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Time for the ‘TTFF Spring’

Hutson “Barber” Charles, a former “Strike Squad” stand-out and Defence Force legend, was having a hard time curbing his enthusiasm on Sunday night. Shaun Fuentes, the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) press officer, did his best to help.

The national football team had just lost 3-2 to the visiting Finland national outfit at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain.

Finnish coach Mixu Paatelainen brought an inexperienced squad to Trinidad primarily as a bonding exercise. It is minus nine degrees celsius in Helsinki at the moment and their domestic competition is on its winter break.

Still, Finland triumphed against a local outfit ranked seven places higher by FIFA.

Despite that cold data, though, the sense of optimism was not confined to Charles. Eight players used by the hosts on Sunday were under-23 while three more were debutantes.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago national senior team head coach Hutson "Barber" Charles.
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago national senior team head coach Hutson “Barber” Charles.

The relative order and cohesion on display was also heartwarming after a dispiriting and short-lived 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign. The fact that this glimmer of hope was offered by a coaching staff comprising two respected former local internationals—Charles was assisted by T&T’s most capped player, Angus Eve—added to the appreciation of Sunday’s work.

Until, that is, Fuentes introduced Charles with the word “interim.”

Charles might have tactically prepared the players and set the tone for the new-look “Soca Warriors”. But he was not really the coach.

The TTFF has not gotten around to selecting one yet.

Maybe it will be Charles in the end; perhaps not. Who can tell what the likes of TTFF General Secretary Richard Groden are thinking?

At a recent High Court hearing of sobering significance—it could lead to the TTFF’s bankruptcy—not a single representative from the football body bothered to turn up. And, by way of excuse, TTFF lawyer Om Lalla suggested that Groden might be wandering around the building, unable to find the right room.

It might prompt a chuckle at first but think harder. Can we be certain that the TTFF Executive Committee member can find its way up a flight of stairs without MP and ex-TTFF Special Advisor Jack Warner there to hold its hand?

Photo: TTFF general secretary Richard Groden (left) and attorney Om Lalla.
Photo: TTFF general secretary Richard Groden (left) and attorney Om Lalla.

Gross incompetence is a generous charge to level at former TTFF President Oliver Camps and his entourage. Because if Camps and Groden did not quit school at the same standard as the “Three Stooges”, then something more sinister may be amiss regarding the disappearance of millions of taxpayers’ dollars.

Warner is hiding in plain sight. Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan and, presumably, the Integrity Commission are yet to inquire why a prominent Cabinet member has been unable to account for millions in State funds after four years of asking.

Camps is just hiding. Lalla relayed to the court that the former President was ill on the day.

Eventually, justice will be done regarding both administrators who resigned in disgrace while the subjects of FIFA investigations.

But will fairness ever show up at TTFF’s Dundonald Street headquarters?

Former TTFF Technical Director Lincoln “Tiger” Phillip penned a stirring appeal to FIFA yesterday. Only someone ignorant of the perverted TTFF Constitution can expect democracy from the football body’s present electoral process.

In most countries, registered football clubs elect the head of the governing body. It was the same here too; but not after the tag team of Warner and Camps had their way.

The constitution was altered at least six times during Camps’ tenure. Wired868 got a copy of the 2001 incarnation and its inherent emasculation of local clubs was remarkable.

Photo: TTFF president Oliver Camps.
Photo: TTFF president Oliver Camps.

As many as 79 persons are entitled to vote at a TTFF election. There are: President and three Vice Presidents; six Regional Associations each permitted seven delegates on the General Council and an additional two representatives who can attend meetings and vote; and seven Properly Constituted bodies who get two members each on the General Council plus an additional delegate to carry along for elections.

The seven “Properly Constituted bodies”, in case you wondered, are: the Trinidad & Tobago Football Referees’ Association, Professional Football League of Trinidad and Tobago Limited, Secondary Schools Football League, National Association for Football Coaches, National Association for Youth Football, National Association for Women’s Football and National Primary Schools Football League. (It is feasible that a further amendment would have also recognized the Super League).

