Pro League players speak (Pt 2): Mismanagement, exploitation and repeat errors…but League can be saved!

With the future of the Pro League hanging in the balance, things are looking brown for football in Trinidad and Tobago. But if there is one issue that Yohance Marshall, Densill Theobald and the experienced national footballer dubbed JP are agreed on, it is that a properly functioning and well-run Pro League is essential for a healthy national team set-up.

At least one of them, however, is quite prepared for domestic football to back-back a little so that it can move forward smoothly in the near future.

Photo: San Juan Jabloteh forward Brent Sam (centre) is surrounded by St Ann’s Rangers players during Pro League action at the Barataria Recreation Ground on 2 April, 2016.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/CA-images/Wired868)

“It may be better if we take a backward step until things could get better,” Theobald told Wired868. “Taking a step back may mean having no Pro League because it doesn’t make sense having a Pro League when you are asking players to be professional but you are not operating from a professional standpoint.”

Saying that you can’t call yourself professional “with a TT$3,000 salary,” he echoed an idea floated recently by St Ann’s Rangers’ boss Richard Fakoory.

“If that’s what you could afford, maybe we should revert to a Super League situation, where players go to their respective jobs and be able to train on an inconsistent basis and play matches based on that.”

When Wired868 floated TTSL President Keith Look Loy’s idea of a temporary merger of the Super League and the Pro League, all three players immediately pointed to the difficulties playing in a non-professional league would pose in terms of getting scouted and, therefore, getting foreign contracts.

But, Theobald cautioned, even if it were possible to move forward without taking what he considers to be the necessary backward steps, it would be unfair for the Pro League to think about doing so without honouring the debts owed to Central FC and North East Stars for their League-conquering exploits over the last two years.

It would be to start off, he said, “on the wrong professional foot.”

Photo: North East Stars midfielder Densill Theobald (left) holds off Central FC attacker Jason Marcano during Pro League action at the Arima Velodrome on Friday 8 September, 2017.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

Marshall and Theobald suggested that, despite the unpaid debt and what has happened since the end of the season, North East Stars’ 2017 League triumph last season was a fulfilling victory in more ways than one. Both players saw it as having forged a close-knit unit, with players trying to help each other out by supplying basic food products. According to Theobald, he even dipped into his own pockets to try and maintain a “professional” outlook at the club.

“I tried to help with my experience of playing with the national team and playing football abroad [but] I have had to help out financially as well,” he said. “I was not even able to really share my knowledge and experience because most of the times players weren’t able to attend training on a consistent basis because of what was being offered to them.”

“Some players were making TT$1,200 and TT$1,500 per month and were asked to be professional with that. […] I could only feel the pain of a youngster who has aspirations of playing abroad and making his national team.

“I could only feel the pain because you’re talking about a player who has that desire to really be somebody. And not having the proper infrastructure or foundation for him to realise these dreams… It makes you feel as though you could forget about it, pack up and everything will be okay. But you can’t…”

Pointing out that, because he knows the financial constraints they are operating under, nowadays he does not seek excessive salaries from any club; he would be content, he said, with a salary in the TT$4,000 to TT$5,000 range. There is, however, a but: the former Caledonia standout insists that his teammates must be properly taken care of financially as well.

Photo: W Connection forward Marcus Joseph (right) lines up a shot while Defence Force defender Jerome McIntyre attempts to intercept during 2017 Pro League action at the Ato Boldon Stadium, Couva.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-images/Wired868)

“If I’m at North East, Caledonia or Central FC, it overwhelms me to know that I could eat steak and my brother could barely have something to eat,” Theobald told Wired868. “[The club must] make sure and treat the [other] players right too. But some clubs definitely take advantage of that.”

But like a chain and its links, a league is only as strong as its weakest club. And although the Pro League “had a lot of money going around back in the day” when the Government subvention to clubs was TT$80,000 a month, the veterans agreed that the clubs have not really done very much to help the League.

“Before we reached in this scenario where we don’t know the direction of the Pro League and the direction of clubs because of the financial situation,” Theobald offered, “clubs were still in a better position financially. Some clubs were mismanaging their money. So where do you think all of this is trickling from?

“Some clubs are still mismanaging their money and it’s coming back to haunt them now because now everybody crying…”

JP concurred, saying that clubs were really living above their financial means.

