SSFL Forum: Schools’ league grapples with issues of registration, player development and TTFA relations

Academic requirements for school footballers, wider powers for the credential committee, an electronic database for players, small-sided games for Under-14s and a re-evaluation of the registration period and deadline for players to participate in external competitions.

There were no shortage of talking points as the Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) held its first Stakeholders Forum on Saturday morning at the National Cycling Centre in Couva.

And that was before you got to the really ticklish stuff.

Photo: (From left to right) SSFL president William Wallace, moderator Anthony Harford and sport attorney Ricardo Williams listen to the floor during the SSFL’s first Stakeholders Forum at the National Cycling Centre in Couva on 24 February, 2018.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-images/Wired868)

Should the SSFL be designed with a view to participation or development? Should schools attempt to fill the vacuum left by local clubs or keep off the toes of the latter party?

Where does the SSFL fit into the TTFA’s blueprint for international football success? What impact does refereeing have on the League and vice versa and what is the ideal relationship between the pair? Can the SSFL force-feed morality to dishonest principals?

And perhaps the deepest philosophical question of all, courtesy of Trinity College East principal Derek West: is this a league of schools or just a league that schools play in?

“Criticism helps us grow,” said SSFL president William Wallace, as he kicked off the forum at roughly 10am and with just over 40 persons in attendance.

The SSFL Executive, he stressed, was all ears and willing to take suggestions on board to improve its product. It is worth pointing out the parties who opted not to take part in the process.

Remarkably—especially after the Fyzabad Secondary scandal last season—there was no representative from the Ministry of Education at the Cycling Centre. Just as telling was the absence of direct involvement from the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFA).

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president David John-Williams (centre) presents then Naparima College attacker Jarred Dass with his 2015 National Intercol medal.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

True, the football body’s technical director, Anton Corneal, was present—he said he dragged himself out of his sick bed to be there. But, when it came down to the matter of policy, Corneal conceded that his contributions were generally not vetted by his employer and could not be considered the TTFA’s viewpoint.

Arguably, the most eyebrow-raising no-show was—for more reasons than one—the local referees. First, because the issue of “refereeing” was literally high on the agenda as the Trinidad and Tobago Football Referees Association (TTFRA) had promised to send a representative. And because this contentious profession has been highlighted for all the wrong reasons of late and a non-acrimonious sit-down could only help.

But, mostly, because the president of the TTFRA and chairman of the TTFA’s Referee Committee, Joseph Taylor, was at the forum but claimed to be there only as a Mucurapo West Secondary staff member.

Last September, my then 6-year-old daughter was contemplating the definition of a mixture, which was “two or more substances that can be mixed and can be separated.” A cup of tea or bowl of cereal, she suggested, cannot be mixtures then.

Well, if ever there was a man capable of perfectly separating a cup of tea—I would assume that his last name is Taylor.

Photo: Presentation College (San Fernando) midfielder Darnell Hospedales (left) argues his case with referee Nikolai Nyron during SSFL action against Naparima College at the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium in Marabella on 27 September 2017.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

Perhaps fittingly, Laurence Seepersad, the SSFL’s assistant secretary operations and Credentials Committee chairman, got the show on the road.

The Credentials Committee comprises Seepersad, SSFL general secretary Azaad Khan (who was absent) and the secretaries for all five zones.

The biggest issue, according to Seepersad, was that most schools submitted their teams just before the deadline and created an impossible workload for the volunteers. Notably, schools are able to register players up until three days before the final game of the season. It means that—particularly when you consider the number of zones and divisions under their portfolio—the scale of Seepersad’s task might be second only to curbing violent crime.

There were several suggestions. Keith Look Loy, who was there as Trinidad and Tobago Super League (TTSL) president, recommended that the SSFL implement a registration deadline—just like almost every other league.

Since the forum was recorded, it is possible that the SSFL Executive might consider this at a later date. On Saturday, it got short shrift, though. Apparently, school teams habitually chance across a player they missed during their pre-season and would like to retain the option of belatedly including that boy or girl in their squad.

