New Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) president William Wallace has vowed to take schools football into the digital age, introduce an office and full-time secretariat for the body and strengthen ties with the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA).
Wallace, the former SSFL first vice-president and a past Secondary Schools Cricket League president, was elected unopposed to the helm of the school football executive on Saturday 1 April after former president Anthony Creed opted not to seek re-election.
Wallace also served as manager of the Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team squad under former coach Stephen Hart and managed several national youth teams in football and cricket.
The ascension of the Carapichaima East teacher apart, there was little change in the SSFL executive. Phillip Fraser (San Juan North) moved from second to first vice-president while Azaad Khan (formerly of Malick), Gerard Elliot (formerly of St Benedict’s) and Lawrence Seepersad (Carapichaima East) held on to their portfolios as general secretary, assistant secretary admin and assistant secretary operations respectively.
Trinity College Moka teacher Tevon La Rose is the only new inclusion on the executive and will serve as second vice-president.
The first order of business, though, is the controversial matter of the use of ineligible players during the 2016 Premier Division, which will impact on the line-up of schools in the top division this year. Presentation College (San Fernando) and East Mucurapo Secondary were both penalised for using ineligible players last season.
Presentation, who were punished for flouting SSFL rules through the use of Trinidad and Tobago National Under-20 defender Kori Cupid, accepted their charge—although they insisted it was an inadvertent error. As a result, an alteration in the points tally of affected teams saw Queen’s Royal College belatedly climb out of the relegation places with San Juan North, the 2016 Coca Cola Intercol champions, taking their place.
East Mucurapo, who fielded lower six student and defender Abdus Ramcharan with three passes—one shy of the required four passes of sixth form students—opted to appeal the SSFL’s decision against the school. And, after losing that, chose to go to arbitration.
Wallace refused to publicly share the decision of the arbitration panel, although it has already been forwarded to the affected schools. However, Wired868 understands that the arbitration panel ruled against Mucurapo.
It means that Mucurapo East will also be relegated while Fatima College escape at the death.
But there is one last decision to be made. Should San Juan North receive special dispensation to stay up next season?
The boys from Bourg Mulatresse appeared to have done enough to survive at the end of last season, only to have the rug pulled out from under them due to the indiscretions of other teams. The counter-argument, of course, is they have only themselves to blame for not amassing enough points to stay afloat, especially with a team that had enough talent to win the National Intercol crown.
There is precedence for the relegation of the Intercol champions, as East Mucurapo were demoted despite clinching the prestigious knock out trophy in 2014.
Wallace believes the SSFL can avoid a repeat of such a fiasco with office staff and a computerised database.
“I sent a letter out to the Minister of Sport asking for office space for the SSFL and we are hoping to get space [at the Ato Boldon Stadium] in Couva, which is a centralised location,” Wallace told Wired868. “We are now 50 years old and we have been operating out of a car trunk for that length of time. With TT$2 million annually coming into this league, it is about time we have a steady secretariat. Some of the problems we have been having in the past were probably because [we did not have] that.
“Also we want to have a computerised database [which will] eliminate some of the problems that happened last season… We already have somebody setting up the required databases for us.”
Another proposal by the new SSFL president include a first responder program, which will ensure that schools have the capability to act decisively in medical emergencies. In this case, Wallace had an eye on the tragic death of Jamaican schoolboy Dominic James, which occured during a match on the north Caribbean island last September.
He also wants to create a SSFL website and a public forum that would allow feedback on areas that the league can improve. And, while former executives often said that the schoolboys league was about recreation for students, Wallace wants to do more to help the TTFA source and develop talent.
In July, he hopes to have ‘B’ and ‘C’ licence courses for school coaches while he will reach out to the TTFA on the matter of talent identification for national youth teams.
“We all have the same objective but we are operating in silos,” said Wallace. “I think the secondary schools have a crucial role to play in the development of youth football because we have the resources, the facilities and we have the young men and women for about six hours a day, five days a week.
“So we want the TTFA to sit with us and work out how we can have a formal arrangement to help raise the level of the football.”
Still, Wallace has much to appreciate in the platform left by his predecessor, Creed. A former Diego Martin Secondary PE teacher, Creed served on the SSFL executive since 1994 and became president in 2013.
During his tenure, local school’s football entered the Premier Division era in 2014 while there was also a landmark US$1.5 million television rights deal with Digicel/SportsMax that started last season.
Creed said he feels especially proud of the opportunities provided by SportsMax’s airing of matches in the United States and Canada which have led to scholarship opportunities for players from schools outside of the beaten path.
“Some schools already have links with colleges abroad but there are still many that don’t,” Creed told Wired868. “So the SportsMax coverage meant universities were calling them for information on particular players and it increased the landscape for scholarship opportunities. Some student footballers also asked SportsMax for clips which they got and shared with scouts…
“There were a number of people who questioned the [Premier Division] system when we started and I told them to wait and have a talk with me again after a year. Most of them came back to me and said it served its purpose.”
Creed also explained why the big money television deal did not lead to inflated cash prizes for successful teams, as some had hoped.
“Some schools were very interested in increasing prize money and I insisted that all schools should benefit [from the television rights money],” said Creed, who ensured that all 112 schools received between TT$8,000 to TT$11,000 for the season. “The alumni schools have their system in place and do well but the government schools sometimes struggle to fund their teams and they were grateful for the extra help.
“This is not a professional league, it is about development. But that was just me and, going forward, it is up to the schools to decide what they want.
“I, Anthony Creed never ever had ambitions to become president of secondary schools football. They asked me and I did my best. And although last year we voted to have stipends for administrators, I begged that it start in the first week of April when I knew I would have demitted office. It was my pleasure to serve gratis.”
Creed offered a vote of confidence for his successor, Wallace, who worked alongside him for eight years on the SSFL executive.
“I am confident that the new president can take the league forward,” said Creed. “He has the experience and the knowledge and I know that schools football is in good hands.”
Wallace’s tenure will start with an emotive decision though.
Will the SSFL executive send San Juan North down to the second tier alongside Pleasantville Secondary and East Mucurapo? Or should they stay up in a 16-team league that also includes newly promoted Speyside Secondary, Carapichaima East and Trinity College East?