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Pro League’s toughest fight: doubts over champs Central FC and N/East Stars

Trinidad and Tobago Pro League CEO Dexter Skeene admitted that the local top flight competition is facing the toughest fight of its 14 year existence, as uncertainty over government funding and the poor economic climate are among several factors overshadowing the 2016/17 season.

Photo: Central FC attacker Kadeem Corbin (left) and St Ann's Rangers defender Shaquille Moses (right) tussle for the ball while Central midfielder Sean De Silva looks on during TT Pro League action. (Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)
Photo: Central FC attacker Kadeem Corbin (left) and St Ann’s Rangers defender Shaquille Moses (right) tussle for the ball while Central midfielder Sean De Silva looks on during TT Pro League action.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

Defending champions Central FC, who won successive Pro League and Caribbean Cup titles over the past two seasons, are looking increasingly vulnerable after losing two title sponsors—SIS and Bankers Insurance—in the past year.

Skeene admitted that Central were in financial dire straits and had even broached the idea of participating in the 2016/17 CONCACAF Champions League while taking a hiatus from the Pro League.

The Champions League raised its allowance to participating clubs from US$40,000 (TT$265,500) to US$75,000 (TT$498,000) per away game, which means the “Couva Sharks” would collect US$150,000 (TT$996,000) for their trips to Honduras and Mexico in the tournament’s group stage.

It is unlikely that CONCACAF would allow Central to participate in its showcase club tournament under those circumstances, even if the Pro League board did.

But Skeene insisted that Central, like the Pro League’s nine other clubs, were expected back next season.

Photo: The "Central Choir", accompanied by Central FC operations manager Kevin Harrison (centre), look on from the sidelines at the Mahaica Oval in 2015 Pro League action. Harrison served as Sport Minister Brent Sancho's advisor, last year, and is a former voluntary worker with the UK's Professional Footballers' Association (PFA). (Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)
Photo: The “Central Choir”, accompanied by Central FC operations manager Kevin Harrison (centre), look on from the sidelines at the Mahaica Oval in 2015 Pro League action.
Harrison served as Sport Minister Brent Sancho’s advisor, last year, and is a former voluntary worker with the UK’s Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA).
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

“We had a board meeting [last week] and all the clubs were discussing the new season,” Skeene told Wired868. “The general consensus is that things are tight. With the subvention cut, the clubs are talking about rearranging for new season.

“Central said there are challenges but they didn’t say they are out. Everybody is talking to sponsors and reviewing their processes.”

Central might have as many internal issues as they do external ones.

Skeene confirmed that the Sharks, who are led by former Sport Minister Brent Sancho and Kevin Harrison, received TT$600,000 in prize money in April for their successful 2014/15 title run. The Pro League is due to make an additional TT$260,000 payment to Central soon.

However, Wired868’s checks revealed that they are yet to pay bonuses to players and staff.

The Pro League CEO said the club’s former captain, Marvin Oliver, will be paid since he lodged a complaint directly with the governing body. The remaining Central players and staff members are believed to be negotiating directly with the club.

Photo: Comunicaciones midfielder Jorge Aparacio (left) grapples with Central FC star Marvin Oliver during 2015 CONCACAF Champions League action. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Comunicaciones midfielder Jorge Aparacio (left) grapples with Central FC star Marvin Oliver during 2015 CONCACAF Champions League action.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Sancho and Harrison also face a Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) investigation for four matters related to alleged corruption and/or financial mismanagement at the Sharks.

However, current TTFA president David John-Williams, who is also the owner of Pro League club, W Connection, has not addressed the Central matter since his election on 29 November 2015.

Ironically, John-Williams has faced complaints about his own behaviour as a club owner. He was involved in a two month stand off between Connection and its young forward Dwight Quintero before the club belatedly agreed to pay for its employee’s emergency operation in April.

Central are not the only Pro League entity who are struggling financially though, after the Ministry of Sport cut its subvention to clubs from TT$80,000 per month to TT$50,000.

The Pro League clubs are uncertain about even the reduced subvention for next term and there were suggestions that the board might delay the start of the 2016/17 Pro League season until after the October budget to be sure of government aid. The season is otherwise expected to commence in early September.

