Three years ago, former Trinity College student Damani Richards seemed a good bet for a successful career as a top flight footballer. Instead, he could feasibly end up facing the local courts, after he was allegedly held by the Western Division Task Force with a loaded firearm and a quantity of marijuana at his Cocorite home.
Richards was a key member of the Trinidad and Tobago National Under-20 Team in 2012. And, in January 2013, was sold to fans of United States Major League Soccer (MLS) outfit, Philadelphia Union, as a stabilising figure for their roster and a terrific long term investment.
Within a year’s time, due to injury, Richards was waived by Union and third division US team, Harrisburg City Islanders. And, after a brief stint with local Pro League club, Caledonia AIA, he lost his motivation, quit the game and disappeared from the football scene.
Today, instead of being featured on ESPN, Richards was a target of scorn for “Beyond The Tape” host Inspector Roger Alexander, who cooed about the arrest of a “Pro League footballer”.
In truth, Richards quit the Pro League two and a half years ago and Morvant Caledonia United technical director, Jamaal Shabazz, suggested that he might have stayed out of trouble if he remained on the football field.
Shabazz was displeased too that the media had unfairly tainted the local top flight football competition.
“It is funny that when a player gets called to a national team, they don’t say he come from FC Santa Rosa like (Trinidad and Tobago National Under-17 Team captain John-Paul) Rochford,” said Shabazz. “They say he is coming from QRC or whatever school. But as soon as the man gets in trouble, they are ready to heap scorn on the league and the club.
“We do not disown Damani. He trained with us up to 2014 and he played with W Connection… When things like this happen, it shows the alternative route these kids can take when they go contrary to playing football.”
At 17, Richards was a starting member of the National Under-20 Team, which included current Soca Warriors midfielder Jomal Williams, who plays professionally in Mexico, Portugal-based midfielder Duane Muckette and United States right back Shannon Gomez.
The former Trinity College student began his professional career before any of the aforementioned trio. Just two months after his 18th birthday, Union manager John Hackworth held up the left-sided six foot defender as a symbol of the club’s supposedly shrewd recruitment policy.
“The chatter of us needing to draft a left back was laughable,” said Hackworth, in a letter aimed at Union fans on the team’s website. “We’d already reached an agreement with Damani Richards, who was on trial with us for the last month of this past season.”
Hackworth was effusive in his praise for Richards and vowed to give the teenager the time he needed to settle in Philadelphia.
“[Richards] is a true left back and we feel as though he had more potential to be developed than any left back we saw in the draft,” said Hackworth. “Yes, he’s young and we need to develop him. But this is a player with international experience, who is extremely gifted athletically.”
Richards could not wait to get started.
“I see a lot of opportunities to grow more as a player, to help the team, to do very [well] this season,” he told the Union website. “That’s all I want to do. I just want to make a big, big difference at the left back position.”
Richards also credited Pro League club, W Connection, and then Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) technical director Anton Corneal for helping nurturing him and providing him with “the privilege that I had to represent my country at the international level”.
“I am looking forward to making full use of this opportunity and better my understanding of the game,” Richards told the TTFA Media, “and my readiness for a higher level on the international stage.”
Two months later, Union waived Richards before he had played a single game. In the MLS, clubs are only obliged to give guaranteed contracts to players who are 24 years old and have a minimum of three years’ league experience.
So, in Richards’ case, they were able to simply tear up his contract.
Richards moved two tiers down to Harrisburg City Islanders where they realised that the teenager was carrying an injury. He was diagnosed as having “several tears in his abdominal and pelvic areas”.
Wired868 cannot confirm whether Union discovered Richard’s injury and opted to sack him rather than pay for his operation.
The City Islanders did pay for Richards’ surgery but his recovery was slower than hoped. So they also released him.
Richards returned to Trinidad and joined Caledonia. But, at just 19, he struggled to deal with his misfortune. And, just a few months into his short-lived Pro League career, he told Shabazz that he did not want to play anymore.
The significant drop in earnings for the former Trinity schoolboy—some Pro League players earn as little as TT$3,000 a month—was said to be one reason for his disenchantment.
“He was a nice youth and a decent player with a good, educated left foot,” said Shabazz. “It was baffling to me when he walked away from the game. We really wanted him to stay but he said he wasn’t interested in playing football at that level anymore.
“I could see that he was distracted. I think he told me he was getting married and he wanted to get a job.”
It is uncertain what support and guidance Richards had at home and from his family and friends. On 27 July 2015, his father, Earl Richards, appeared in the Port of Spain’s Magistrates Court as one of 11 men charged with the murder of prominent local attorney, Dana Seetahal.
Richards (E) is still incarcerated, as he awaits justice in one of the country’s most high profiled cases of all time.
His son could also find himself before the Port of Spain courts soon. Feasibly, with a little luck, Richards might have been heading for the Hasely Crawford Stadium to represent the Soca Warriors instead.
Editor’s Note: (Trinidad Guardian report) Damani Richards was granted $150,000 bail after appearing before Magistrate Adrian Darmanie in the Port-of-Spain Magistrates’ Court accused of three criminal charges: Two for gun possession and one for an illegal drug.
Officers of the Western Division Task Force, led by Sgt Arneaud, searched his apartment and allegedly found a 9 mm pistol, 10 rounds of ammunition, two pistol magazines hidden in the stove and a parcel of marijuana, weighing 44 grammes, in the refrigerator.
Richards, who was represented by attorney Karunaa Bisramsingh, is scheduled to reappear in court on October 12.