Wired868 columnist Earl Best and journalist Roneil Walcott evoke the ghosts of November past in five tableaux:
“Dem eh really understand, yuh know,” he said to me, his voice thick with emotion, “deh eh understand hommuch dat hurt.”
I expected him to wipe away a tear but he didn’t; he just shrugged and swallowed hard.
“One point!” he continued. “We get a point and dem quarrelling. We get a point from the States and all dem could do is criticise. Dem really doh know nah, deh really doh know.”
A spring in my step, I am on my way out of the Hasely Crawford Stadium on Tuesday evening with my wife and daughter in tow when out of nowhere this complete stranger addresses me. I have no idea who he is, have never seen him before. But I understand. I recognise instantly that we are united by at least one common bond: November 19, 1989.
He shares the pain of having seen us get oh so close only to fall at the last hurdle. He knows Brian Williams better than he knows Mekeil Williams, knows Philbert Jones as well as he knows Joevin Jones—incidentally, the son of “Strike Squad” defender Kelvin Jones. Keron Cummings is a familiar name, yes, but Everald Cummings resides still inside his head.
He knows, he felt, he feels the pain “Gally” felt halfway through the second half of the game on that fateful day with the scoreboard reading “USA 1, T&T 0” and hope slowly ebbing away.
And he has not forgotten the becalmed sea of red in the National Stadium, tranquillity personified, stunned into silence by Paul Caligiuri’s 31st minute “lucky” goal from well outside the area.
That is the almost palpable pall that has hung over crowds at USA vs T&T matches ever since…
“I don’t want fans, I want genuine support. I want them to push us. I don’t want them to depend on the rhythm section to do that.
“The Guatemalan fans, even when they were 2-0 down, I think they pushed them all the way to try to get a goal and that is what you want supporters to do.”
Mission accomplished. Responding to an appeal from Coach Stephen Hart, the Warriors’ supporters have transformed the Hasely Crawford Stadium into a sea of red. But it is a far cry from the raucous, intimidating atmosphere the Warriors encountered in Guatemala earlier this month or in Charlotte in July in the Gold Cup game versus Mexico.
No one expects bottles to be flung at Michael Bradley or Gyasi Zardes but the visiting Americans are getting a relatively easy time of it. Apart from the occasional loud but brief “boo” for a mistimed tackle or a perceived error on the part of Mexican referee Cesar Ramos, the visitors have little to worry about as far as the crowd is concerned.
Maybe it’s because we have had to spend so much of our energies on trying to push, squeeze, fight our way through the six narrow entrances the authorities have set up for us all to get into the stadium. Or maybe it’s the lingering memories, the deep-seated fears of another disappointment like a quarter century ago still playing mind games with us.
Or maybe it’s just that we really don’t have that fire in our belly anymore, we can’t find the passion inside us to be deliberately inhospitable.
Even the urging and the encouragement from DJ Lurbz has failed to inspire real confidence about victory today. Before the kick-off, a few fans are willing to go as far as predicting a 1-0 win for the Warriors but there is none of the bold boastfulness you expect to hear coming from T&T-ian lips after the three points pocketed away in Guatemala.
There is no cockiness, no overconfidence, only cautious optimism.
The rhythm section and the tassa drums on the western end have been providing exhilarating, wall-to-wall rhythm but the Mexican wave never gets any bigger than the ones you see at low tide.
Many of the home supporters are still to link up with their “friend and dem” when, inside 30 seconds, Joevin Jones shoots high over the bar with a swing of his right boot.
“Oh God,” someone in the crowd shouts above the roar. “Jesus Christ! Deh lucky! If he did only get he left foot on dat, we one up.”
“Ooohs” and “aahs” escape the crowd again in the 26th minute as Cordell Cato ‘usains’ past two US defenders before dragging his shot wide of Tim Howard’s goal.
In the early exchanges, the Chicago Fire flanker and his namesake, skipper Kenwyne Jones, look really promising with Jones (J) and speed merchant Cato flying down the flanks past their opponents.
As early as the 13th minute, a cross-section of the crowd erupts, imagining that Jones (K) has scored after completing a slick turn and shot on the edge of the area.
“Where Kenwyne get all them touches?” asks an astonished Warrior supporter.
“ISIS,” comes the ready, perhaps predictable answer.
What a difference a day makes, well, 26 years less two days to be precise! Hear the Trinidad Guardian editorialising in the lead-up to Red Day all those years ago:
“Never before has there been such an overwhelming, uninhibited display of patriotism and national pride as for our beloved Strike Squad, the sons of the soil who are set to add a new aspect to our claim to fame: ‘Home of the steelband, calypso, limbo and the 1990 World Cup football finalists.’”
It’s early days yet because the campaign has only just begun. There’s no qualification for the World Cup Finals riding on today’s game so there have been no editorials in the run-up to today’s match; all reports are confined to the sports pages.