Photo: Former Caledonia AIA head coach Jamaal Shabazz (left) helps defender Kareem Joseph to his feet while assistant coach Rajeesh Latchoo looks on during CONCACAF Champions League action in 2013. (Courtesy Francisco Estrada/Jam MEDIA)
Photo: Former Caledonia AIA head coach Jamaal Shabazz (left) helps defender Kareem Joseph to his feet while assistant coach Rajeesh Latchoo looks on during CONCACAF Champions League action in 2013.
(Courtesy Francisco Estrada/Jam MEDIA)

However, Morvant Caledonia United co-founder Jamaal Shabazz believes rumours that the government might scrap its subvention altogether are probably a case of scaremongering.

“A member of Central FC first alerted [the board] to that concern about the subvention,” said Shabazz. “I, for one, am not unduly worried. No such communication has come from the Ministry or Sports Company.”

Skeene and Shabazz both raised several ideas for revitalising the Pro League and boosting the financial health of its stakeholders. Not for the first time, community grounds were a key talking point.

Skeene hinted that the short-term future of Japs North East Stars, who were Pro League champions in 2004, might rely on their ability to source a ground.

The Sangre Grande-based club were forced to play their home games as far away as Couva last season since the Larry Gomes Stadium in Malabar does not have functioning lights, and cannot facilitate kick offs later than 4 pm.

Photo: Central FC captain Leston Paul (background) tries to steal the ball from North East Stars midfielder Anthony Guppy during Pro League action at the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium on 8 May 2016. Central won 4-0 to retain the Pro League title. (Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)
Photo: Central FC captain Leston Paul (background) tries to steal the ball from North East Stars midfielder Anthony Guppy during Pro League action at the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium on 8 May 2016.
Central won 4-0 to retain the Pro League title.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

Ironically, Jabloteh’s decision to move their home games to the Barataria Recreation Ground last season, which was greeted by an immediate spike in supporters, was scuttled after a few games as at least one team refused to play there.

“There was a concern about the security [at the Barataria Recreation Ground] by one of the clubs,” said Skeene, “so I will look at it on a case by case basis. But I will push [for community grounds] as much as possible.

“Some clubs are willing to do it and others don’t and prefer to play in the stadiums.”

Morvant Caledonia definitely fall into the latter category and Shabazz insisted that local teams would not need financial aid if the government keeps its promise to deliver community grounds.

Skeene said the Pro League will survive.

“[The financial climate] has now forced all of us to relook at the model and work towards playing in the communities, even if it means playing in less than ideal conditions” said the Pro League CEO. “I am looking at community development programmes and we also want to work more with [influential] people inside communities.

Photo: Fans look on from the sidelines during TT Pro League action between Defence Force and San Juan Jabloteh on 12 March 2016 at the Barataria Recreation Ground. (Courtesy Nicholas Bhajan/Wired868)
Photo: Fans look on from the sidelines during TT Pro League action between Defence Force and San Juan Jabloteh on 12 March 2016 at the Barataria Recreation Ground.
(Courtesy Nicholas Bhajan/Wired868)

“In challenging times, it pushes you to focus and [to] do what is needed to operate in the way you have to to be sustainable in the long term; and not just focus on playing games and relying on the subvention.”

The local professional game started in 1999 as the Professional Football League (PFL) but was left for dead, three years later, when then FIFA vice-president and TTFF special advisor Jack Warner withdrew financial support for the competition.

Within three months of the PFL’s collapse in 2002, eight clubs started the Pro League which now has 14 years under its belt.

“For two years, we played without prize money just to ensure that the concept of professional football continued,” said Shabazz. “And the teams like Jabloteh, W Connection, Caledonia and Defence Force are the survivors of [the group that made] that decision.

“I think the Pro League’s survival is a tremendous achievement and those who want to see a return to amateur football, in my view, are taking the easy way out.”

Photo: W Connection attacker Jomal Williams (right) dances around Deportivo Saprissa defender Andres Imperiale during 2015 CONCACAF Champions League action. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: W Connection attacker Jomal Williams (right) dances around Deportivo Saprissa defender Andres Imperiale during 2015 CONCACAF Champions League action.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team head coach Stephen Hart said in a previous interview that it would be disastrous for the Soca Warriors if the Pro League folds. Shabazz and Skeene agreed.

