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Shooting blanks: Best bemoans lacklustre SSFL, recounts past glories

Wired868 editor-in-chief and CEO Lasana Liburd is a conman and, if he’s not careful, he may end up in jail. Or, if Dame Fortune smiles on him, in the UNC.

I say that because I have been reading the stories that appear here about the Secondary Schools’ Football League (SSFL). To hear Liburd and his lieutenants Roneil Walcott and Amiel Mohammed tell it, it’s wonderful, exciting, high-quality stuff. So, last week I went myself in person to see if this SSFL is really all these three gentlemen would have us believe it is.

Photo: Shiva Boys Hindu College playmaker Judah Garcia (left) prepares to shoot during SSFL Premier Division action against Signal Hill in Tobago on 5 October 2016. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/CA Images/Wired868)
Photo: Shiva Boys Hindu College playmaker Judah Garcia (left) prepares to shoot during SSFL Premier Division action against Signal Hill in Tobago on 5 October 2016.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/CA Images/Wired868)

Mistake! The football reporting in Wired868 is twenty times better than the football on the field! Easily.

I think I can say without fear of successful contradiction that I have some idea of the quality of football of which schoolboys are capable. Or were.

In the late 1960s—in the days when the W in the sponsors’ name was silent—I played in the SSFL for a few years. After that, for four or five years in the next decade, as “a teacher who coaches” rather than “a coach who teaches,” I was in charge of an SSFL team at a college whose Latin motto trumpets that “…the prize is not for all.”

(NB: the 2016 Premier League results suggest that they are not uninterested in booby prizes.)

In this latest contest, though, I first attended the North Zone preliminary at Serpentine Road between QRC and Fatima, the two North Zone teams freshly–and, on the evidence I now have, perhaps deservedly–demoted from the Premier Division.

The match reminded me of my own days as a student at QRC. Not of my exploits as a First XI player, mind you, but of my kick-and-run experiences in the PE period in First Form.

Photo: QRC midfielder Keyshawn Villafana (centre) runs at St Augustine opponents during SSFL Premier Division action at the QRC grounds on 8 September 2016. (Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)
Photo: QRC midfielder Keyshawn Villafana (centre) runs at St Augustine opponents during SSFL Premier Division action at the QRC grounds on 8 September 2016.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

Oh, how the mighty have fallen!

In the early 60s, I was a spectator in front the Grand Stand in the Queen’s Park Savannah when Deryck Murray’s back-heeled pass set up Victor Gamaldo to send a 30-yard tracer bullet–a “pile-driver” the Guardian called it–screaming into the Fatima goal, leaving Hayden Duprey still pulling agitatedly at the non-existent grass growing on the goal-line.

“A boomalack, a boomalack, a yak, yak, yak.”

In the mid-1960s, I was a spectator at the Oval when, standing near the flag waiting to take a corner, Everald Cummings summoned Keith Weekes from the backline to join the attackers. His wish granted, “Gally” then put a pinpoint-precise ball on the tall defender’s head from where it flew into the back of the opposition’s net.

“No, no, no, Fatima, no! Not a goal!

It was at the Oval too that I saw Jeff Gellineau put a header against the wooden crossbar with such power that the QRC custodian Ruthven Thompson, father of Olympic 100m silver medallist Richard, had to dust flakes of white paint off his goalkeeper’s jersey.

“Ragga ragga ragga hey cumba, Mary’s, St Mary’s, rah rah rah…”

Photo: St Mary's College supporters celebrate their SSFL triumph over Trinity College East in the 2015 season. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: St Mary’s College supporters celebrate their SSFL triumph over Trinity College East in the 2015 season.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

And I was on the field when the prolific Sheldon Gomes scored so often in two games against Naparima and Fyzabad that the score-line ended up reading 21-0 and 18-0 respectively, SSFL records broken relatively recently by a 33-0 massacre of ASJA.

