The four Pro League teams still active in the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) FA Trophy competition were stunned yesterday to discover that there will be no financial reward for their efforts in this year’s competition.
North East Stars, T&TEC FC and Central FC are already into the semifinal round while defending champions Neal & Massy Caledonia faces Tobago’s Super League outfit, Stokely Vale, in a rescheduled quarterfinal fixture today.
Not one of the clubs, when asked by Wired868, had any idea what the first prize was and assumed it would be similar to the $80,000 offered—but never paid—in last year’s FA Trophy competition.
The First Citizen Cup, which Caledonia won last October, carried a $100,000 first prize while North East Stars and Defence Force pocketed $50,000 and $20,000 respectively for first and second place in the December 2012 Toyota Classic Cup.
But TTFF president Raymond Tim Kee appeared to dash any hopes of a FA Trophy pay-out, in a weekend interview, when he informed Wired868 that the local body did not have any money to offer.
“There is no money for the FA (winners),” Tim Kee told Wired868, “just the conventional medals and trophies. The football has no money now. Every time a little money comes in, it is a matter of filling holes…
“You can’t get blood out of stone.”
If Tim Kee hoped for understanding from the participating FA teams, he got dismay and condemnation instead.
Caledonia AIA clinched the FA Trophy last year with a 1-0 win over Defence Force. But the Morvant/Laventille team still has not received its $80,000 cash prize and team manager Ricarda Nelson was shocked to discover that there is not even the promise of a financial incentive this time.
“That’s really hard because it’s like we’re playing for nothing,” said Nelson, a former Trinidad and Tobago women’s international player. “We’re going through this expense and now we can’t even say it is an investment and we’re taking a risk to win something in the end…
“Last year, we played and we were told that we would receive money and we didn’t. Now this year they are telling us there is nothing to win?!”
North East Stars chairman Darryl Mahabir suggested that Tim Kee was possibly being more honest than his predecessors.
“We won the FA (in 2003) and we never got the money for it that we were promised,” said Mahabir. “By saying there are just medals and a trophy (at stake), it’s probably just the truth we are getting for once.”
However, Mahabir said the truth hurts.
“I think it is an insult and very unfair to the clubs when we’re trying to develop the professional game,” he said. “Everything has a cost attached to it… I am a member of an organising committee with a minor league in Grande called Champions of Champions. And in a six week tournament, we pay $35,000 for first place and $15,000 for second.
“Money is an important part of any competition because I understand the cost attached to people committing themselves to play.”
Central FC managing director Brent Sancho refused to accept the TTFF’s financial position as an excuse.
Sancho, who is one of 13 World Cup 2006 players in a legal dispute with the football body over unpaid bonuses pointed out that the TTFF has retained a Queen’s Counsel to fight its former players at a cost believed to be in excess of $460,000 (£45,000) for every court appearance, exclusive of first class plane tickets and appropriate accommodation.
“It is a prestigious trophy in terms of the name of it,” said Sancho. “But you wonder what value it has when you look at how it is run. There is no marketing of it, no one is at the turnstiles for games, you see the problems with referees and I have never seen anyone from the federation even show up to watch a game.
“It is not the clubs who don’t value the FA Trophy but it is the federation that doesn’t seem to value it.”
For T&TEC, it took a massive sacrifice to be involved in any competition this season after the company’s management supposedly halted its funding and refused time-off for employees to train.
T&TEC FC is bottom of the Digicel Pro League table with eight defeats from nine games. But, in the FA, the “Electricity Boys” advanced to the semi-final stage on the back of three successive wins over lower league teams.
Coach Dexter Cyrus was stunned to learn that the cash-strapped team’s fairy-tale run will not end with a proverbial pot of gold, even if T&TEC goes on to lift the crown.
“Even in minor league where men just show up, put on a uniform and play, there are prizes of $20,000 and $25,000,” said Cyrus, a former Trinidad and Tobago international. “This is by far the worst news I have heard in a long time because I genuinely think T&TEC can challenge any of the four teams involved and go on to win the Cup.
“People should have known about this when the competition started. You mean they couldn’t get even one sponsor? People washed their hands of the TTFF or what?
“Playing this competition just to say we win the FA is not good enough when just getting a maxi organised to go to a game has a cost.”
Money is not the only cost to clubs either. Central FC had only 14 players eligible to play in the quarterfinal round since its mid-season transfers were deemed ineligible. So, the extra game per week in the FA means an additional physical toll on players like its 37-year-old playmaker Marvin Oliver.
Caledonia travels today to face Tobago and must then face a rested Defence Force within 48 hours in a top of the table Pro League clash. The “Eastern Stallions” trail the army/coast guard combination by five points, although they have a game in hand, and a loss on Friday can see the “Teteron Boys” steam into an eight point lead.
Caledonia should not be playing in Tobago at all, since it was named the home team for the quarterfinal round. But tournament coordinator, Sharon O’ Brien, explained that the TTFF, despite the draw, did not want to ask Stokely Vale to return to Trinidad for a third consecutive time.
“Stokely Vale came down back to back for two FA games,” said O’Brien. “It was a bit unfair to tell them they have to come down a third time through no fault of their own.”
Tim Kee assured Stokely Vale that the club will be compensated for its last trip to Port of Spain while Caledonia was also promised a refund for its trip to Tobago today.
“They will have to be taken care of,” said Tim Kee. “We will ensure there is no loss of money.”
Caledonia has already forked out $7,140 for its airfare to Tobago, exclusive of meals, refreshment and ground transportation, and must hope that there is better chance of getting a refund than there was in collecting their 2012 prize money.
DIRECTV W Connection owner David John Williams, whose club still has not been paid for winning the FA in 2002, scolded his rivals for agreeing to the change in venue.
“I wasn’t going to Tobago if I was Caledonia,” said Williams. “I feel sorry for Stokely Vale but the draw said Trinidad and Caledonia turned up for the game. Why must Caledonia give up their home right and go to Tobago when it was not their fault?
“That has to be madness.”
Nelson said that Caledonia may get more value by taking the funds for the Tobago trip and putting the squad in a camp instead to prepare for Friday’s crucial fixture. The Stallions are already in a state of transition after six first team players left for trials in Europe last week.
However, Nelson said the club would not have snubbed the FA competition despite a lack of financial incentive.
“(Jamaal) Shabazz is a patriot and, knowing him, he would have approached the tournament the same way,” she said.
Caledonia will discover the short-term wisdom of that stance soon enough.
However, beyond the money and the physical toll, Cyrus pleaded with the TTFF to appreciate the emotional lure of the FA Trophy and to put more effort into the competition.
“This is the most prestigious cup in any country in any part of the world,” said the T&TEC coach. “If your win your national FA, League and the Champions League, they say you win the treble (in Europe). But they don’t say it for any other cup like the Community Shield or the League Cup. The national FA is one of the three most prestigious titles a club can win.”
At present, opinion is divided on the worth of the FA competition in Trinidad and Tobago.
Editor’s Note: Caledonia AIA and Central FC prevailed 1-0 over Stokely Vale and T&TEC FC respectively.
North East Stars will face Caledonia AIA in the semifinal round on 23 January 2013, at a venue to be decided, while the winner meets Central FC in the FA Trophy final.