Photo: St Mary’s College attacker Tyrese Spicer (centre) prepares to volley home the opening goal during North Zone Intercol quarterfinal action against East Mucurapo Secondary at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on 9 November 2017.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

FIFA match commissioner Norris Ferguson and San Juan North Secondary vice-principal Phillip Fraser suggested that maybe the controversial article 16. 4 (a) should be amended so as to avoid a repeat of the Matthew Beal situation at Shiva Boys Hindu College.

The clause reads: “A player, who having been registered and/or is playing with the TTFA or with another league or association affiliated to the TTFA after 31st August of the current year, shall not be eligible to be registered as a player for their school unless they meet the criteria of the Credentials Committee.”

But, as Wired868 pointed out, if you eliminated the “unless they meet the criteria…” bit, then would this not infringe on the school’s ability to include that last-minute player they had chanced across? Suppose the boy had just transferred in and, through no fault of his own, had represented a zonal team after the deadline since he was not with a school team at the time?

And would most issues not be solved by more interaction between the Credentials Committee and SSFL match commissioners anyway?

Photo: Shiva Boys Hindu College midfielder Kierron Mason (centre) dances around Carapichaima East midfielder Kirk Torres (left) during the Coca-Cola National Intercol semifinals at the Ato Boldon Stadium on 30 November 2017.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

For instance, if every school had to submit a 25-member shortlist on the eve of each game, then there would be much less chance of an ineligible student getting on to the field, as happened with Shiva Boys midfielder Kierron Mason.

It was a combination of registration issues between Beal and Mason that led to Shiva Boys being relegated last season and nearly reduced the competition to farce.

Former St Augustine Secondary principal Andre Moses—or maybe it was former SSFL executive Trevor Bridglalsingh—noted that schools were conflating the submission of documents with registration. If they accepted that registration was incomplete until the schools body said so, then maybe there would be fewer issues.

Point well made, sir.

Corneal, who said he was recovering from the virus and looked to be standing by the grace of God, gave pointers for improving the quality of schoolboy players and, ultimately, national youth teams. At Form One and Under-14 level, the technical director suggested unlimited substitutions or, further, a rule to ensure that all squad members received playing time in each game. It was, he said, an idea imported from the United States.

Or, like Belgium and Holland, the SSFL could turn its competitions for the younger players into eight-a-side games so as to encourage more touches of the ball and, as a result, more technically skilled players.

Photo: St Anthony’s College playmaker Che Benny (left) sidesteps Presentation College star Jordan Riley during SSFL action at Westmoorings on 25 October 2017.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

Trinity East coach Michael Grayson, who is also well versed in the US soccer system, agreed wholeheartedly. For others, this radical shift might require some more discussion but at least the seed was planted.

Wallace said he was happy to take Corneal’s proposal to the SSFL Executive and general membership on one condition—that the idea was formally passed over with the TTFA’s stamp of approval.

As straightforward as Wallace’s request might seem, it sparked some to-ing and fro-ing.

Corneal felt that the extra paperwork and/or chain of approval was unnecessary as Wallace could simply jot the point down there and then and move it along the assembly line. Wallace retorted that he felt it necessary to operate within the framework of a memorandum of understanding between the TTFA and the SSFL, which, he stressed, had been repeatedly sought by the schools football body without success.

“What happens if we go ahead with this [without TTFA sanction],”Wallace asked,  “and then there is a new technical director telling us something different next month?”

“Somebody told you something I don’t know?” Corneal shot back, lightheartedly.

Wired868 asked Corneal how could the SSFL better assist the national youth programme starting with coach Russell Latapy’s Under-20 Team that enters Caribbean competition in November.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago National Under-17 Team coach Russell Latapy (background) looks on at a national training session.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

It sparked a debate on essentially what role the school game plays within the local football ecosystem.

In essence, the SSFL is expected not to get in the way of Latapy’s plans, which means to release players to train on demand and also to have them potentially participate in the 2018 TTSL or Pro League competition. School football fans could expect to miss the likes of Che Benny (St Anthony’s College), Jordan Riley (Presentation College, San Fernando), Judah Garcia and Tyrel Emmanuel (both Shiva Boys) next season then.