But there’s something in the air…
The crowd is large, not Jack Warner-large but large within the FIFA and Fire Service limits. Although there are ticket scanners at the entrance and ticket scammers on the streets, there have been no carefully manufactured reports about bogus tickets.
There are red shirts galore but there are no Lancelot Layne songs, no Blueboy calypsos blasting from the PA system to whip the crowd into a frenzy. There’s no teenage Dwight Yorke to bring half of Tobago to their feet or no “Little Magician” Latapy to bring all of Laventille down to the west.
But there is something, something…
And it’s not the (Jan-)Michael in the goal or the Williams in the backline or the Jones up front or the Cummings on the bench. Apart from Kenwyne and Radanfah Abu Bakr, whom I knew from the Secondary Schools’ League, I can’t even put a face to all these names I see over and over here on Wired868.
But I am here, hopeful, expectant even, thinking to myself that vengeance as the French say, is a soup to be drunk cold; you can’t get colder than 26 years later.
“But,” my wife warns me, reading my mind, “the Lord says vengeance is his.”
I want to joke about Lord Kitchener or Lord Pretender but blasphemy, I think to myself, won’t help Hart’s Warriors.
I had listened to the chatter around me as I advanced step by slow step towards the only entrance the TTFA has provided for all 23,000 of us desirous of witnessing in the flesh this memorable (we hope) occasion.
I listen now to the chatter around me as I await the restart and I know I am not alone; not the only one who has come to the Stadium in pursuit of some kind of long delayed vengeance.
T&T has largely dominated the first half and the crowd is licking its lips, expecting more of the same after the interval from its blond-haired darling, Jones (J). Throughout, he has treated us all to some excellent solo runs down the right flank but it’s never as easy as it looks to pick out his giant skipper, Jones (K), who’s getting special attention from a third Jones, the USA’s Jermaine.
At the resumption, however, another blond comes within a whisker of shattering red hearts. Zardes rises above the crowd to head a Jozy Altidore cross goalwards. But this is 2015, not 1989, and there is no sun to make life difficult for the custodian.
Jan-Michael (Williams, not Maurice) is beaten but his best friend, Mr Crossbar, is not.
When, in the 78th minute, former AS Roma player Michael Bradley and Jones combine deftly in midfield and the thunderous shot unleashed by the latter is headed straight at Williams’ vee, Jan-Michael, (Williams, not Maurice) leaps high to his right to tip it onto the crossbar and thence to safety.
Today, Jan-Michael (Williams, not Maurice) is hero, not villain. It is the moment at which the ghosts of 1989 finally beat a hasty retreat.
Recognising it, some fans begin trickling out of the stadium at the start of second-half stoppage time.
“Aye, way allyuh going?” inquires a visibly irritated supporter. “Allyuh is not true Warriors; man, the game eh done yet!”
It was—bar the shouting provoked by the introduction of Keron “Ball Pest” Cummings, whose stylish cameo nearly forced US Coach Jurgen Klinsmann to call for an exterminator, executing a slick rolly-poley atop the box in one sequence and swivelling and shooting wide in another.
But at the end, the scoreline still reads 0-0.
The final blast of Ramos’ whistle has nothing like the numbing effect it had 26 years ago. On the sidelines, Coach Hart raises his arms to the sky but you can’t tell whether it’s jubilation at the point earned or frustration and disappointment at the two we let slip.
The tassa drummers and the rhythm section seem not to have noticed that the whistle has gone. If they have, they don’t care; they don’t let up.
There is no drama in the centre of the field, no weeping and gnashing of teeth in the stands. No “we love you still” message of consolation goes up on the giant scoreboard.
The mood is upbeat; all’s well that ends well. Maybe we had them more ready for the kill than ever before, maybe we did “let them off the hook” as the coach would tell the post-match media conference.
But, say what. We have another point in the bag, four in all now. And we have St Vincent and the Grenadines still to play twice—and more than three months to prepare for them.
What could go wrong?
Well, we could fail to use the November 29 opportunity to get rid of Raymond Tim Kee. Or we could get rid of him and get exchange rather than change. But, as the i95.5 advertisement says, in Hart we trust.
With the exception of Beenhakker, we have rarely been in better hands.
So there’s a spontaneous party erupting on the eastern side of the stadium. And later it spills on to the Avenue. It brings back memories of the one that kept the Strike Squad awake on the night of November 18, 1989. And of the public holiday the NAR Government declared in advance of our anticipated victory on the 19th.
But, for tonight, the Red Sea doesn’t care. We have four points and six sure ones to come from SVG in March with one additional home game.
What could go wrong, eh, Gally? We almost in Russia already.
Gih mih a C dey, maestro.
“On the road, on the road, on the road to vic-tor-ry…”