It has been almost four months since I left Nelson Street, Port of Spain for the city of Panaji in India where I play for Dempo SC. My name is Densill Theobald; most of my friends call me “Bleeder” and I am 29-years-old.
Today, God willing, I will finally make my debut after some registration issues meant I could train but not play with the team. As everything in life, it’s been a challenge and an opportunity on that path to success.
Every day, I try to soothe over the pain of missing my family, loved ones and friends by telling myself that being away from that comfort zone was a necessary sacrifice.
These are the challenges that make you grow as a player and a person and augur well for your future.
I had to weigh all of these things before I made my decision to come to India. So I had to laugh when I heard (former national coach) Otto Pfister said that (my Trinidad and Tob Pro League club) Caledonia AIA treated me like an animal and the situation with my international teammates like Clyde Leon was inhumane.
I laughed and thought Pfister was ignorant and selfish for saying things he did not know of or things he led the public think he didn’t know of; because, to my knowing, he and the national coaching staff were always aware of the interest by the Indian football league to bring Hayden Tinto, Seon Power and myself here ever since our friendly against the Indian national team in Port of Spain last August.
Pfister and (new TTFF Technical Director) Anton Corneal told me the low ranking of the Indian national team made it difficult for them to believe they had a strong professional league and that it will jeopardize my selection on the national team if I went.
Anyone who knows me will probably know that I’m a very positive, hard working person who doesn’t let negativity get the better of him for long; it’s how I’ve designed my mind since I was a young boy.
I grew up in the depressed area of George and Nelson Street and the fact that I did not let the gambling, smoking, killings, hustling, thieving and so on get the better of me should tell you a lot. It’s not where you come from that makes you who you are but what’s inside of you. So I didn’t have them to study and I made my own decision to come to India.
I will tell you this; it has been a blessing that I’ve made this decision. If I stayed on with Caledonia and the national team, which wasn’t giving me much playing time, I could have been part of a disastrous (2014) World Cup qualifying campaign and I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself.
I’m a child of God and having FAITH in GOD is what gives you the courage to confront your fears and negativity and live the life he meant for you to live.
I’m not saying India is perfect but the three and a half months I’ve been here feels like three and a half years because Dempo, my teammates, fans and well-wishers have accepted me with so much love and passion that I feel happy and appreciated.
Ask any sportsman or woman and they will tell you there is no happier feeling than to be loved and welcomed when you are many miles away from home.
I’ve played in Canada—where I started—Scotland and Hungary and had trials in Italy, Austria, England and the United States but have never felt loved, appreciated and welcomed like in India.
Not to say those other countries weren’t good to me because the experience I gained there had an integral role in my development as a person and more so as a player; especially Canada where, as a 17-year-old, I had to grow up quickly on and off the field.
I spent two years at Toronto Olympians, which ia my longest stint at a foreign club so far unlike the six months I spent at Falkirk FC (Scotland) and Ujpest FC (Hungary).
I stayed with my family in Canada, which made it an easier transition, but the extremely cold weather, the physically strong and technically sound players and the speed and aggression of the game was a big change for a 17-year-old and I was homesick.
I wanted to quit but instead I fought back by using more and more of my free time running and doing gym work. I told myself that I would dedicate as much time as possible to getting better.
My cousin, Jay Stephens, would give me motivational talks then and maybe that time gave me a solid ground. Even today, I still have great love and admiration for his wisdom.
I was at Canada for a year and a half when my mother died and it wasn’t the same when I returned to the club after heading home for the funeral. It was the lowest ebb in my career off the field but Canada and Toronto Olympians will always be special to me because of the impact they made in my early stages.
I went on to Falkirk with the help of Russell Latapy who thought I had all the ingredients to succeed as a professional player but, even with his help, it wasn’t a bed of roses at all. There was the long three week trial period, the cold winter, a faster and even more aggressive league and no playing time with the first team.
I was disappointed and angry at how things happened but the 2006 World Cup qualifiers and finals gave me motivation.
In life, you have to be prepared for any opportunity because you never know when it will come. Take, for example, Shaka Hislop at the 2006 World Cup who was a reserve but then stepped in when the first choice, Kelvin Jack, got injured and gave the performance of his career; all because he had prepared himself well in training.
I tell you this; there’s no happier feeling than when all isn’t well, the chips are down, you feel like all is lost but you have kept faith in God and continued to work hard and be optimistic only to see that you are rewarded in the end. It’s an amazing feeling.
I went to Hungary a year after the World Cup and, like Canada and Scotland, it is a very nice, clean and attractive country to be in. They treated me very well and for that I have maintained a close relationship with them to this day.
But my experiences on the field weren’t as good as those off the field.
The club was fifth by mid-season and lost some sponsors and got into financial problems. So, I was one of four big earners who got paid off for his contract and then left.
I must admit that, when you are home, you miss these countries and their cultures and traditions a lot.
In Canada, for example, I could hop on a bus and go to Niagara falls or eat at the Hollywood restaurant. In Scotland, I loved to catch the train to Glasgow and shop ’til I dropped and, in Hungary, I loved to visit the historic Duna river that separates the rich from the poor and the amazing Szechenyi bridge where people go to pop the question.
I’ve been fortunate to experience such beautiful things off the field although I haven’t been able to do it in India, thus far. I have heard India is different to those countries but I haven’t been able to see it for myself. I stay in the State of Goa which has about 1.3 million people, like Trinidad, hot and humid.
But it is a much tougher place. Parts of the city are dirtier and smellier than I am used to and people are not friendly at all when you are driving on the road; it’s crazy. There is no courtesy or signaling for left or right turns; just plenty overtaking and honking and no patience.
The culture is different too. You can’t drive for five minutes without passing an idol with worshippers. The club physio told me once, that there are places here were you can’t sit next to a woman far less talk to her and, if you impregnate someone, you have to marry her or else you go to jail.
A red spot on a woman’s forehead here is a sign that she is a Hindu wife and off limits. But Goan ladies are generally not friendly with men and saying “hi” is usually just wasting your breath.
It’s different but it is a new experience that I welcome with open arms.
People always think about cricket when you mention India but, in all fairness, football gets support and respect here too and you can get a crowd of 5,000 and more for a normal league match and, for a big game, you’re talking about 10,000 and up.
It may not be on the same level as Hungary and Scotland in terms of marketing, crowds and sponsors but it’s on a respectable level to me. Sorry to say but it’s a bit better than Trinidad to me; although I believe that Trinidad can get better.
Playing in front of big crowds gives enthusiasm to any player and it is a weight off your mind when you don’t have to worry about when your pay is going to arrive. Nike sponsors the league and my club; so if you give a fan your jersey, you are not wondering where the other jersey is coming from. Pro League players don’t have that luxury.
There is so much more I have to say about Dempo and India; or about the difficulties of being away from my two daughters back in Trinidad.
But I will leave that until next time.
God bless all.
Editor’s Note: Densill Theobald wore the number 12 shirt and helped Dempo to the League title in his debut season.