“How many goals Lexi score again?” Penal Secondary coach Lionel Regis asked his staff, during the 2016 Girls South Zone Knockout finals at the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium training ground in Marabella on Friday 2 December.
Regis repeated the question several times during their contest against Fyzabad Anglican Secondary. And, each time, he followed up with the same instructions to his star player, Alexcia Ali.
“I want five more!”
By the final whistle, Penal’s silky number 10, who wore black gloves in the blistering heat, had seven goals and the closing score was a lopsided 12-2.
In the midst of more illustrious battles for school glory in the top boys and girls divisions, Penal had just completed a sweep of the Girls Under-20 South Zone, Girls Under-20 Big Four and Girls South Zone Knockout titles respectively.
The gloved one, Ali, was an unstoppable combination of skill and productivity—although the only persons there to see her exploits were a handful of students and appreciative school teachers.
Next season, Penal will compete with the best girls football schools in the country, though, after securing promotion to the top flight.
Shiva Boys Hindu College, the reigning Boys Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) Premier Division champions, won’t have the spotlight all to themselves then. Or will they?
Regis applauded his girls for their achievement but he believes a lot more needs to be done for the development of female football in Trinidad and Tobago’s rural communities.
Recognition, he insisted, should be the starting point and he lamented the conditions in which his young charges operate.
“There isn’t much emphasis [on the women’s game],” Regis told Wired868. “We went to Diego Martin to play Success Laventille in a girls National Semi-Final and the facilities [there] were deplorable. No changing room, no washing area—and this is girls we are talking about. Grass missing, ‘pickers’ on the ground.
“Unless the authorities get it that the girls are important enough to play in proper facilities, then I don’t think we going anywhere. You can develop all the skill you want, but the authorities have to put proper structures in place to get proper results out of these female footballers.”
Regis highlighted the 2015 Women’s Premier League (WPL) as one such structure that provided that female footballers with something to aspire to and a competition that garnered publicity for the local woman’s game.
He had hoped the WPL’s success would eventually trickle down to benefit grassroots development. But, after only one season and amidst a declining economic climate, the women’s competition ground to a halt and seems already written off as a one hit wonder.
One step forward, according to Regis, and two steps back for women’s football in Trinidad and Tobago.
Fyzabad Anglican Secondary head coach, Shianne Best, agreed.
“The [WPL] was just something to help the election but that should be something standard,” said Best. “That should be something that happens every year for people to look forward to. Yes it was beneficial but when do we expect to see something like that again?
“Maybe in the next 10 years, if we’re lucky.”
While Penal were in it to win it, Best explained that she has focused on developmental opportunities for her younger players. This was Fyzabad’s second appearance in a South Knockout final and, on Friday, she fielded what was largely an under-15 team with just a handful of senior players.
Best’s habit of exposing younger players, she claimed, has benefitted them in the long term with many of her past pupils going on to play senior club football.
Regis and Best were on opposing sides on the day but share a similar vision for the development of the women’s game: facilities and coaching education.
On the field, though, Penal were the big winners. Maybe Fyzabad Anglican’s young brigade will have more luck next year.