Almost inevitably, though, there will be conflict this September when schoolboys are faced with the choice of playing in front of hundreds of schoolmates and live on SportsMax, or in front of a few dozen onlookers in the Pro League.

It is a decision that might cause nights of head-scratching for the teenaged players who feel they might not make Latapy’s final squad anyway. Or those who think they are undroppable.

Corneal pointed out that the last group of schoolboys to sacrifice SSFL glory for the more testing Super League competition went on to qualify for the Egypt FIFA 2009 Under-20 World Cup.

“After that the whole idea [of nurturing national youth teams in adult competitions] just fell away,” said Corneal.

Photo: Former St Mary’s College midfielder Leston Paul captained Trinidad and Tobago at the FIFA Under-17 and Under-20 World Cups.

“It fell away because there was no TTFA policy in place,” Wallace retorted. “The SSFL and the TTFA are always operating in silos…”

Corneal had “good news” for the SSFL too; FIFA, he said, had recognised the role of school competitions in its new initiative, which urged all countries to have eight-to-ten months per year of youth football.

The 2018 calendar, Corneal explained, should have been split as follows: January to March (Flow Youth Pro League), March to early July (Republic Bank National Youth League) and September to early December (SSFL).

The Pro League being the Pro League, the calendar is already out of sync as they began their competition two months late. Since the RBNYL—and its organiser and All Sport chairman Tony Harford was the SSFL’s moderator on Saturday—is unwilling to butcher its own schedule to compensate for the Pro League’s sluggish organisation, it means Trinidad and Tobago youth players are already down to eight months at best in 2018.

There were two primary concerns about the TTFA’s eight-to-ten-month football initiative, which came under the heading of youth development.

Several SSFL schools—Fatima College and Trinity College East among them—had taken to opening football academies so as to nurture their players all year round.

Photo: Fatima College midfielder Lucas Farfan (right) tries to elude Trinity College East defender Liu Chin during SSFL action in Trincity on 20 October 2017.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

Look Loy was sceptical.

“Schools can never replace clubs,” said the TTSL president.

Corneal’s suggestion was that the players would split time between competing with their clubs and training with schools. It means that, apart from having two masters/coaches simultaneously—three if a player were also on the national team—schoolboys would be doing pre-season training with one outfit while doing mid-season work with another.

Pre-season training includes a lot of strength and conditioning work meant to stretch muscles to their limits. Mid-season training means lighter work designed to keep the body ticking over and, specifically, designed not to overburden the players physically.

“But that is madness,” said West.

By then, Corneal had already left—presumably for his sick bed.

It is uncertain whether he heard West’s first point. But he definitely did not hear the second criticism.

Photo: Haiti star Steeve Saint Duc (right) tries to take the ball past Trinidad and Tobago right-back Kerdell Sween during 2017 Under-17 World Cup qualifying action in Couva on 17 September 2016.
Saint Duc scored once as Haiti won 2-0.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

“Since when is more competition the same as development?” someone asked. “Where in the TTFA’s youth development plan do the players actually train and improve?”

It was six hours of cut and thrust and there were many fine ideas that will not be touched on in this summary.

Former SSFL president Anthony Creed, ex-Arima North Secondary teacher Gregory Wales, South Zone secretary Essiel Seecharan were not short of ideas as were Look Loy, Bridglalsingh, Moses and, of course, West.

As the sole media house present, Wired868 made a plea too for visible numbers on team shirts and pants—the St Mary’s College kit looked like it was found behind a dumpster—as well as a database of registered players with names correctly spelled.

Photographer and CA Images head Allan V Crane spoke  on marketing and copyright issues, abetted by sport attorney Ricardo Williams who sat at the head table.

Wired868 suggested too that, since schools complained of players who did not show up after the football season or sit exams, perhaps the SSFL should implement a transfer ban. If the majority of a school’s repeaters do not sit exams, the said school would not be allowed to field repeaters in the following year.

