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‘Army’, Stars defeat Rangers and Sando; but financial woes stalk Pro League

Defence Force and Japs North East Stars stole three points each yesterday in hard-fought triumphs over St Ann’s Rangers and Club Sando respectively at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva. Arguably, the results paled in comparison to the uncertainty regarding the future of the Pro League itself.

Photo: Veteran poacher Kerry Baptiste (centre) leads the charge for North East Stars during TT Pro League action at the Ato Boldon Stadium on 1 March 2016. Baptiste's teammate (far left) Anthony Wolfe tries to anticipate his pass while Club Sando midfield anchor Shannon Phillip (second from right) tries to keep up. (Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)
Photo: Veteran poacher Kerry Baptiste (centre) leads the charge for North East Stars during TT Pro League action at the Ato Boldon Stadium on 1 March 2016.
Baptiste’s teammate (far left) Anthony Wolfe tries to anticipate his pass while Club Sando midfield anchor Shannon Phillip (second from right) tries to keep up.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

A 40 percent deduction in the Government’s subvention to Pro League clubs from TT$83,000 and TT$50,000—and even the reduced figure has not been paid out in 2016—plus the prospective of less attractive kick off times and a failure to deliver promised community grounds, have left local top flight clubs limping.

Rangers showed up yesterday with just 14 players to face second placed Defence Force. Perhaps predictably, the St Ann’s outfit lost to a late goal as they succumbed 2-1 to remain six points adrift at the bottom of the standings.

Club chairman Richard Fakoory explained that Rangers have just 19 contracted players on board. So, two injuries, two internal suspensions and a player with a sick aunt, meant there were more technical staff members than players on their substitutes bench yesterday.

“We are going to have problems paying, with the subvention cut, because we were not advised this was going to happen,” Fakoory told Wired868. “We are not thinking about coming out of the league. We just have to budget and play with what we have…

“But for the next season, we have to sit down and see if the TT$50,000 is going to be there or not. And then we will decide from there.”

Photo: St Ann's Rangers captain Johan Peltier (right) tries to escape from Defence Force midfielder Dave Long during TT Pro League action at the Ato Boldon Stadium on 1 March 2016. (Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)
Photo: St Ann’s Rangers captain Johan Peltier (right) tries to escape from Defence Force midfielder Dave Long during TT Pro League action at the Ato Boldon Stadium on 1 March 2016.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

There was no solace for Fakoory from the final result yesterday although, not for the first time, Rangers’ performance itself was encouraging.

Kellon Serrette’s close range header, off a Ross Russell header, separated the teams at the halftime interval.

But, from the balance of play, Rangers gave as good as they got and, arguably, left winger Kadeem Hutchinson was the most outstanding player up to that point.

Hutchinson was involved when the Pro League’s bottom placed team drew level, albeit inadvertently. As he charged at the opposing defence, ‘Army’ right back Marvin Jones stripped him of the ball, only for it roll to opposing midfielder, Jameel Antoine.

And Antoine reacted quickly and decisively to place the ball into Defence Force custodian Sheldon Clarke’s top left hand corner.

Five minutes later, Rangers might have gone ahead as Hutchinson threaded an intelligent ball into the path of captain Johan Peltier, who did well to create a good shooting opportunity but could not beat Clarke.

Photo: Defence Force goalkeeper Sheldon Clarke could only look on as St Ann's Rangers midfielder Jameel Antoine found the top corner. But Defence Force came out 2-1 winners in their TT Pro League clash on 1 March 2016 at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva. (Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)
Photo: Defence Force goalkeeper Sheldon Clarke could only look on as St Ann’s Rangers midfielder Jameel Antoine found the top corner.
But Defence Force came out 2-1 winners in their TT Pro League clash on 1 March 2016 at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

There might have even been a Rangers penalty, as Hutchinson went down over a challenge from Defence Force captain Curtis Gonzales, only for referee Dennis Changiah to, somewhat harshly, book the attacking player for simulation.

Rangers were growing increasingly hungry for three points when the ended up with none at all.