“The Pro League provides coaches, administrators and players with the opportunity to focus full time and affords them more time to develop their skills,” said Shabazz. “It is going to be very difficult for coach Stephen Hart to depend on players who are doing a regular job and have to get time off from their employers. We cannot go back to that way when all we need is a little more ambition, more critical thinking and execution of a pathway forward.

“Caledonia is by no means among the haves; but we refuse to just roll over and play dead.”

Skeene suggested that the Pro League may hold a symposium to hear ideas on the way forward from interested parties outside of the football family.

Photo: Central FC star Ataulla Guerra (centre) takes the 2014/15 Pro League trophy from Pro League CEO Dexter Skeene. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Central FC star Ataulla Guerra (centre) takes the 2014/15 Pro League trophy from Pro League CEO Dexter Skeene.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

AboutLasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd
Lasana Liburd is the CEO and 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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215 comments

  1. Buh wah trouble is this eh, which means that we will also have to bless up the MVP then if it is going to be another player ent.?

  2. They ain’t name them yet have a points system they use guess on prize giving night we will know

  3. By the way who was the MVP of our pro league, was it also the top goalscorer Makesi Lewis (Police) or is it another player Gordon Pierre and Lasana Liburd ?

  4. And in the upcoming season eh, we going all out eh $10, 000 , the boots of their choice and a plaque for the top goalscorer eh, but they must score 30 goals and no more $5, 000 if they don’t eh, they will only receive the boots of their choice and the plaque eh and we are giving them this challenge because we know that our prolific goalscorers can really do better eh, so the ball is in their court alyuh hear meh my prolific goalscorers and winners Devon Jorsling and Makesi Lewis. Them really good yes.

  5. hahahaha yuh know the Pierre families are very special set of people eh and together we will help them in our sweet country eventually get the football thing right eh. Them really good yes.

  6. Hahaha uncle Earl Mango Pierre u does crack me up yes!! Them good yes!

  7. Gordon Pierre I eh dun with you as yet eh, please don’t compare indoor facilities with out door facilities eh, and the urgent need for the community fields for our pro teams is also for them to eventually have their own youth teams eh, how many pro teams have their own youth teams eh, the police and army borrowing other people youth teams among a few others so how will they ever generate their own funds if they are not developing and selling their own youth players to the real professional teams abroad eh, so the urgency is needed in a very quick timing and also for me and my people to also rent these fields in the communities to have our gospel shows and prayer gatherings to continue to safe the youths and our sweet country eh, and yeah yuh could call me Pastor Mango and I will continue to be involved in the both the football and also serving my father God eh.

  8. Kevin Harrison i hear u but we have d woodbrook tarcargua mayaro Pleasantville indoor facilities and none are self sufficient just examples of how facilities in themselves are not solutions! And me and u might fall out bc u and ur boi was the ones who fight down Terence William Fenwick when he attempted to get the Morvant ground upgraded with private money at that! I forgive u all bc i know how power is but i aint forget!! And at d end of d day we all have to work together to drive things forward!

    • Question: who manages those facilities? They are not run as profit generating entities. In fact, any money that is collected cannot be reinvested, it has to go straight to the treasury. These need to be handed over as public- private partnerships. In these cases any funds generated would be used to maintain them correctly. But the grounds I spoke of would be leased to clubs so that they could generate profits. It would then depend on the clubs business acumen. Regarding the other issue, sadly you are mistaken about several facts that you mentioned, but I am unable to expand on that at this time.

    • Ok Kevin Harrison one the facilities side just mention them to show that facilities alone are not d solution bc although d money may go to d treasury they don’t generate any substantial income! On the other issue would love one day to hear about ur side of things but as Jack would say yesterday is yesterday and today is today let’s hope now that things are not so rosy u and ur boi will stay in the league and bring ur skills towards turning things around and pushing things forward

  9. Gordon Pierre just go into MSYA and you will see plans for a 3,000 stadium with solar powered lighting, rainwater collection system and designated spaces for Rituals, KFC/Japs, plus other outlets. Rented office spaces, conference/ function rooms for community meetings, weddings etc. walking track, parking lot that converts to basketball court etc. Cabinet notes approved for construction in Ojoe Rd & Bourg. North East and Jabloteh were to manage these facilities and derive income while at least 60% of field usage was guaranteed to community use. The best thing is that this design would not belong to an architect but to govt so it can be sold to other countries.