“I think if clubs were properly structured in terms of payment of salaries,” he said, “something could work out. But I think teams are ending up in problems because they want to pay salaries with money which they don’t have.”

Photo: Central FC goalscorer Jean-Luc Rochford (front) and his teammates celebrate with the 2015 Caribbean Club Championship trophy.
Looking on are Central FC operations director Kevin Harrison (top left) and Bankers Insurance CEO Vance Gabriel (top centre).
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

And why do the clubs have no money? The players blame over-reliance on the government subvention over the years. Because there has been easy money coming their way, neither the League nor clubs have made any serious attempt to develop and market the products that might have given them financial self-sufficiency.

Saying that self-sufficiency was “just a matter of using your product and marketing it the right way,” Marshall slammed the Pro League’s administration.

“The Government has been putting money into the League since its inception and you are telling me after 14 to 15 years, you don’t have a proper plan to be self-sufficient?” he asked Wired868 rhetorically. “That is madness! You’re supposed to have a five-year plan so every five years you will be discussing something different.

“But five years pass, the League hasn’t grown, ten years pass, the League hasn’t grown. And after 15 years, it’s the same thing?”

He suggested that the League and the individual clubs must do much better at promoting their players and promoting their product, including making the people within the surrounding communities aware of the proven homegrown talent as well as the rising stars who have emerged from the community itself.

Photo: W Connection and Club Atlético Pantoja engage in Caribbean Club Championship battle in front of a spattering of patrons at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva on 4 February, 2018.
(Courtesy Nicholas Bhajan/CA-Images/Wired868)

“The onus is on the clubs to promote their players and ensure that the community knows about the player,” he said. “People will now be able to put a name to a face…”

And agreeing that the beautiful game really belongs to the community, the three players lamented that playing at the various national stadia has weakened the organic connection between players and supporters. They insisted that greater effort must be made by all football stakeholders to get community fields and facilities up to an acceptable standard because it is important to viability and financial success to have good playing surfaces and facilities.

“The stadia are good for the pitch and all that,” Marshall went on, “but sometimes the location of the stadium could be out of the way; some people are deterred from going because of that.”

On the issue of grounds, Theobald holds the view that the League would have been better off if the Government had given clubs full control over the community fields as opposed to giving them a monthly subvention. It’s a view dear to Caledonia co-founder Jamaal Shabazz.

“What I would have liked to see is the Government trying to offer clubs their own grounds, even if it meant building a small facility,” Theobald offered, “so a club could be self-sustainable with this kind of situation. You have San Juan Jabloteh, Caledonia and you have clubs from down South in Club Sando and W Connection.”

Photo: Spectators  look on as Morvant Caledonia United host San Juan Jabloteh in Pro League action at the Morvant Recreation Ground on 16 October, 2016.
Jabloteh won 4-2.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

“Teach me how to fish and I won’t have to beg for fish all the days of my life,” Theobald continued, waxing philosophical. “Instead of the government giving clubs money in hand, they should have been showing the clubs how to fish.

“You give one community a ground for a club and you say that, instead of a subvention of TT$50,000, we are doing this for you and you have to bring in money to sustain your club.”

The players, he affirms, would prefer the intimacy of a community ground with enthusiastic fans cheering them on from close up rather than stepping out for a League encounter at any one of the national stadia to play in front of thousands of empty seats.

“From a player’s perspective, I love to play down in Mahaica Oval against Point Fortin Civic,” Theobald said, “because I know once Civic are doing well, Point Fortin people will come out in their numbers and support their hometown club.

“And that’s the atmosphere any player would like: to play in front of thousands of people. Any player would love that. That sends your adrenaline high; sometimes that gives you sleepless nights.”

Photo: Point Fortin Civic defender Andre Ettienne had the community behind him in the club’s return to the Pro League in 2013.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

So what advice do the veterans have to offer to those players, actual and potential, who may be having sleepless nights now that the Pro League seems under a cloud?

For JP, the really important thing is to “get yourself a good agent,” not some trickster looking to dig out your eye but one who will be able to set you up for a move abroad if the League remains at a standstill this season.

Marshall concurred and added an element of his own: a football scholarship.

“People don’t look at a scholarship as a professional contract but […] your schooling is US$40,000 a semester and you have two semesters for the year. As a professional footballer now coming out of Trinidad, you are not going to make that money anywhere.”