Defence Force playmaker Hashim Arcia slipped a ball through for Devorn Jorsling and he is not the kind of striker to waste gifts.

“We are playing good (football) but we are not getting the results we want,” said Fakoory. “But we are in every game…”

It was a similar story in the second game of the double header, as sixth placed North East Stars faced seventh placed Club Sando.

Remarkably, seven of Stars’ first XI plus coach Ross Russell were not at the club at the start of the 2015/16 season. But their bustling approach to the February transfer window only partially hid an insecurity beneath the surface.

Photo: North East Stars midfielder Ryan "Fry" Stewart (left) dribbles Club Sando left back Kemuel Rivers during their TT Pro League clash at the Ato Boldon Stadium on 1 March 2016. (Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)
Photo: North East Stars midfielder Ryan “Fry” Stewart (left) dribbles Club Sando left back Kemuel Rivers during their TT Pro League clash at the Ato Boldon Stadium on 1 March 2016.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

Stars owner and Japs Chicken magnate, Darryl Mahabir, is considering pulling out of the Pro League at the end of this season.

Stars manager Maurice Eligon explained that the Government’s failure to upgrade the Ojoe Road Recreation Ground—as promised by previous Sport Minister and Central FC chairman Brent Sancho—plus the cut in subventions and other Pro League changes prompted Mahabir into a rethink.

Eligon said the Ministry of Sport has also advised clubs that they must play during the day or be forced to pay for lights, which will see an end to Friday night fixtures and more weekend afternoon games instead.

“Yes, we are looking to sell,” Eligon told Wired868. “The pressures that are being applied to the TT Pro League in terms of the subvention and mandate that we cannot play night games and so on make it very difficult for us. If you don’t have a sponsor or your own ground, then the combination of these things is really threatening.

“The biggest challenge over the next few months is we budgeted for a certain amount (from the Government) but find ourselves in a position where (Mahabir) has to increase his subsidy to the club by TT$33,000 (every month).

“We are in March and we have not received a cheque since December. It is becoming quite challenging.”

Photo: Former Sport Minister and Central FC chairman Brent Sancho (centre) watches WPL action in Sangre Grande with Japs Fried Chicken and North East Stars owner Darryl Mahabir. (Courtesy Sinead Peters/Wired868)
Photo: Former Sport Minister and Central FC chairman Brent Sancho (centre) watches WPL action in Sangre Grande with Japs Fried Chicken and North East Stars owner Darryl Mahabir.
(Courtesy Sinead Peters/Wired868)

Eligon still hopes that something changes between now and the start of the 2016/17 season, which will keep Stars in the local top flight.

There was at least plenty of fight and swag from the North East boys on the field, as they cruised to an early lead and served up some sumptuous football in the opening 20 minutes.

Returning attacker Anthony Wolfe, a World Cup 2006 player who spent last season in India, put Stars ahead as he ran on to a through ball and rounded the opposing goalkeeper to slot home.

And, with the Stars constellation of Ryan “Fry” Stewart, Neil Mitchell and Kerry Baptiste dominating their opposing trio, it looked like a mismatch.

Slowly, though, the lack of match fitness within the Stars’ ranks became evident, as Sando began to play themselves back into the game.

Photo: North East Stars attacker Anthony Wolfe (left) tries to break clear of Club Sando defender Amritt Gildharry during TT Pro League action at the Ato Boldon Stadium on 1 March 2016. (Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)
Photo: North East Stars attacker Anthony Wolfe (left) tries to break clear of Club Sando defender Amritt Gildharry during TT Pro League action at the Ato Boldon Stadium on 1 March 2016.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

And after some tactical tinkering by Sando coach Anthony Streete—which saw tigerish former national youth midfielder Akeem Humphrey switch from right wing back to central midfield—a comeback always seemed on the cards.

Streete explained his decision to start Humphrey at right back and another promising central midfielder, Jared London, in defence.

“Because of the amount of goals we were receiving early in the season, I wanted to stabilise the team,” said Streete. “Jared is one of the most composed players we have. I also feel he can be slow in the midfield but is better when he can see the whole field in front of him.