  10. Brian Jordan bc of the state of the proleague we have to pick ur battles and change what we can control first!! The ground issue will take plenty energy and resources which can b better used at this time! That is y proleague clubs need proper business plans bc this grounds issue would have been weight and prioritize according to returns bc up to now no one here could tell me how the community ground will generate great income to save a pro team! Note i for community grounds eh! Just do not have it as d end all and be all! There are a number of things that must be fixed first

  11. Can Or Should all battles only be fought one at a time Gordon Pierre?? Can some not be fought on several fronts? Just checking..

  12. Time for Jamaal to come back from Guayana and take control of youth development, with all due respect Isa Mohammed not the right fit for that position. Get up and go, networking, sharing information, knowing your players and staff capabilities strength and weaknesses. The technical director has to be DYNAMIC, not dull, boring and clueless.
    Come Jamaal, sure your mate will facilitate.

  13. Oh those days of SFA and SFL but then between Caroni and the Oil companies fields were properly taken care of …not overburden and roll like now

  14. Chandani Boodoo, uncle Earl Mango Pierre i agreeing with Jamaal Shabazz about the need for fields u know just saying it’s the wrong battle for right now! Digicel play now starting in communities right? No proleague team ain’t c it fit to approach digicel to say we could get i will say fifty consumers to start up on digicel play or is it we can’t get our communities activated! If we had vibrant youth programs in communities we could have easily done this!! Just an example of how innovative thinking could move us forward!! This field battle as d corner stone of progress is d wrong approach but it’s one that takes the responsibility away from the clubs and put it on someone else the normal Eric William children mode of operation! Bc i supported Terry drive for the community ground

  15. Look at the kind of ballers that communities like Diego Martin, Petit Valley, Maraval, Carenage, Morvant/ Laventille, and San Juan developed from even way back in meh playing days and before eh and some of these areas doesn’t have their own proper playing fields or their own professional teams eh, the players always have to leave their communities and play for other professional teams or my police or army team eh well except for Morvant Caledonia and San Juan Jabolteh but they need a proper playing field and seating area for their professional team in their community and it will be a done deal. Them really good yes.

  16. An this is one of the major sale with your product example japs in grandie an you get 2500.00 croud in grandie an japs has deals in place to get most of that fan base to buy an you have bussiness involved who also can benefit from a good croud .

  17. Sponsors now have an opportunity to market to a specific target too

  18. Gordon Pierre my nephew the fields in the community isn’t only about collecting a fee to see the games eh, it is about allowing the grany, grand pa, the goat, the cow, the chicken, and all other supporters to come and support their community heroes when games are being played and the number one reason as I am always saying it is for the players and our coaches standards to raise to another level the other monies will be made from doing other things like developing and selling players to real professional clubs abroad and this is where plenty of the monies will also come from, team jerseys, and other kinds of marketing and I am positively certain that all communities have folks with those skills especially our younger folks eh, I mean to say the league is over 12 yrs old eh, and nothing is really being done to get the community to come out and support their teams in the stadiums that was only built for one reason eh, look at the conditions of some of the stadiums eh, and what make you feel that this will ever change eh, our sweet country isn’t a real football country eh, like my Spanish and Central America countries eh, where the whole family and supporters are always at the football games in their sweet country eh, and I as meh friend Nigel Myers said unless we have a culture shift nothing won’t be changing and yuh dun know that our culture is about partying, boatrides,drinking plenty rum, running down plenty women, and having a great time.Them really good yes.

  19. Instead of looking at the stadia or playing fields as income generators on any particular scale, we need to focus and think of the non-pecuniary benefits involved with community based grounds. Are they going to keep a team in the community, keep a team from leaving, providing entertainment and opportunities to foster youth growth and development, or just fostering greater sporting opportunities and competition!

    Worldwide it has been recognized that sports are central to cultural life and development. They represent one of the most cogent ways for residents to feel part of and enjoy belonging to a community. We live in a technologically advanced world and smartphones, social media consume much of our time daily. We need an opportunity to identify with others at the community level, face to face interaction etc. Sport teams help provide identity to a community, and it is this psychosocial benefit that should be weighed against costs and petty squabbles.