“And if you really push yourself,” he ended, “in two to three years’ time, you would have something to fall back on in the future as well.”

Theobald’s parting message for the young players echoed Barack Obama’s ‘Yes, we can!’

“I was faced with all the negativity you could be faced with but I never let that affect me because I wanted to be somebody,” said Theobald. “I wanted to use my God-given ability and talent to help take me out of that. And they could do the same thing too. As much as we are faced with so much nonsense in Trinidad, at the end of the day, we have to know what we want out of the game too.”

Photo: Former England captain David Beckham (right) tries to escape from Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Densill Theobald during the 2006 World Cup Finals in Germany.

As things stand, it probably is no exaggeration to say that what the current pros and the would-be pros want is one simple thing: that there be a Pro League in 2018.

Truth be told, the prospects do not look all that rosy.

Editor’s Note: Click HERE to read Part One as Pro League players discuss the state of panic within the fraternity at present. The interviews for this two-part story were conducted before CEO Dexter Skeene quit his post on Friday 2 March.

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About Roneil Walcott

Roneil Walcott is an avid sports fan and freelance reporter with a BA in Mass Communication from COSTAATT. Roneil is a former Harvard and St Mary's College cricketer who once had lofty aspirations of bringing joy to sport fans with the West Indies team. Now, his mission is to keep them on the edge of their seats with sharp commentary from off the playing field.

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  1. I have always lamented that the football clubs must adopt a business model and come to the table for sponsorship with a solid plan with KPI to monitor all aspects of the club. From the investment performance to the human resource performance. The amateurism in these clubs must end and if it takes the dissolution of the league for them to realize it then so be it. The league structure also has to change and there should be demands from the league to ensure these clubs are financially viable in terms of being able to managed themselves over a 5-10 yr period by way of providing projections . If a corporate establishment is investing they need to see ROI and indicators that ensures solid fiscal discipline

  2. Kenwyne Jones is not giving up on the Trinidad and Tobago Pro League

    • By my calculations, it would take about TT$3.6 million to run the League this season. That would be with no prize money and low salaries.
      But how do you convince anyone who can find that cash that it is a worthwhile investment and not just throwing good money after bad?
      It is a plus that they are reaching out to people like Kenwyne and that people like Kenwyne are considering it.
      Maybe Dwight can ask his Chutney Soca Monarch pardner to give the Pro League a lil loan. 🙂

    • What is the ROI, I know people that will invest in Caribbean business, but there must be a solid plan, framework, and what share % is available for the investment?

  3. after you all done f**k it up u want to fix it now lol

  4. Fantastic article…I’m hoping that young players through out the country are paying attention…

  5. I think that is one of our biggest downfalls so to speak. We give until there is none vs teaching people how to sustain themselves through out life as a result becoming a stronger more lucrative economy and people.

  6. Familiar story for decades. Musical chairs for position and corruption. The only ones feeling the negative impact the most are the young footballers who suffer from the inept, incompetence and financial support. The more things change , they more they remain the same. Sweet T&T and SPORTS in this country . Woeful inadequacy all around from Ministers, and Administrators . When will we get it right? That’s why sportsmen seek externally to maintain a comfortable standard of livelihood for their families.

  7. Lasana Liburd what is it TTFA building in Central?

  8. The writing was on the wall for a while now, they just failed to see it.

  9. Does anyone envision a scenario where the 2018 Pro League will commence with 10 teams?

    • If the TTFA President can get more FIFA dollars into team hands and/or government can resume subventions, sure..

    • Its interesting that you mention TTFA. I was thinking of all the conversation regarding league structure, revenues and foreign versus local understanding inclusive of MLS. I just realized that some often compare Pro League with MLS stating that it took MLS x amount of years to make money so do not attack Pro League. However, these comparisons always ignore a huge revenue driver for MLS, LLC and thats its ownership of SUM(Soccer United Marketing, LLC). I wonder if its understood that MLS is rather profitable evidenced by rising salaries and 150 million price tag for a new franchise plus a soccer specific stadium approval. But, one of the key reasons is that the invester-operators(clubs) that own MLS also get profit sharing from SUM. SUM markets all football in America even the Mexican National team playing in USA, all US National team and all those European team tours of America. I wonder if TTFA would consider such a structure and if its viable in our market

    • Here you allude to who are the owners, are the owners average former footballers?