“And with Humphrey, (regular right back Kern) Cupid missed some sessions… Sometimes on the training park, some crucial decisions have to be made.”

In the 63rd minute, Streete introduced Cupid from off the bench and shuffled Humphrey to central midfield. And, with 10 minutes remaining, the pressure told as Jesse Downing hit home the equaliser after Stars custodian Glenroy Samuel parried an effort from Sando substitute Rickson Phillip.

Photo: Club Sando striker Kevon Woodley (right) and North East Stars players Keryn Navarro (left) and goalkeeper Glenroy Samuel watch an effort flash just wide during their TT Pro League clash at the Ato Boldon Stadium on 1 March 2016. (Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)
Photo: Club Sando striker Kevon Woodley (right) and North East Stars players Keryn Navarro (left) and goalkeeper Glenroy Samuel watch an effort flash just wide during their TT Pro League clash at the Ato Boldon Stadium on 1 March 2016.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

The equaliser was well deserved. But Sando had no intention of stopping there.

Humphrey almost struck again, in the 83rd minute, as he ran on to a pass from Kemuel Rivers and smashed an angled drive that came off Samuel’s fingertips and clipped the bar before going for a corner kick.

Yet, just like Rangers, Sando discovered why discretion is often the better part of valour. As they poured forward in search of a winner, Stars substitute Anthony Guppy found space on the break and released Baptiste, whose low angled drive squirmed under Sando goalkeeper Jason Belfon to flatten the plucky underdogs.

Stars should have stretched their advantage too after some more erratic goalkeeping from Belfon but Chike Sullivan hit the post from distance with the goalmouth beckoning.

“We left the dressing room knowing (Stars) beat us twice in the first round and second round,” said Streete. “And we knew a win would put us on top of them. So we were too offensive minded and too open at the back.”

And how was the newly promoted team coping with the Pro League’s financial pitfalls?

Photo: North East Stars coach Ross Russell (left) and Club Sando coach Anthony Street follow the action from the sidelines during 2015/16 Pro League action in Couva. (Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)
Photo: North East Stars coach Ross Russell (left) and Club Sando coach Anthony Street follow the action from the sidelines during 2015/16 Pro League action in Couva.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

“When I went to (Pro League CEO) Dexter Skeene to apply for a spot in the Pro League, I had to show where I can sustain Club Sando,” said Sando owner Eddison Dean. “So I want to support the other clubs but how can I tell Dexter I can and then say I cannot?

“It is difficult with the drop in the subvention but I will try my best.”

Dean, who is the owner of Dean’s Coating and Lining Limited, is proud to be in the top flight and is eager to do his part to help Trinidad and Tobago’s football. He suggested that the Pro League set-up was about more than the senior teams but also had a huge impact on the youth game.

Dean said it was too important to fail.

“There are about 100 youths per club in the junior teams,” said Deane. “So when you add up for the ten clubs, that is 1,000 youths overall. We have young players who come from as far as Moruga and Mayaro to train with our youth teams and we have to help them with transport and food. The subvention helps there too.

Photo: Club Sando midfielder Jared London (right) holds off Morvant Caledonia United attacker Pernell Schultz during 2015/16 Pro League action at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva. (Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)
Photo: Club Sando midfielder Jared London (right) holds off Morvant Caledonia United attacker Pernell Schultz during 2015/16 Pro League action at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

“When we see that the youths want to get involved (in something positive), we have to do what we can to keep them involved and off the streets. We even help some players to get into better schools, so they can be recognised and have a chance for scholarships.

“I will not say that I will drop out of Pro League. That is not the answer.”

Mahabir has been in the game for much longer and spent a lot more, though.

Eligon said he noted a suggestion by Bethel United assistant coach Terry Johnson, who felt clubs should play in their zones and run the National Super League (NSL) in a Champions League format for the top performers.

“You will play in your zone and then (in between) you play in the Super League,” Johnson told Wired868, last month. “With the recession and the lack of funds, there will be less games and less pressure on the clubs… I think it will be a restructure that will benefit Trinidad and Tobago’s football.”

