to respect that structure?

The excuse that those decisions were to assist Cooper in identifying talent on the team is totally unacceptable—because favouritism was immediately a factor.

I think if any of our opponents found out we had a player/coach, they would have laughed in our faces. Does our Men’s Senior Team have a player/coach? But we had an active player/coach who played with us and then sat down with the coaches.

How would that ever sit right with the rest of the team?!

Let me set the record straight, I have nothing against Ayana Russell. I respect her always and forever will. She is also a mother and she dedicated years of service to this national team. But the decision to name her as a player/coach created a circus within our team.

Cooper also set a poor tone when he introduced himself to the camp. It was brash and cold. He basically made everything about him and what he went through in Trinidad; and then he tried to flip a story on Randy Waldrum.

No player reached out to Randy Waldrum to get him to coach us. We actually were on board with Cooper coaching us, after having him in Jamaica. If we couldn’t have Anton Corneal, we preferred to have someone who at least was with us; and Cooper was actively involved in sessions in Jamaica and brought a good, uplifting attitude to our games and practices.

Sure when girls found out Randy had applied for the job for the future, we were excited and stoked to have back the man who cared for us dearly and who cared dearly about the development of the game in our country. But Cooper lost the respect of a lot of the team on day one with his selfish speech and digs at Randy.

I was shocked at his rant. I couldn’t believe this was the same man from Jamaica. That whole introductory speech was: “let me puff my chest out and show who is the boss.”

Look I understand he was thrown in a mess of a situation surrounding his status as our coach, and with no camp either to prepare us; but I just wished he came off differently. I don’t know what he went through but he made everything more difficult.

I give him credit in one regard. He said he was a different type of ‘leader’ to Anton—and he was. But that was such an off-putting way to start an already tumultuous campaign.

I don’t want coaches to baby players. I have been a coach for three years and I am hard on my players as well. I am a very intense individual who wants realness and facts; but I have had coaches who captured that without the stance Cooper took.

I will never know and understand how that video Lauryn released might have affected him and our local-based teammates, so I must have empathy towards that.

I can never put myself in their shoes, and releasing that video was debated. The foreign-based girls—Jo Cato was born in Trinidad but now lives in America—were in a group chat just trying to get answers on how to prepare for this important Concacaf Championship. As time went by and we were two weeks away from the tournament and knew nothing about the status of our pre-tournament camp or coach and were pissed off about embarrassing ourselves at the tournament, Lauryn released the video.

I had made the social media posts about ‘Equality, Respect, and Unity’ a couple days before the video went out but we wanted to wait to see if we heard anything about a camp.

In the end, we pulled the trigger and asked for help to get a camp and bring the team to Richmond; and we demanded respect from the TTFA. I created the hashtag #IStandWithTTWSW and sent images to the full team in a group chat, and most players shared them on their social media platforms.

I was so proud of my Trinidad and Tobago teammates for joining that fight because they had been abused for so long by the national team structure. I was so proud that they wanted to fight publicly because, as you know, when you fight publicly in Trinidad you get blackballed.

The girls and women in the country deserve so much better, and it shouldn’t have to come to social media videos for us to get the respect and preparation a national team deserves.

Of course some did not want to share the materials; but, hey, it is not everyone’s cup of tea. I felt I was allowed to be pissed off at the TTFA, pissed off at the board nonsense about who was going to be our coach, pissed off at how the TTFA takes no blame or accountability for destroying the beautiful game in our beautiful country.

Let’s be honest, nothing was going to happen for our women’s team if Lauryn didn’t release the video. We would have been flown into North Carolina with nothing. But then that happened anyway.

We got to our first practice session in taxis, which was so embarrassing. How unprofessional is it that we can’t arrange proper team transportation.

Everything is always so last minute and never done with any respect for the Trinidad and Tobago Women’s National Team.

Editor’s Note: Click HERE for Part Two of our 2019 Women’s World Cup qualifying campaign review with Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Saundra Baron, where she discusses the inter-team politics and compares the Women Soca Warriors setup to Jamaica’s “Reggae Girlz.”