“QRC, we want a goal…”

But I was ordered off the field within minutes of applauding a chest trap by an opposing player from St Benedict’s–I think it was the younger of the two Hacketts –so clean that he actually contrived to advance a pace or two with the ball still on his chest.

And as I made my way on foot to the CIC Grounds that afternoon, “Football Fever” was, like Shadow’s “Bassman,” pounding in mih head:

“Young and old ketch the fever (on) a day yuh bound to remember. Plenty cheering and singing; fuh weeks yuh ears will be ringing.  People drum and come with pan, even girls by the thousands. Excitement fuh so in Port-of-Spain at the annual Intercol game.

(…) Thousands dancing in the street, steelband beating very sweet. Policeman try to stop the noise but they end up jumping up with the boys.”

Photo: Naparima College supporters roar on their team during the 2015 South Intercol final in Marabella. (Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)
Photo: Naparima College supporters roar on their team during the 2015 South Intercol final in Marabella.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

I had no idea who Dion Diaz is but I was at one with him. Here is a slightly edited version of a comment he appended to Christo’s “Football Fever” on YouTube five years ago.

“Oh yeahhhh!!! Even though I started watching Intercol in 1985, I remember those Saturday afternoons at the Royalians’ home ground with the baddest brass rhythm section I have ever heard in the history of Intercol…

“And who could forget Malick Secondary’s two-note drum section at Serpentine Road Ground? This type of rivalry made football matches a joy to savour… Hope we get to relive some of this traditional bliss very [soon] and [an] elevation in the standard of support for local football again.”

With this mix of music, memories, messages and images in my mind, I was quite unprepared for the sorry Intercol spectacle that offered itself to me. Let’s be generous and say there were 500 spectators.

There was a rhythm section—more generosity—that, to their credit, never let their tempo slacken, irregardless (that lovely Trini word) of what was happening on the field of play.

Photo: Queen's Royal College playmaker John-Paul Rochford (left) tries to keep the ball from St Anthony's College winger Haile Beckles during SSFL action at QRC grounds on 26 October 2016. (Courtesy Nicholas Williams/Wired868)
Photo: Queen’s Royal College playmaker John-Paul Rochford (left) tries to keep the ball from St Anthony’s College winger Haile Beckles during SSFL action at QRC grounds on 26 October 2016.
(Courtesy Nicholas Williams/Wired868)

The uniforms were unrecognizable. And I saw nary a banner, nary a flag. Not even when the two regulation time goals went in.

Unwilling to draw too hard a conclusion on the basis of a clearly non-representative sample, this week I went down to Fatima grounds to see Trinity (Moka) up against Tranquillity in the zonal quarter-finals.

I was no longer hoping to see a Jan Steadman or a Leroy De Leon, a Russell Latapy or a Dwight Yorke. Did I think I might glimpse a Bobby Sookram, a Leo Brewster or an Ian Clauzel, a Tom Phillip or a Ron La Forest, an Alvin Henderson or an Iain Bain or a Rolph Clarke or an Ellis Sadaphal in the making? Truth be told, I’d have settled for an Angus Eve, a Jerren Nixon, an Arnold Dwarika or a Stern John.

Come to think of it, I’d have been content with some decent football, mastery of basic skills and evidence of team play.

I got none of that although there were six goals.

I was waiting on the Wired868 match report to be informed of all the great things I had missed. But probably smelling the rat, Liburd had sent his reporter elsewhere.

Photo: Feel like dancing! Malix Ottey (centre) and his Diego Martin North Secondary teammates show off some dance moves during their North Zone Intercol contest with Blanchisseuse Secondary at the St Mary's College ground in St Clair on 2 November 2016. Diego Martin North won 4-1. (Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)
Photo: Feel like dancing! Malix Ottey (centre) and his Diego Martin North Secondary teammates show off some dance moves during their North Zone Intercol contest with Blanchisseuse Secondary at the St Mary’s College ground in St Clair on 2 November 2016.
Diego Martin North won 4-1.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

Thanks, eh, Liburd. For your services to schools’ football, I propose to nominate you for the Express Individual of the Year Award.