So the Eastern Football Association (EFA), which several clubs believe to be unconstitutionally led by Wayne Cunningham at present, has nine votes on election day; three times as many as the Pro League clubs who are just as relevant to local football as the mysterious National Association for Youth Football.

The TTFF electoral system was not mentioned once at the Sport Ministry’s symposium for football and it would be interesting to hear Minister Anil Roberts’ thoughts on Phillip’s plea for FIFA intervention.

This unwieldy constitution has everything to do with Charles’ discomfort on Sunday evening and the skepticism of local football fans.

The TTFF—not even the proper name of the organisation—was created for the purpose of absolute power by its former Special Advisor through his (hopefully) hapless ex-President. Both men appear to have since abandoned the vehicle and the passengers left aboard cannot be trusted to find a public court room let alone navigate local football beyond such a complex setup.

Photo: Former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner. (Courtesy UK Telegraph)
Photo: Former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner.
(Courtesy UK Telegraph)

And, at ground level, it means that the national coach does not know if he is coming or going.

Charles seemed proud and confused in almost equal measure.

“It is an honour to be head coach,” he said, when asked about his elevation.

The TTFF Press Officer might have caught his eye because he offered a quick retreat.

“Interim, interim…” said Charles, with an apologetic smile.

Charles’ team captain, Marvin Phillip, and promising young midfielder, Sean De Silva, seemed to fidget at his side.

Were they sharing the awkwardness of the situation? Did the players just realize that they may soon be trying to impress someone else in the coach’s seat?

Charles and Paatelainen agreed that both teams were evenly matched on Sunday, despite the result. But the difference in the future of the two nations was unmistakable.

Paatelainen has a short and long term plan for Finnish football and even the abbreviated version puts the TTFF to shame. Finland drew a 2014 World Cup qualifying group with Spain and France but the burly coach is plotting all the way to the 2016 Euro competition.

“We will try to win every game we can (in our World Cup group),” said Paatelainen, “but we are still in the learning process and… we do realize that we are not quite ready yet.

“We have to be patient and build systematically (to the 2016 Euros).”

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago World Cup players Dwight Yorke (top), Dennis Lawrence (right) and Shaka Hislop celebrate after an opening goalless draw against Sweden in Dortmund, Germany. The Warriors have fallen a long way since. (Copyright AFP 2014/Aris Messinis)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago World Cup players Dwight Yorke (top), Dennis Lawrence (right) and Shaka Hislop celebrate after an opening goalless draw against Sweden in Dortmund, Germany.
The Warriors have fallen a long way since.
(Copyright AFP 2014/Aris Messinis)

The Finnish team has already scheduled friendlies away to Austria and Northern Ireland and at home to Estonia before it meets France in Helsinki on September 7.

In contrast, Charles cannot tell his players when next they will get together to represent their country and continue preparations for the Caribbean Cup in June 2012.

“Whoever we get to play, we will welcome,” said Charles.

Fuentes interjected and explained the TTFF was finalizing a match against Antigua and Barbuda for February 29. Charles’ tilt of the head and facial expression suggested he had just heard of that friendly for the first time.

“It is just an interim position that we are in,” said Charles. “All we can do is perform when games are upon us.”

It has almost always been this way on the twin-island republic. And, whatever their heartfelt intentions, there is nothing to suggest that Interim TTFF President Lennox Watson and Groden are capable of changing the tide.

Maybe FIFA would feel a sense of personal responsibility in the mess created here by its former Vice President. Or perhaps transformation would come from an unexpected source.

Either way, for the sake of our players, coaches and football supporters, it cannot go on like this.

About Lasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd
Lasana Liburd is the managing director and chief editor at Wired868.com and a journalist with over 20 years experience at several Trinidad and Tobago and international publications including Play the Game, World Soccer, UK Guardian and the Trinidad Express.

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One comment

  1. Very interesting piece Lasana. It is really sad ,not just to any random football lover, but patriot by extension , to know our national football position at present.