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Couva calamity: Unpaid players, uncaring TTFA, uneasy SPORTT and an unfulfilled World Cup dream

Proper management, irrespective of the industry in question, ought to be about the removal of excuses for poor performance.

It is ensuring, for example, that a student has books, tutors and study time, the taxi driver has a well serviced vehicle and employees have a safe working environment and receive clear instructions.

By that simple reasoning, Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team head coach Dennis Lawrence and his players were in trouble long before the kick-off of the decisive Russia World Cup 2018 qualifier against Honduras at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva last Friday evening.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Kevin Molino (left) walks past coach Dennis Lawrence during World Cup 2018 qualifying action against Honduras at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva on 1 September 2017.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

It was, by consensus, the worst organised local sporting event in recent history. And yet the chaos that faced fans trying to access the Couva venue and the largely shambolic performance from the Soca Warriors represented barely half of the story.

In a bottom -of-the-table CONCACAF Hex clash, Trinidad and Tobago lost 2-1 at home and it would strain credibility now to believe that, in the remaining  away games to Panama and Mexico and a home fixture against the United States, the Warriors can amass the seven points necessary for a shot at a FIFA play-off.

As hard as the individual errors on Friday night were to swallow, the most costly blunders arguably came, yet again, from the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association’s headquarters.

On 13 July, 2017, TTFA president David John-Williams confirmed that the do-or-die clash would be moved from the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain to the Couva venue. The Warriors played in front of 10,000 and 12,000 spectators against Panama and Mexico respectively in their last two home qualifying matches at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, which seats 23,000.

John-Williams, supported by Lawrence, reasoned that the team would be better off stuffing those patrons in the 10,000-seater Couva venue and the TTFA went to the trouble of erecting temporary stands, which allowed for another 2,000 fans.

Photo: TTFA president David John-Williams (centre), media officer Shaun Fuentes (left) and new Soca Warriors coach Dennis Lawrence at the TTFA headquarters on 30 January 2017.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/TTFA)

The TTFA president pointed out too that a sizeable portion of the team’s support came from south and central Trinidad and they should not be inconvenienced by a Couva fixture.

But John-Williams failed to consider that the reason the Ato Boldon Stadium is such an awkward venue is not merely because it is not in the capital. There are no direct taxis to Couva from most cities—fans from east Trinidad, for instance, need four taxis to get to the ground—while the lack of multiple access routes means awful traffic pile-ups as well as a shortage of parking options. A stroll across Ariapita Avenue to get to your car on a Friday night, it needs to be said, is a far less daunting prospect than trudging across the desolate Couva Main Road or Rivulet Road without even the security of a sidewalk.

And, crucially, the evening kick-off—gates were due to open at 5pm but the ticketing scanners were not ready up to half hour after that time—meant spectators were driving into peak rush-hour traffic, which made the venue far less attractive than if it were a weekend match.

It is now a matter of fact that there were barely 3,500 spectators inside the Ato Boldon Stadium when the players sang their national anthem. Another 1,500 managed to get inside before the final whistle but many others turned around and left in frustration.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Kevin Molino (right) tries to escape from Honduras opponent Alexander Lopez in front of an empty stand during World Cup 2018 qualifying action at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva on 1 September 2017.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

It is ridiculous for the TTFA to point fingers at “fair-weather supporters” after they made it so difficult for people who were willing to pay good money to see an under-performing team on the way to their fifth successive defeat.

On the last day of the school vacation, the John-Williams-led board had not offered discounts for children either. In fact, there was little evidence that the TTFA considered the needs and match-day experience of football fans at all.

Remarkably, we are not yet halfway through last Friday’s issues.

A lighting tower went down before kick-off and remained non-functional for the entire match while there were also non-functioning lights on some of the other towers. The Ato Boldon Stadium, unlike the Hasely Crawford venue, has its own generator and should have been much better prepared to deal with any issues.

The problem, however, is that Sport Company facility manager Anthony Blake and Raj Ramtahal, senior manager facilities maintenance, are both on suspension—along with SPORTT CEO Adam Montserin and six other managers—due to a ongoing investigation by the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs.

The government’s mysterious probe has left multi-million dollar facilities improperly supervised, with the Warriors and TTFA feeling the brunt of it at the worst possible time.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago and Honduras play under a malfunctioning light tower during World Cup 2018 qualifying action at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva on 1 September 2017.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

Closer to the camp, there were other issues.