Johnson’s idea has been shut down twice by fellow NSL clubs. But Eligon thinks there is something in it.

Photo: North East Stars striker Gorean "Ratty" Highley is congratulated by a teammate after his decisive goal against Club Sando in 2015/16 Pro League action in Couva earlier this season. (Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)
Photo: North East Stars striker Gorean “Ratty” Highley is congratulated by a teammate after his decisive goal against Club Sando in 2015/16 Pro League action in Couva earlier this season.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

“That is an excellent idea and I have already raised it with the Eastern Counties FA,” said Eligon, who balked at the idea of transport costs to Tobago if Stars entered the NSL. “It might need a little tinkering but that is definitely better for football. That might see football returning to some normality.

“Sometimes it is me, you and a photographer in the stands. How long can we go on like this?”

It is a nervy time for the Sangre Grande club, which won the Pro League in 2004 with  Jerren Nixon leading the squad.

“Right now, we hope to get a sponsor to decrease the pressure (on the Japs owner) but, looking at the economic environment, it is hard to see where we can find it,” said Eligon. “This is not an easy decision for my president to make after 18 years and it isn’t cast in stone as yet. Maybe some more good performances will change his mind.”

For whatever it is worth, Stars took three points last night. It is a start.

(Teams)

North East Stars (4-2-3-1): 32.Glenroy Samuel (GK); 3.Kion Joseph, 19.Glenton Wolffe, 25.Keryn Navarro (captain), 29.Hakim Baird; 5.Ryan Stewart (14.Chike Sullivan 81), 21.Neil Mitchell; 7.Kerry Daniel (8.Anthony Guppy 67), 40.Kerry Baptiste, 2.Reon Moore; 26.Anthony Wolfe (9.Gorean Highley 76).

Unused substitutes: 22.Cleon John (GK), 4.Jesus Perez, 6.Jean-Luc Rochford, 24.Adrian Noel.

Coach: Ross Russell

 

Club Sando (5-3-2): 1.Jason Belfon (GK); 7.Akeem Humphrey, 15.Amritt Gildharry, 22.Coneal Thomas, 17.Jared London, 6.Kemuel Rivers; 4.Moron Phillip (13.Kern Cupid 63), 3.Shannon Phillip, 9.Jesse Downing (captain); 16.Kevon Woodley (20.Rickson Phillip 72), 24.Devon Modeste (35.Bradley Nestor 58).

Unused substitutes: 34.Kelvin Henry (GK), 12.Jack Weedon, 19.Ryan Frederick, 26.Shaquille Holder.

Coach: Anthony Streete

 

Referee: Keilon Bacchus

Man of the Match: Akeem Humphrey (Club Sando)

Photo: Club Sando midfielder Akeem Humphrey (centre) flicks the ball over Morvant Caledonia United midfielder Kyle Bartholomew during 2015/16 Pro League action at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva. (Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)
Photo: Club Sando midfielder Akeem Humphrey (centre) flicks the ball over Morvant Caledonia United midfielder Kyle Bartholomew during 2015/16 Pro League action at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

TT Pro League results

(Tuesday March 1)

St Ann’s Rangers 1 (Jameel Antoine 55), Defence Force 2 (Kellon Serrette 38, Devorn Jorsling 78) at Ato Boldon Stadium;

Club Sando 1 (Jesse Downing 80), North East Stars 2 (Anthony Wolfe 10, Kerry Baptiste 88) at Ato Boldon Stadium;

Point Fortin Civic 1 (Glenn Sutton 90+5), Central FC 3 (Marcus Joseph 16, 54, Kevon Villaroel 90+3) at Mahaica Oval.

[standings league_id=2 template=compact logo=true]

About Lasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd
Lasana Liburd is the CEO and Editor at Wired868.com and a journalist with over 15 years experience at several local and international publications including Play the Game, World Soccer, UK Guardian and the Trinidad Express.