Photo: Fyzabad Secondary midfielder Maurice Dick (centre) is surrounded by teammates [from left] Tyrese Reefer, Sharkeel Louison, Shamor Mahabir and Aaron Jordan during SSFL action against Trinity College East on 20 September at Trincity.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)
It was not a suggestion which seemed to find enthusiastic approval although Wallace was pleased to announce that the SSFL had begun discussions with the Education Ministry to create education centres designed to help players to catch up with their schoolwork.

On the thorny issue of a minimum education requirement for players, Wales suggested the introduction of a GPA formula which rates their performances in the context of their classmates—that way, it would be fair to students from “non-prestige” schools while still challenging for those at the other end of the spectrum.

Although, come to think of it, a GPA system probably would not appeal to colleges who poach students from secondary comprehensives and would have a tall task getting them to fit in academically.

So, there is a lot for the SSFL executive members to consider before they next face their general membership.

And is the SSFL a league of schools or just a league that schools play in? Maybe they will get closer to an answer by the next forum.

Photo: South Zone secretary and Point Fortin East Secondary teacher Essiel Seecharan makes a point during the SSFL’s first Stakeholders Forum at the National Cycling Centre in Couva on 24 February, 2018.
Looking on (from left to right) are Norris Ferguson, Phillip Fraser, Gregory Wales, Gerald Elliot and Anthony Creed.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-images/Wired868)
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  1. Spot on Reporting. I did my perusal and found everything to be on par with your reporting.. Watch out for Sevilla Lasana Liburd we want them to win

  2. that reads like the meat section in the San Juan market…
    these people all there for the football. Not for the kids who play.

    • How long Football has been played in this country how long has SSFL been in existence now and we now discussing these issues. Sport is big business all over the world we need to hire professional people to do the job else we just spinning top in mud and we will continue to face these issues over and over again. Adopt a mode from America soccer.

    • Well never forget that our sweet country is ah third World country so they are now trying to keep up with the football times Them really good yes

    • Yes but we are a World Cup country now and we are falling behind lesser Caribbean countries. We were robbed in 1970 by football Officials in Haiti we let ourselves down in 1989 in Port of Spain and went to Germany in 2006. Haven’t we learnt anything? Two steps forward six steps backwards

    • And if meh corrupted uncle Jack Warner had paid meh players what he had promised them eh, instead of that mingery $5,000 monies that he wanted to give each of them eh, after making all the millions of monies from having his own own businesses and the $200 millions sponsorship monies eh we wudda make it to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa to eh but instead our momemtum was broken and he really thought that our players wouldn’t have taken him to court and even won the cases even when it was moved from the England courts to our sweet country court house steeuuppss Them really good yes.

    • And just to remind you that our 1989 Strike Squad didn’t let themselves down as you stated eh,Don Lee the Corrupted Jack Warner and his cronies also sold out that game to my second sweetest country the same for plenty millions of monies because how can a team be hosting any World Cup eh, and they never even been to the World Cup and the USA was hosting the 1994 World Cup that made plenty millions of monies eh Steeuuppss Them really good yes.

    • You think if he sold out to them in 1989 they would come for him now. nah no way they played in every world cup then till we ko them out. Ok

    • Well at that time he wasn’t involved in the laundering of meh dead presidents and other fraudulent madness eh so meh FBI doh play when it comes to their US currency like you forget that his right hand man that made the deal in 1989 Chuck Blazer ended kicking the bucket or wha because he wasn’t going to do any jail time so the corrupted JW better also kick the bucket to because the white plane will surely be coming for him to return to my second sweetest country to finally face the courts and then plenty jail time Them really good yes

  3. So what is the next step? Action items? Official summary? Who are the chief decision makers anyway?

  4. Well the bestest manager in our sweet country most definitely attended eh but ah find that he is very quiet ent Norris Ferguson….LOL

  5. Any other coaches in attendance besides Grayson?

    • I think he was the only Premier coach. There were maybe two other coaches otherwise.
      Schools like Shiva, Presentation and Naparima didn’t seem to be represented at all.

    • Hmmm…I find this should have been mandatory for people in certain positions within the SSFL infrastructure. Not that yuh could really enforce it, but still. For something of this magnitude, it should have had better attendance.