And to send your UNC application form in the mail.

AboutEarl Best

Earl Best
Earl Best taught cricket, French, football and Spanish at QRC for many years and has written consistently for the Tapia and the Trinidad and Tobago Review since the 1970's. He is also a former sports editor at the Trinidad Guardian and the Trinidad Express and is now a senior lecturer in Journalism at COSTAATT.

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28 comments

  1. Come and see meh St Anthony’s play this evening nah vs Mucurapo in the stadium and watch my future midfield/ playmaker/ goalscorer Che Benny nah at 15 yrs old eh, and when I am done with him eh is straight to my greatest team in the universe eh Manchester United for life eh, and yes he does hype up the place eh. hahaha Sean Taylor

  2. But hold up… Question: what hype allyuh talking about though? Who does hype d league? ??

  3. I just now read this story to eh and Earl Best isn’t lying nah, when you read the stories eh and look at the pictures and videos of all the football Schools, Super and the professional league eh, and then go to the games eh, is plenty steeuuppssing eh, because the pile ah shit ah does be watching eh ah does say to mehself no wonder our Soca Worries playing so much shit themselves eh Them really good yes. hahahahaha

  4. Eh even start to read this as yet and I laughing already lol

  5. ..Forgive his nostalgia. Earl is correct. The SSFL is over-hyped, over-valued and over-rated. When a recreational league has the most media coverage then the sense of its place in the grand scheme of things must be lost. This is one of the main reasons why we are failing at youth – and dare I say after two losses in the CONCACAF hexagonal WC qualifying round , senior – international level..

    • Earl Best

      Keith,
      You know, this wasn’t really a story about the low quality of the football currently on offer in the SSFL (Second-rate Stuff for Football Lovers?) as it was about the quality of the writing in Wired868. I have never believed that the role of a schools’ football league is to produce great players so much as to produce eventually great people, great citizens. But my friends tell me repeatedly that I only say so because the teams I coached never won any championships, have nary a deal, nary a trophy, nothing but education to show for their efforts.

      I know what I think about non-school football in T&T and I know what you think about it too because it is implied in the views you have just shared here. But what I was really trying to say in this piece is that if advertisers were smart, they’d push for all the SSFL games to be played behind closed doors/gates and pay Wired868 to write about them as they do now.

      Their return on investments would, I feel sure, be greater. Man, the advertisers couldn’t GIVE AWAY all of the product they were distributing free of charge at either of the two games I went to see. Even attractive, scantily clad young ladies couldn’t manage that!

    • Lasana Liburd Simple,let him read stories from the 100 other reporters that cover local football year round!

  6. The difference I think is it has become more about winning for a sponsor and alumnae donations rather than school pride and spirit.. even school loyalty has been lost when players are coaxed from team to team easily

    • Earl Best

      I think it’s a little more complex than that but essentially the problem is what you say it is, a shift in the focus that is inimical to the best interests of the schools and the league.

      It’s a long story that really starts with the success of the the senior secs in the early days which is what led to some of the unsavoury practices now almost ritually adopted in the SSFL. But that’s for another time.

  7. This article brought back memories of the good old days when Intercol was the event to look forward to and all the supporters knew and sang the chants.

  8. It is true to say that the league is not what it once was. It is also true to say that QRC men feel the passage of time more than most! ???

  9. Well, to be fair to him, I think he acknowledged that fact Dumplin.

  10. What a joke…one has to question what he teaches his students if he can speak for an entire league from watching 2 games…1 with the 2 poorest north zone schools

  11. Steups. Best watched two poor Intercol match ups and slate everybody. Lol.

  12. Best at his best! Lasana I would be the seconder on your UNC application.