On Wednesday, the ever-controversial Chaguanas West MP Jack Warner dominated the news again after word that CONCACAF had blocked the ex-FIFA vice-president leader from leasing, selling or mortgaging the João Havelange Centre of Excellence in Macoya.
But Warner was not the only Chaguanas native to hear from FIFA on that day.
Nicholas Griffith, a 28-year-old football coach from Crown Trace in Enterprise, was on his way home from a tournament in Tobago when a tweet informed him that his youth club had just won the “Power of Football” contest for its positive impact on the community.
And, as a reward from the title sponsor, Griffith will receive a Kia Soul car.
“I just went crazy,” Griffith told Wired868. “It was an overwhelming, joyous feeling and I just started bawling… After spending so many years working with at-risk youths and to be rewarded at an international stage for it, is something that cannot be replaced.
“Winning a vehicle feels good but it cannot compensate for the hard work I have done over the years. It is the recognition from an international body that really lifted me.”
It is a dizzying height for a club that had a quite unglamorous start in Crown Trace.
Every day, Griffith would walk past scores of youths smoking and gambling on the streets while the area had a reputation for much worse. He never played football himself beyond scrimmages on the road and a cameo in one Republic Bank Youth competition; but he felt that was the best way to reach them.
“I wasn’t much of a football fan then,” said Griffith. “But I felt I had to do something and what they liked most in the area was football.”
He told some boys that, if they and their friends were interested, he would take them to play in the Republic Bank tournament. The boys answered positively; so he told them to get a white pants and a white jersey and Crown Trace FC was, informally, formed.
By the third year, Crown Trace won the bank’s central zone outright and Griffith realised that he had to better educate himself on the game to do his players justice. So, he enrolled in a Dutch ‘C’ License Course in which he was tutored by former Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) technical director Anton Corneal and ex-Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana head coach Jamaal Shabazz.
Since then, he also took a refereeing course to better appreciate the rules of the game while, after encouragement by Central Football Association (CFA) president Bryan Layne, he did a FIFA club football management course under ex-CONCACAF development officer, Keith Look Loy.
Griffith, who now works as a regional manager in the Life Sport programme, simultaneously completed an associate degree in business management from COSTAATT and, as an online student, a bachelor’s degree in business administration from London’s University of Herfordshire as he showed an example of the all-round development he asks of his players.
He recalled how opponents sometimes referred to Crown Trace FC as a “bandit side” while one elder within the community once urged them to play under a different name so as to free the boys from the community’s stigma. Griffith refused. But he admitted it can be very trying to coach in that neighbourhood.
“The biggest issue in the community is poor parenting,” said Griffith. “When we started there were fights in training almost every single day. They have an aggressive nature about them and I would have to have patient and calm them down and ask them to work as a team.
“In 2008, a coach came to run some sessions with us and he sent me a message after that the kids were real bad and he never came back.”
Last year, Griffith almost quit too after tragedy hit Crown Trace FC. Sixteen year old Tishawn Miller, a member of the very first team in 2006, was killed in a shoot-out with Chaguanas police on 24 May 2013 after robbing a Caparo businesswoman at gunpoint.
“He was one of the boys who brought players to make up our first team when we started,” said Griffith. “When I saw that happen, I said this is not working and I can’t help them. I just wanted to give up at that point of time.
“I had kept talking to Tishawn but he just didn’t listen. I kept wondering what I could have done differently.”
Griffith’s bleak mood lasted for about five months before another Crown Trace resident gave him reason to believe again. This time, it was a young woman.
Tenesha Palmer, who played in goal for Crown Trace FC before joining St Ann’s Rangers last year, broke into the national women’s youth team in October 2013. Palmer was the starting goalkeeper at the 2014 CONCACAF under-20 women’s tournament in which Trinidad and Tobago advanced to the semifinal round for the first time and was just three minutes away from a World Cup spot.
“That lifted me up,” said Griffith. “She lives right by the savannah and seeing her break into the national team encouraged me to go again.”
Last year, Griffith, who also coaches Chaguanas North Secondary, was joined on the school team’s technical staff by 51-year-old welding teacher John Patterson.
Patterson, a football fan, joined the FIFA.com club in 2006 when the “Soca Warriors” qualified for the Germany World Cup. Unlike most members, he continued to visit the site regularly and often participated in online games.
He saw a competition about “The Power of Football” and thought of the stories Griffith told him about Crown Trace FC.
“I asked (Griffith) if he would mind if I did something on him and then I asked him to give me all the information he had,” Patterson told Wired868.
He emailed the information to University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) teacher Tricia Smith, who was a former colleague at Chaguanas North, and then whittled down her 500-word essay to 200 words before submitting it to FIFA.
In eight years, Patterson never won a single prize on the FIFA website. Not for the first time, he thought this competition would be different.
“Of course, I thought I would win,” said Patterson, with a laugh. “I don’t enter anything to lose.”
As the author of the story, written under his username “Trinipelvic”, Patterson won an all-inclusive package for two to see the Brazil 2014 World Cup final. He will carry his wife Rachel Williams, a Republic Bank employee, to the Maracana Stadium in July and is hoping to see his favourite team grace the field.
“I am a Trinidadian that believes Brazil should win every World Cup,” he said, with another broad smile. “This is such a great opportunity for me because I watched so many documentaries about the Maracana Stadium before; starting with one on the 1950 World Cup final against Uruguay.”
Patterson hopes to do something special for Smith for her help and is extremely grateful to everyone who voted for Crown Trace FC as well. He said the staff room at Chaguanas North was buzzing after he won the competition while even students were inspired.
“It is a great thing for the school,” said Patterson. “I want to thank all the people who voted for us from all over the world and everybody who helped, especially the people from Crown Trace. They deserve a break.
“There is so much bad that can be said about them. But I think this prize gives everyone hope.”
Patterson was an ardent local football supporter in his youth but admitted that his passion cooled due to the administrative scandals which persistently dogged the national team.
“I still support the Soca Warriors although I am not as big a fan as I used to be,” he said. “Jack Warner caused that. I was there in the stadium on November 19 but I stopped (going to games) after that. Then, when we got behind the team in 2005, it was more confusion again…”
Warner’s FIFA shenanigans were the talk of the town again this week. But, less well known, is a story about the positive impact of football in Trinidad and Tobago and, in particular, Crown Trace.
At present, Crown Trace FC, which now attracts players from outside the troubled community as well, is the defending CFA under-15 and under-17 champion and has enrolled for its first overseas competition at the Robbie Soccer Tournament in Toronto, Canada this June.
“Trendsetter Hawks always take part and coach ‘Dada’ (Anthony Wickham) informed us about the competition,” said Griffith. “We spoke to officials and they accepted us in the under-16 category. It will be the first time 98 percent of my players are on a plane.
“And, if they don’t excel in sport or academics, it will be the last time; because many of them are too poor to afford to travel otherwise.”
The club has already started its fundraising drive and will hold barbeques as well as a curry-q and marathon over the coming weeks to ensure that it makes the trip.
Soon, Griffith will be shuttling around to drop off purchased lunches for well-wishers in his Kia. His players expect to be driven around in it as well. He hopes they will be able to afford such vehicles themselves one day through legitimate means.
“Many of our players have changed since the club started and some have gone on to St Mary’s College and are doing their A’ Levels and so on,” he said. “I give academic lessons as well and I encourage them to be well-rounded.
“I always tell them to look around at the few who have accomplished and dare to be different. I tell them that I came from here and I am proud to be from Crown Trace.”
Or HERE to see John Patterson’s filmed encounter with a team of Argentine fans on the eve of the World Cup final in Rio de Janeiro.