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21 comments

  1. I am writing to the new TTFA president soon

  2. Sheldon, you and I can fix the Pro League and 4 years ago, 9 out of 10 clubs voted for our appointment … The TTPL’s Dexter Skeene then told us they couldn’t afford to pay us … then Anil Roberts wasted our time as well … Trinidad and Tobago can be a much greater football nation, but the empire builders who are focussed on self interest need to be flushed out, and the game must become everyone’s priority

  3. It’s a shame, I hear no real plans from the TT Pro League, or the Clubs

  4. ..Yes. Because some people can’t accept reality and/or won’t give up turf..

  5. ..What? The sky will fall in? What we need is a National League (call it what you will) with three (or four divisions if you include the regional leagues), with promotion and relegation. We must live in the REAL world. If “professional” football cannot pay its way it must go the way of all flesh. The TTPL model is a busted fantasy. And it does not need fixing. It needs REPLACEMENT. The JLeague and other leagues all started as part-time, “semi-pro”leagues and built from there. Our elite football was better organized and supported when we played in the Semi-Pro Football League. Let anyone deny that..

  6. But what happens to our football landscape if the Pro League collapses? What effect might it have on our 2018 World Cup campaign and beyond?

  7. ..Yes. They specialize in raiding smaller clubs. #tiredahdat

  8. How many of these proleague clubs has a youth program from 5 years and up all they do is raid so all who’s pulling out you won’t be miss real talk gooooooo

  9. ..Well said and agreed. But don’t blame TTFF/TTFA. The failure to grow the TTPL and its clubs rests squarely at the feet of…the TTPL and its clubs..

  10. You’re preaching to the choir re: patience … that being said, I am sure you at least had a plan with Wired 868 … and every good plan starts with setting a goal, establishing milestones to check progress and outlining deliverables against which to measure your success/failures over a specific period. I just don’t see one for the PL.

    It will also take some level of collaboration amongst the teams as they all have a vested interest in making the League as successful as possible.

  11. It would be interesting to know what marketing plans were used consistently to draw fans.
    It took me almost 18 months to get my first ad with Wired868. Sometimes you have to plug away and believe. I’ve realized that nothing ever catches on after a few weeks. You have to be patient sometimes.
    But it is hard for me to tell from just looking on at match days.

    • I can safely say that before starting to shoot for wired i could barely name one player at a local club,the marketing and promotion is almost nil. It needs to become community oriented,something as simple as 3-4 players must have come from schools in the area…

  12. I do not know what the cost of running a Pro League Club is… That being said, having attended a few games during previous seasons, the one thing that stands out to me is the poor attendance at every match. Given my observations, I can only assume (and I may be completely wrong) that at least 90 % of the revenue that these clubs generated came primarily from government, the TTFA, sponsors & donors – which is not sustainable.

    The Gov’t has had to cut spending across the board given the current economic climate, so it is inevitable that the stipend to the PL teams would have been affected. Bearing that in mind, during the years that PL teams were receiving their full stipends, were there any strategies/plans put in place to souce alternate, more sustainable sources of revenue ?

    We are not the BPL, La Liga, or Serie A. We do not have the luxury of earning revenues via TV rights or large sponsorship deals for merchandising rights. In my opinion, the TTFA should have been helping clubs to focus on developing their respective fan bases that would be willing to pay a nominal amount to come and watch their teams play, thus reducing their reliance on public & private sector funds. Get 400 people to pay $20 each game for 4 games a month, and you pretty much offset the reduction of the stipend.

    The Gov’t in turn could put the funds usually allocated to the teams towards upgrading facilities that would be more attractive to patrons. Make the PL more than just a league … make it an experience.

    Btw, getting more fans in the stands means that private sector sponsors may be inclined to invest more with the teams as their brands will get more exposure so the revenue stream has the potential to increase.

    Of course I understand that it is much more complicated that this but how I would love to see 5,000 people in the stands for a PL game! Somebody needs to take ownership for getting the PL to that level. The fans deserve it, the players deserve it, the team owners deserve it – T&T football deserves it!

  13. Sweet shooting again Chevaughn.