The TTFA has not paid its players since their 28 March qualifier against Mexico. The Warriors have played five times since then; it is noteworthy that  they have failed to win a single one of those games.

The John-Williams-led board promised to pay for two of those five matches—the friendly against Grenada and World Cup qualifying loss to the United States—before their decisive clash with Honduras. But, two days before Friday’s match, the Warriors were told they would be paid those outstanding fees on 12 September instead.

There is not even a date set for payment of the other outstanding match fees, including the crucial 1 and 5 September qualifiers.

Matters were not improved when the TTFA informed the players that their complimentary tickets for the Honduras match had been cut from eight (four covered and four uncovered stands) to five (three covered and two uncovered stands).

The individual Warriors must have blinked when they stared into the stands before kick-off and saw over 6,000 empty seats.

Sacramento Republic forward Trevin Caesar, who is Lawrence’s only in-form attacker at the moment with six goals from 20 matches in the US Third Division, was absent. A TTFA release said he could not make it out of the United States owing to the disruption caused by Hurricane Harvey.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago forward Trevin Caesar (right) takes the ball around St Vincent and the Grenadines goalkeeper Lemus Christopher during Russia 2018 World Cup qualifying action at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain on 29 March 2016.
Trinidad and Tobago won 6-0.
(Courtesy: Allan V Crane/CA-images/Wired868)

Yet, Honduras had three players from Houston in their squad—Romell Quito, Alberth Ellis and Boniek Garcia. And, as if to rub it in, Ellis scored what proved to be the match winner while Quito had a hand in both of the Central American team’s goals.

Wired868 tried, unsuccessfully, to find out why the TTFA could not get one player out of the hurricane affected area while Honduras managed to move three.

Another notable absentee was AZ Alkmaar winger Levi Garcia, who is playing in the most competitive division of anyone in Lawrence’s pool.

Alkmaar could not prevent Garcia from linking up with the national team and the winger featured in his team’s last two domestic outings and was in good health. But, according to sources, the teenager wanted assurances that Lawrence valued his presence—after playing for 30 out of a possible 180 minutes during his only stint under the current coach.

Lawrence told the media that Garcia was “[not] mentally ready.”

Arguably, Lawrence might have had an easier time of claiming the moral high ground if he had not allowed Cordell Cato to waltz back into his squad without a public apology after he abandoned the Warriors for their qualifiers against the United States and Costa Rica.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago winger Levi Garcia (right) leaves St Vincent and the Grenadines defender Shawn Benjamin for dead during Russia 2018 World Cup qualifying action at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain on 29 March 2016.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/CA Images/Wired868)

Curious too that, with a World Cup place on the line, Lawrence did not pull out all the stops by travelling to see overseas-based professionals like Keston Julien, Ataullah Guerra, Neveal Hackshaw, Aikim Andrews, Jamal Jack and Noel Powder play live before deciding on his best possible team to face Honduras. In his defence, TTFA funding might have been an issue where that is concerned.

Instead, Lawrence gave 71 minutes in his most testing friendly to date—away to Ecuador on 26 July—to WASA employee and TTSL forward Keron Clarke, who had already said he would not make himself available to play Honduras since he was a Seventh Day Adventist.

India-based forward Willis Plaza got only 19 minutes playing time in Guayaquil as a result and, judging by his lively cameo off the bench against Honduras, he might have deserved more time to find his rhythm before last Friday.

The Ato Boldon Stadium surface was another story.

Repeatedly, former coach Stephen Hart pleaded with facility staff to cut the grass to help rapid ball movement and penetrative dribbles, which he felt could be an asset for the hosts.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago forward Willis Plaza looks to run at the Honduras defence during World Cup 2018 qualifying action at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva on 1 September 2017.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

On Friday, the grass was longer than ever and players from both teams were seen struggling to keep their feet. Defender Sheldon Bateau, who only returned from Kazakhstan 42 hours before kick-off owing to a ticketing issue, slipped in the build-up to Honduras’ opening goal.

That slip came during a horrific 45-minute spell for the Warriors, who could easily have been three or four goals down by the interval.