    • i also spoke of the need for certified trainers on teams. I saw players warming themselves up while their trainer stayed on the bench watching the match.
      I’ve seen teams with national players on it operate like this eh.
      And then you know of players carrying injuries and playing or coming on as substitutes with injuries—even when their team is strolling to victory.
      It is a miracle that we haven’t had a major issue with this already.
      I know wallace spoke about first responder courses and that is all well and good. But I am talking about players having two and three games a week and not even getting a good stretch before games.

  6. Thanks Lasana Liburd for the coverage and publications and representation!

  7. Well of course no corporate sponsors will ever attend especially with what the corrupted Jack Warner and his cronies did with respect with the sponsors plenty of monies that was given for the 2006 World Cup campaign and over 200 million just disappeared just so just so who in their right mind will ever wants to sponsor a corrupted organization like the TTFA or the schools program where there is never any accountability and transparency and I am positively certain that other sporting organizations have that same problem when it comes to the monies Them really good yes

  8. Was the forum widely advertised? Was there an ad in any of the dailies?

  9. Btw, someone asked me online and I neglected to mention… No corporate sponsors attended the forum either.

  10. Good day everyone, my first input. Love reading your articles etc.

    Was any corporate sponsors present? and if yes, what was their contribution?

    • Thanks. I neglected to mention that bit. At least one school football fan came and spoke. But there was no representation from any of the SSFL’s corporate sponsors.

      • Then what are the real objective/s of those corporate sponsors? Youth development or marketing mileage or saying we doing something to help the crime? It will be interesting to know.

        Nevertheless, as a product of the school boy league, I hope this is a step in the right direction.

  11. ..And many kudos to Wired for leading the way once again..

    • Keith, I remember you made a point too about the SSFL hiring professionals to run various aspects of the competition rather than necessarily electing people for each role.
      The reason being that the person who wins an election is a politician and politicians are better at trading promises than delivering.
      I didn’t recall at time of writing but it came to me after. That was a good point.
      I really didn’t go with intention to write report, so my note taking was not as thorough as it would normally be.

  12. ..The leadership of the TT Referees’ Association is apparently genetically disposed to shy away from any discussion of the state of refereeing..

  13. Hopefully this will be the start to movements in the right direction

  14. Kudos to the SSFL leaders for taking the time to schedule this stakeholder meeting. Trinis love to criticize so it takes some cojones to prostrate yourself in front of them Would be great for the SSFL to make available all the ideas that were shared at the meeting, and even better if they would prioritize the ideas and identify sub-committees to execute against say the top 5 items. I like the idea of unlimited substitutions at the U14 level. But not sure I fancy the suggestion to move to smaller fields. U14 /U15 is your first national team level so you want kids playing on fields consistent with that level. One thing I would have liked to hear discussed is the establishment of a cap on the number of football related contact hours per week. Players and coaches need to be reminded that their primary objective is to get an education. I saw there was some discussion about academic resources for footballers. I love that idea and think it should be on top of the list of ideas to prioritize. Lasana – as always, we appreciate you attending and representing the group at these types of forums.

    • Thanks Carlos and I thought it was really constructive too and a good idea by the executive. Can’t promise that I will be able to attend many forums though! Lol.
      We will try to send a representative in any case. 😉

  15. Excellent recap of proceedings at the SSFL Forum. However, slight correction on my input of Article 4 (a). “Emphasis should be placed on the submission of the original and copy of documents by schools, for scrutiny by the credentials committee. “

  16. Lasana, Thanks for the recap. Glad the SSFL took this initial step. By chance, was there any discussion on playing field standards?

  17. Meanwhile Tab Ramos had 150 U-16/17/18/19/20 in a January camp.

    One amount of the U17s that played in the last WC, together with the still-eligible U-20s from the last WC as well, will be gearing up for CONCACAF…sigh,

  18. As I said before

    Schools and pe teachers are the initial and sometimes the only development of players before they reach professional status

  19. As the sole media house present, Wired868 made a plea too for visible numbers on team shirts and pants—the St Mary’s College kit looked like it was found behind a dumpster

  20. We really backward yes that is why we not going any where fast

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