  20. You not seeing once we keep jumping from here to there all our time is consumed and we have no main focus for a solution. If Terry Fenwick’s initiative with the ground was successful ( and I supported it ) then we could tackle another issue(s) like I know some people beef is the marketing. I not going there until I get a field. Lets teams come Morvant and meet me in the alley.

  21. I am one individual not concern about job or my future in coaching i am a dam good coach with good coachong education what is my main concern is saving football an the future of north east stars wich will chat help keep the youths off the streets foitball at north east has been providing employment for us over 14 years now . And my main concern are the talented youngsters who all they have is there football that provides for them an there family in an already fragile society broken down with crime .football provides a way of life for them i am diserpointed in the public view an the p n m government under prime minister keith Rowley who cannot see and see the importance of the subversion an seeing it as taxpayers money .this calls for a holistic approach towards government and the people of Trinidad to understae this drive towards saving the pro league.

  22. I ain’t like how u breaking ranks tho lol!!

  23. Captain Captain where the camps will run in space. On those run down fields ….Let me stick to my thing all you run camps. All you good yes

  24. Jamaal Shabazz i agreeing with u for grounds u know! But don’t want us to put all our energy in claiming grounds when the real solutions lie elsewher! My mother passing have taught me two things energy and time we never get back so let’s manage both well!! Choose what is d major solutions and in this guava season focus on them!! Summer coming let clubs look to run the Sportt summer camps, partner with schools in the area how malick sec fall off and cali in that area? Let’s look at d man in d mirror and drive forward this thing CAN NOT fail for the sake of the youths!!

  25. This is not a personal attack it is showing common sense geting a ground is not all point fortin civic center do not have a ground to call there own since entering the pro league ? Who crying for help as they do all we are hilighting is the proper business or marketing skills that goes along with it here in Trinidad we have a coaching staff out in the develop world is a dord of directors ‘ coaching staff: back room staff with experts in every field ‘ from coaching to marketing in the E P L each club in the premiership gets a couple million pounds each year from the league it self through television rights each club is grantied lets say 50 thousand at each home game an every fan buys there team kit .we no way there we will have to go uouthful an look for at least a thirty thousand extra each game to help turn overs with transport ‘ food equipment ‘ medical etc what we are saying proper marketing tools has to be in place along with the community ground

  26. The facility within the community is the springboard for economic activity . Especially as it relates to sponsorship media activity etc.

  27. Gordon you and Terry have you all battle with persons who not seeing it as you. You cannot decide that a ground would not help to change Caledonia condition. This is not just about pro league …why it is that in a community that has been so loyal to a party …..when you look at facilities for recreation its pathetic

  28. Well tell us how d ground will make money to fed a pro team? We always choosing some dummy fight instead of the real ones!! Connect with the community they will come to d games! Bc this whole year the big fight will b grounds for survival and when we get grounds we will realize that’s not d solution. That’s y entrepreneurs write proposals to identify how and how much income u can make fulling a 2500 ground five times a week can’t sustain a pro team and u not playing five times a week so let’s come up with real solutions and don’t waste time fighting a fake battle! Note as well none of the cricket community grounds earn no income!!

  29. For my reality I Caledonia get a ground we do not want Govt Subvention…..that is the sore point with bloggers.
    The other aspects for improvement I on Board but right now I want me some land …..you guys can give your vision blah blah blah. Nobody have to drink my medicine but when I go and hunt and bring in the Buffalo everyone will eat

  30. Gordon pierre you catch my drift

  31. Jamaal Shabazz and company this grounds as priority is a big red herring!! A community ground with 2500 ppl at 40 dollars twice a month can’t sustain not pro team!! Let’s b real grounds important but not d life line media coverage locally and internationally, teams hosting community competitions, youth cups and camps etc is d source of the proleague survival y we choosing to pretend that grounds is d major concern? Innovative futuristic thinking is d problem identifying possible income streams and investing in them!! Time for real solutions not bandages to cover sores

  32. Well leh meh come and join yuh in the board room nah, maybe they need some bacchanaling up eh, because as you know I am also for the football to be in our communities like in meh families sweet country Jamaica and it will be a done deal because players and coaches levels always raises when there is plenty crowd support eh and I am positively certain that Caledonia will definitely be winning plenty Championships like W Connection and Central F. C and I will not even be taking a salary for making certain that this happens eh my Prof. Jamaal Shabazz. Them really good yes.