‘Naps’ retreat in Digicel SportsMax row in face of SSFL action, Benedict’s also anger sponsors

Naparima College have vowed to respect the Secondary School Football League’s (SSFL) stance on shirt sponsorship in a bid to stave off severe disciplinary sanction from the governing body.

Naparima, the defending champions and winners of three of the Premier Division’s five seasons, rejected the SSFL’s new Joma uniform and opted to play in an old kit yesterday when they defeated St Mary’s College 3-0 at Lewis Street, San Fernando.

Photo: Naparima College midfielder Decklan Marcelle (left) and a teammate celebrate after their SSFL Digicel Cup penalty shoot-out win over Presentation (San F’do) at the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium on 7 September 2019.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

The new Joma uniform featured title-sponsor Digicel emblazoned across its chest. Instead, ‘Naps’ played in a jersey which gave that prominent spot to school sponsor, Tiger Tanks Limited.

Wired868 was reliably informed that, in the face of widespread public criticism and worried about possible expulsion from the SSFL, Naparima opted to make a prompt retreat from its initial stance.

The Premier Division bigwigs have already informed SSFL president William Wallace that they will wear the properly sanctioned gear on Saturday when they are due to play Mucurapo East Secondary at the Fatima College ground on Mucurapo Road.

The SSFL is in the fourth season of a five year deal with Digicel and SportsMax, which allows both sponsors prominent branding opportunities. However, the title sponsors did not previously enforce this right.

As a result, teams like Naparima, Presentation College (San Fernando), St Mary’s College and Fyzabad Secondary have played with sponsors across the front of their shirt during that period.

The SSFL’s sponsors took nothing to chance for the 2019 season, though, as they sent fully-loaded uniforms inclusive of corporate logos. The only space available for sale by schools is one sleeve and the right leg of the short pants.

Photo: St Mary’s College attacker Kristoff Dingwell (left) runs at a Naparima College opponent during SSFL action at Lewis Street, San Fernando on 11 September.
CIC turned out in the new SSFL approved hit while ‘Naps’ did not.
(Copyright Kerlon Orr/CA-images/Wired868)

The Digicel sponsorship, according to one source, equates to TT$17,000 a year for each Premier Division school plus TT$7,000 for internal transport and an additional TT$3,000 if the team had to fly to Tobago.

In at least one case, Tiger Tanks agreed to pay the school more than 10 times that figure for a spot on their chest. This revenue would have gone well beyond the school’s football team and assisted in other areas as well; and, on that basis, ‘Naps’ initially resisted.

On Tuesday, Education Minister Anthony Garcia urged boards of denominational schools to take more responsibility for ensuring the upkeep of their schools. Naparima felt the Tiger Tanks deal fell in line with Garcia’s wishes as it made the school more self-sufficient.

Naparima were one of three schools due to wear the Tiger Tanks logo in 2019. The other two were Carapichaima East Secondary and St Benedict’s College.

Wired868 understands that Carapichaima East—ironically, the employers of SSFL president, Wallace, up until this season—returned Tiger Tanks’ money before the start of the season.

St Benedict’s College, like Naparima, insisted on keeping their lucrative personal sponsor. Benedict’s took a slightly different route to the reigning champs, as they took the Joma shirts but modified it by adding the Tiger Tanks logo over its tummy.

However, Benedict’s proffered compromise was also deemed unacceptable by the SSFL executive.

St Benedict's College
Photo: St Benedict’s College could be in hot water for placing a Tiger Tanks logo on their SSFL-approved kit.

As it turned out, Naparima, as defending champions, were blessed with the first live game of the 2019 SSFL season. It went well on the field but, off it, there was mayhem. SportsMax cut its feed early in the match and ordered contracted photographic company, Caribbean Action Images, to airbrush the Tiger Tanks logo off all photos.

SSFL ambassador Shaka Hislop revealed this morning on CNC3 that SportsMax CEO Ollie McIntosh threatened to walk away from its deal with the local schoolboys league over the furore.

Naparima, surprised by the scale of the criticism, backed down.

The SSFL executive is expected to rule this morning on whether Naparima and/or St Benedict’s will be sent to its disciplinary committee.

Wired868 was unable to get a comment from the SSFL up until the time of publication.

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About Lasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd is the managing director and chief 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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