Everyone was at fault on Friday—the TTFA, the Warriors, the head coach, the Sport Company. And, when everyone is culpable, nobody is. Because each person can point the finger of blame at someone else.

It was the perfect storm of absurdity. And it blew Trinidad and Tobago’s World Cup dreams right away with it.

Photo: Honduras playmaker Alexander Lopez (centre) wheels away to celebrate after scoring the opening goal against Trinidad and Tobago during World Cup 2018 qualifying action at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva on 1 September 2017.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/CA-images/Wired868)

AboutLasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd
Lasana Liburd is the CEO and Editor at Wired868.com and a journalist with over 20 years experience at several Trinidad and Tobago and international publications including Play the Game, World Soccer, UK Guardian and the Trinidad Express.

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199 comments

  1. Well Mr Colin Murray didn’t my unite Kams and her UNC political party said that they was going and build a wall to separate them from the rest of the country eh, like you forget many of the government offices was moving to Central eh, the children Hospital, the cycling and the swimming arena and now that the Brain Lara stadium has completed that will be it with the Oval eh and fuss they are foolish the last game the Trini CPL team played at the cricket stadium eh the place was empty eh compared to when all the games are played at the Oval plenty crowded support and plenty nice vibes and I experienced that mehself when I went to my first ever cricket game in the Oval so let them continue with their madness nah citing that there is plenty more land space down there in Central. Them really good yes.

  2. Xoxo pure dotishness. You mean to say if they were serious to get to Russia get a huge bonus and enhance their resumes. These ppl chose to play like losers against mediocre opponents and shame the country and then still not get the money they want really are these ppl that dumb. ?

  3. I think that some of you players are not there because you love the game,some of you are there just to say you are touring and not to play that game to win I think money really is the root of all evil,you know long ago when the footballers use to play football was becaus of the love of it and when pan players played pan is for the love of it not the money because no money was given,I always say there are a lot of young players out there who might do a good job out there so give them a chance and stop making excuses

  4. Ever since Williams take over, it’s been abysmal. Very chaotic and poorly managed, which we expect but he took it to another level. We in the hex n the man just fork it up with his management.

  5. Lyndon go to the supermarket and pay your bill with pride of your country

  6. I was never optimistic…TnT needs to spend money if they want to reach the world cup…build youth academy’s n focus on them…in order to have really good player’s…You have to build them from youth..n this is what the youth academy is for…after you build them..spend the ppl money n get a really really really good coach…stop spend the money like it’s the Government own…it’s the ppl money

  7. Proper management, irrespective of the industry in question, ought to be about the removal of excuses for poor performance.

  8. Talent is talent I see way more talent in normal football in TT than on the international team like these ppl have the head in the ass ah set of shit tongs the picking an expect too win I does wonder who doing d recruiting

  9. What I am trying to understand is , we had a friendly against Jamaica and we played it at the HCS, why we didn’t play Jamaica at the “Ato ” so that we could get a feel of the ground seeing that it was our first world cup qualifier at the venue. Smh

  10. Is it safe to safe the corruption is affecting our game in at the very roots ??

  11. Apparently they don’t get enough money from their clubs so they can’t afford to represent their country from their heart

  12. lasana, are you seriously surprised about the circumstances in ato boldon stadium?
    and I mean all circumstances. the bad performance, the bad traffic conditons, the bad
    stadium conditons, the bad field conditions. all over all I would say, the bad organization
    and administration. that your administrators and managers are resistant to any advice or
    suggestion is nothing new. they ALL know it better.
    and when you now consider all the other incidents around your team and players, do you
    really expect a perfect performance?
    that the grass is too high is no secret, it was always to high when I was in the stadium.
    and that the lights were in bad conditons and one tower went down completely, well,
    for what there is a stadium manager/management. this has nothing to do with the suspension
    of Anthony Blake and/or Raj Ramtahal and all the others. and that your multi-million
    dollar facilities are improperly supervised is definitely not because of what you call a
    mysterious probe. if that would be the case you would indicate that everything was
    nice and fine and proper before they were suspended. sorry, but this did not come over
    night.
    this all shows only that the organization of sports in tt needs urgently a change.
    new ideas and the right people in the right chair. a defined structure.
    this refers to football as well as to all other sports.

  13. Manny Ramjoke was a disaster although it was done with good intentions. Them really good yes!! Lol