The Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team’s technical staff was understood to be upset today after the Soca Warriors were forced to shift a practice game from the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain and handed restrictions for their use of the venue before Friday’s crucial Russia 2018 World Cup qualifying fixture against Guatemala.
The Warriors will play a scrimmage match with Defence Force at the Larry Gomes Stadium in Malabar instead, this evening. And coach Stephen Hart has been advised that the Hasely Crawford Stadium is unable to accommodate his request for twice daily training sessions on the match venue.
Facility manager Anthony Blake said the heavy weather has forced grounds staff to take extra care of the football surface and insisted that they always try their best to give the host team every possible advantage.
“We are giving them one session [per day on the] inside [field] and one session outside [on the training ground],” Blake told Wired868, “because of the amount of rainfall which is causing the field to mash up badly.
“The match commissioner is insisting that teams should only get one training session on the field for one hour. Normally, we bend the rules to give Trinidad an advantage but, once the field maintenance people realise the field is tearing up, we have to judge on that.”
FIFA rules insist that the visiting team must get a minimum of 45 minutes practice at the match venue on the eve of a fixture. However, there is no stipulated cap on how often either team can train there.
Blake explained that it was a matter or practicality. The Guatemala team had received free rein at the Larry Gomes Stadium for the week, which has a similar surface to the Hasely Crawford. But the Warriors, according to Blake, will get priority over their Central American guests.
“[Hart] wants two sessions per day but the [Hasely Crawford Stadium] field can’t take that licks,” said Blake. “If we did that, we won’t have a field by Friday. So, we will move Guatemala and give Trinidad the Larry Gomes [Stadium] which has the same Bermuda grass whereas the Ato Boldon [Stadium] has savannah grass…
“The Larry Gomes and Mannie Ramjohn stadia were done over recently so they have the best fields. The Ato Boldon ground is the only one with savannah grass.”
The Hasely Crawford Stadium’s problems go well beyond the surface of the football field. On 12 June, the venue celebrated its 34th anniversary and, according to Blake, there has never been a major upgrade since then Prime Minister George Chambers declared the 23,000 seater stadium open in 1982.
The changes in west Port of Spain since then—from the destruction of the mangrove and construction of Movie Towne to the erection of high rise buildings like One Woodbrook Place—have had an impact on the venue.
And taxpayers are now likely to be handed a significantly mushroomed bill to address the problems created by those private sector projects.
“The recommendation from the consultant [who assessed the stadium] is that it would be cheaper to build something new than to refurbish the stadium,” said Blake. “The stadium is built on reclaimed land and since the construction of places like One Woodbrook Place, you have a higher displacement of water coming from uptown which comes downtown.
“When it rains in Port of Spain, Hamilton Holder Street and the Woodbrook Youth Facility floods and Wrightson Road floods. And all the water eventually gathers at the stadium because it is lower than the surrounding land…
“When they did the assessment in 1970s before they started building the National Stadium, there wasn’t as much construction with Movie Towne and so on… Now, we have to either move the stadium or lift it by several feet to stop it from being a retention pond.
“Or we have to fix the drainage in the area from as far as [Nelson Mandela] Park. Once that doesn’t happen, water will continue to move towards the low point which is the stadium.”
Earlier this year, the Jamaica government pledged its commitment to refurbish its own National Stadium in Kingston at a cost of US$60 million. That will take its 50-year-old stadium from a 35,000 seater to at least 45,000.
Blake refused to name the price given to upgrade the Port of Spain landmark venue. But, due to the complex issues, it is believed to be in the same price range, although being half the size.
In the meantime, Blake and his staff will continue to do all they can to keep the venue up to international standard.
For Trinidad and Tobago’s last two World Cup qualifiers against the United States and St Vincent and the Grenadines, there were embarrassing power outages, which forced kick off to be postponed.
The facility staff will do all they can to avoid a repeat of that fiasco. But there can be no guarantee.
“It is not the lights but the breakers that are the problem,” said Blake. “We still have the same plumbing and electrical infrastructure as the 1970s… So we have to run our generators through the same old breakers and, in the last game, one of the main breakers failed.
“We had technicians from TTEC and stadium technicians who were able to troubleshoot and fix the problem in a few minutes. But it is not like a light switch at your home and it takes time to cool down, power up and restart…
“We will have a long test today and on Thursday when we will run the system for six hours just to see if there is any failure. We will do a loading test and check the amperage of the breaker and the heat of the breaker to see if there is any sign of imminent failure.
“We have had the NAAA Athletics Championship and a number of events without any failure but you cannot really predict breaker failure. That was just Murphy’s Law. Based on the age of the system and the serviceable life of these parts, it needs to be gutted out and done over.”
If sport in Trinidad and Tobago is in urgent need of far-reaching renovation, then the national venue appears to be no different.