Caledonia AIA defies soldiers and stereotypes

On Friday 27 April 2012, over a dozen Caledonia young men faced a combined army/coast guard battalion near Movie Towne in Port of Spain and whipped the soldiers in front of a few hundred witnesses. They then sauntered into the night with new silverware and $36,000 in prize money.

The assailants will not be cowering. The soldiers can meet them again any time; they need only find a vacant football field and match officials.

It was a sporting contest after all; the 2012 Lucozade Sport Goal Shield final, to be exact. And there has been no better team in Cup competition this season than the Morvant/Laventille-based Caledonia AIA.

In Friday’s football final at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Caledonia shot down Defence Force 3-1 to add the Goal Shield to the TTFF FA Trophy and First Citizen’s Cup titles that were already secured.

Neal & Massy Caledonia AIA captain Stephan David (left) and Kareem “Tiny” Joseph pose with the Lucozade Sport Goal Shield.
(Photo: Njisane Best)

Sport Minister Anil Roberts was present while Lucozade brand manager Keenan Henry presented the super-sized trophy to the self-titled “Eastern Stallions.” It was a pity there was only a small crowd from Caledonia’s maligned neighbourhood to see their flag bearers applauded off the field by representatives from the government and business community.

Morvant/Laventille can do with some feel-good stories. It might not be a stretch to suggest that young men and women from other depressed communities, like Bagatelle, would have enjoyed this too.

But the Pro League is still searching for the pulse of a nation that rarely fills sporting venues. And even Lucozade’s promise of an all-expense paid trip for two to England along with tickets to a Premiership match and accommodation to a randomly selected spectator did not entice the dormant sport fans.

So, there was a delicious irony when the lucky winner was announced.

Ricardo Theodore lives in New York but is on a short vacation in Trinidad to visit his father in Carenage. And he made the most of the poor attendance at the final to win a trip of a lifetime.

Football fan Ricardo Theodore (second from left) shares greetings with Sport Minister Anil Robers (second from right) while Lucozade brand manager Keenan Henry (far left) and Pro League CEO Dexter Skeene (far right) look on.
(Courtesy Njisane Best)

Theodore will select the Premiership game of his choice, next season, and Lucozade is expected to make it happen. Hopefully, the promotion will continue and local fans would stop hitting the snooze button.

Like Theodore, the Caledonia AIA football club had its share of good fortune on Friday night. But you tend to earn your luck in sport and it takes skill and composure to capitalise on it.

It was a minor miracle that Defence Force was not ahead after just two minutes.

Striker Richard Roy served early notice of his intent and ability with a fierce and sweetly struck half volley from the edge of the Caledonia AIA penalty box after a right side corner kick. Somehow, Caledonia goalkeeper Zane Coker dropped low to deny Roy and the follow up from Josimar Belgrave while defender Radanfah Abu Bakr was blocked Ross Russell Jr’s goalbound effort in the scrimmage.

At the touchline, Ross Russell senior—the Defence Force coach—held his head in amazement. Within seconds, Russell was animated again but his mood had gone much further south.

Defence Force coach and former Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Ross Russell

The Stallions answered the Defence Force raid with a invasion of its own and, as Caledonia striker Devorn Jorsling and Army custodian Kevin Graham collided, referee Michael Ragoonath pointed to the penalty spot.

Graham had clearly gotten a strong hand on the ball before his motion took him into Jorsling, a former soldier, and to say the goalkeeper was dismayed by the call would be an understatement.

“I thought the penalty was a bit soft,” Caledonia coach Jerry Moe told, “but better for us than against us I suppose.”

Kareem “Tiny” Joseph, a pint-sized right back with nerves of steel, sent Graham the wrong way from the spot to put Caledonia ahead in the fourth minute.

Eleven minutes later, Caledonia might have doubled its lead but lanky national under-23 striker Jamal Gay dragged his angled effort wide at the far post. It was the civilians’ last sight of goal for the first half.

“I think our players studied the ref too much and we allowed some bad decisions to affect us,” said Russell. “It took too long in the first half for us to snap out of it… But then I think our close marking helped us to win the ball back easily and our passing put us in control.”

Caledonia was disciplined and resolute, which runs contrary to stereotype. But that did not disguise the fact that the Stallions were in trouble.

“We had to defend a bit,” said Moe, “but it was not like they were hitting the crossbar or anything.”

Five minutes before the interval, Defence Force hit something more precious.

Captain Jahvon Neptune whipped a precise right side cross into the penalty area and Roy seemed to hang in the air before planting a downward header beyond Coker’s grasp for a deserved equaliser.

At halftime, Russell complimented his troops for a fine performance and ordered them to keep the men from Caledonia on their heels and finish the job.

In the other dressing room, the Caledonia coaching duo of Moe and Jamaal Shabazz—who also heads the Guyana’s 2014 World Cup effort—let their players know they were blowing it. The collective effort was missing and too many players were improvising to the detriment of the team.

“I think our captain (holding midfielder Stephan David) kept us in the game and we were 1-1 mainly because of the effort he put in and some last ditch defending,” said Moe. “We were not playing how we practiced and we (the coaches) had to point out that just because it was a final didn’t mean that we should do something different.”

Four minutes after the resumption, Caledonia responded. Gay reacted first to an inswinging Jorsling corner and flicked his header into the corner to restore the Stallions’ lead.

Caledonia AIA and Trinidad and Tobago national under-23 striker Jamal Gay (right)

The young Defence Force team had not regained its composure when, seconds later, Caledonia extended the advantage.

After a loose pass from a soldier, Caledonia right winger Makesi Lewis surged into opposing territory and released Guyana international flanker Walter Moore, who neatly slipped under Graham’s body for a third goal.

“That was the turning point,” said Russell. “We were just coming back into the game and, before we could adjust, we were 3-1 down.”

The sense of inevitably grew when Coker clattered Roy in the area in the 84th minute and Ragoonath failed to award Defence Force a penalty.

There was an ugly flashpoint in stoppage time as Jorsling remonstrated with army defender Curtis Gonzales following a tackle by the latter player. A shoving match followed that brought all 22 players to centre field and the referee responded by ejecting Jorsling and Gonzales—a national senior and under-23 player respectively.

By then, though, Caledonia had already made its point.

Less than a year ago, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar announced a State of Emergency that targeted communities like Morvant/Laventille. And the rift between the poor neighbourhoods and the authorities has arguably widened since as burning tyres and noisy protests have become more commonplace.

In the midst of such tension, Caledonia managed its best-ever season despite being regularly denied the services of Shabazz and several national under-23 players including Gay.

“It has been a record season for us,” said Moe, “and the most important thing is we might get the Team of the Year title for the first time.”

Discipline, ambition, composure and a healthy disrespect for the army; Caledonia’s best qualities were on show. The proof is in the trophy cabinet.


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