      You said investor owners, which I am sure mean persons with loads of money to invest, entrepreneurial, as well as great business acumen.

      Yes that would work here, it would mean ownership change, model change, but it would work.

    • Business acumen and entrepreneurship is required from all even former footballers. The thing is for over a decade tens of if not hundreds of millions have flowed through football its striking that no one viewed it as investment requiring a return

    • Where do you invest?

      They keep asking for sponsors, give me 3 million to run my club.

      Instead of sit with me, allow me to use you marketing skills, your business know how, teach me your advertising methods, show me how to setup a company properly, invest in us, partner with us.

      According to an old Kool Moe Dee song “Na they want money”

    • I know of 1 group, that wanted to invest in a club, they seriously wanted to partner with the club.

      The club instead ran with their money.

    • Paying recurrent expenses is not investment. That’s subsidies.
      Getting prize money donated is not sponsorship or marketing. That is the lowest rung of the corporate partnership ladder.

  10. Sheldon is correct as well: what happens to TTPro can happen to any sport in T&T at any time because we’re alllllll sucking of that same sour tit of Mama Government. And right now the milk dry up

  11. You know what? IMO you get out what you’re willing to put in.
    Look at lasana’s work: he took the league seriously. His approach to reportage and representatation of local football formed the bedrock of wired868’a coverage. And look at where that’s taken him. Would that more people had invested that approach to the league. More media channels. More sponsors. More fan organisations.

  12. Can the government teach what they don’t know. The government subscribes to amateur sport, the Olympic model, and sadly that is what it teaches, because as a Government that is its model. Pro Sports must venture out and seek those who have mastered pro-sports, to learn it. As said above there are seminars, here and various abroad. Australia has Money in Sport, which is quite good actually.

  13. See….the problem here is that the idea that “government” is supposed to somehow teach footballers how to fish is both disingenuous and inaccurate.
    TTOC has held many marketing development and sport stakeholder administrative courses, seminars and conferences. As a matter of fact—one was held today. The third annual one. I attended a sports marketing workshop as far back as 2001. So if football wanted to learn to fish they could have.
    The other fundamental error is that football was unrepresented by people with the skill sets necessary to attract sponsorship and develop marketing potential of the league.
    Skeen is a Colombia University MBA if I’m not mistaken. That’s no small intellect.
    How many of the teams followed the plan? How many of the players were looking at developing themselves into marketable assets to attract potential sponsors or corporate marketing partners?
    Where did the TTPro League go wrong? That’s not an easy answer. But pointing fingers wont answer the question

  14. While it is a noble venture to give a team a ground. It is akin to giving a man who has no money a BMW.

    A ground must be properly cared for, you have just raised the wages bill by alot.

    A good hard working set of groundsmen, a tractor to cut the field, a steam roller, or a big roller. A couple people to clean and maintain, possibly a night watchman will be needed to ward of theft and misuse. Upkeep of the building, cleaners, etc for the offices, etc. Before you start to pay the team this will be one a factor. Just ask SPORTT the cost of maintaining grounds, and then their is the education, the know-how.

    I am not downplaying the idea, I am being real, is this costs included in the team plans, this is now a necessary cost added on to teams, who preset have shown to have no proper budget and planning in place, lovely idea, and should be pursued, but carefully, there is am expense hidden I know most don’t consider.

    • ..Community grounds are PUBLIC property and MUST be under the control of the PUBLIC authority NOT any ONE club. What qualifies one club to control public space and property – even if they could afford it?..No PRIVATISATION of State property..

  15. ..But the POLITICS of TURF and SELF-INTEREST continue to shroud the debate in darkness. So-called “pro” league = access to CFU club qualifying for CONCACAF Champions League = platform to sell players to Viet Nam, India, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Honduras, Cambodia, USL, and other such leagues..

  16. ..Round and round the Mulberry bush goes this topic. People fighting hard to STILL not accept the reality to which many, including yours truly, have pointed for YEARS. The lid is off the can and the worms are laid bare for all to see. WE CANNOT AFFORD FULL-TIME PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALL. The owners are saying it. The players are feeling it. The public are seeing it. Only the delusional REFUSE to see the world for what is is. We MUST cut our suit to fit the cloth we have – like it or not. Exactly what qualified TTPL clubs for government funding and not other clubs? Why should they be given control of community grounds and not other clubs? Round and round and round and round and round….

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